Review of award-winning short films in 2014 – a brief appraisal

WIND © Robert Löbel

WIND © Robert Löbel

In keeping with our tradition, we provide here a review of the award-winning short films of the past year. Listing the winners invariably results in a kind of Hit Parade of film. This kind of ranking can of course not be used to assess films’ artistic quality, but it does indicate their popularity as measured by the votes of expert juries and the audience. Ultimately these are market data. The accumulation of awards cannot really be interpreted as an indication of objective judgements on quality.


Basis for the evaluation

All honours and awards were analysed that were mentioned in the “Awards” section on during 2014. Slightly over 1,600 distinctions were cited this past year. But of course we do not publish all prizes and awards conferred on short films anywhere in the world.

Only the larger short film festivals with international competitions are featured regularly in our “Awards” section. Events with an exclusively national or regional focus are not included. We do however report on national film awards such as the German Short Film Award, the Césars in France and the Premios Goya in Spain.

We usually list only grand prizes, but for a few of the larger festivals we also include honourable mentions As a rule, only short film festivals are taken into account, except for major international feature film festivals with a short film competition such as Cannes, Berlin and Sundance. Likewise filtered out are events that call themselves festivals but do not meet essential criteria in terms of their regulations, participant structure or services. One-day local events are a prime example.

Overall, we reported in 2014 on the jury decisions in over 300 festivals and competitions – nearly 70 of them based in Germany. Due to our own geographical location, European as well as German awards are over-represented. However, all continents and regions of the world are included.


Strong production countries

The award-winners in 2014 came from 95 different countries. This is fewer than in 2013, but an increase over the previous years (2013: 102 countries; 2012: 85). The most awards by far were bestowed in 2014 on films made in Germany (230), France (170), the USA (153), the UK (126), Spain (71), Belgium (67) and Poland (62). The figures and ranking for the first five countries changed little from the previous year. Of note is that, while the number of prize-winners from the UK had been dropping in recent years, the country is now recapturing its former status. New is that Spain has fallen behind in relative terms (in 2013 its films took home 100 prizes). Of the total awards presented, over half were again received by films from one of the above-named seven countries (ca. 900).

Amongst the smaller countries – in terms of either population or short film production – 2014 was a successful year in particular for Belgium and Poland. While in 2013 nearly half of the prizes went to the Belgian (co)-production OH WILLY, this year only BAGHDAD MESSI by Sahim Omar Kalifa managed to pocket more than five awards. Three films picked up the most awards for Poland: JOANNA by Aneta Kopacz, LAZNIA (BATHS) by Tomek Duck and NASZA KLĄTWA (Our Curse) by Tomasz Sliwinski.

Even in countries with a high production volume, the prizes in 2014 were not focused on individual titles as much as in previous years. The exceptions were A MILLION MILES AWAY by Jennifer Reeder (USA) and NASHORN IM GALOPP by Erik Schmitt (D).

The prominence of certain countries among the prize-winners reflects not only their short film production volume, but also of course the number of festivals in the respective region. As films have better chances of winning awards on their home turf, more festivals in a particular country means more wins for domestic productions. Examples of this phenomenon are Germany, France, the USA and Spain, although the number of short film festivals in the latter country is declining.

Likewise of interest are the numbers indicating films’ success abroad. Here the following picture takes shape: the greatest acclaim in foreign climes was reaped in 2014 by films from France (112 awards), the UK (93), Germany (79), the USA (63), Belgium (52) and Canada (43). This is almost the same sequence as in 2013. Only Germany and the UK have swapped places, and Spain fell behind Canada.

Amongst the countries that do not boast an active line-up of short film festivals like the ones in Germany, France and Spain, a disproportionate success rate was enjoyed in 2014 by Poland (40 foreign awards) and Canada. In Canada films produced by the National Film Board as well as independent productions again reaped kudos worldwide. And in Poland, film-school productions are especially strong contenders. Dutch films also score high abroad, with comparatively few festivals and competitions offering opportunities at home (42 awards, thereof 37 abroad). The success of Swiss films (50 prizes in 2014, thereof 29 abroad) can probably be attributed to a good overall short film structure in the small country.


Success at home vs. recognition abroad

In prior years, films from Brazil and the USA won substantially more awards at home than abroad. This was still the case in 2014, but the gap has narrowed. The UK, Spain and Australia were once also countries where domestic productions tended to reap more glory at home than abroad, but this situation then changed in 2012. With the exception of countries without their own short film festivals or film awards, there was no major discrepancy anymore between domestic and foreign success.

Apart from the USA and Brazil, only films from Argentina, Iran and Germany won more prizes at home than abroad in 2014. Germany is however a special case statistically, because we register the awards at many of its domestic festivals, even minor ones, in our magazine. German short films received 151 awards at home in 2014 (2013: 172) and 79 abroad (76).

Conversely, films from France, the UK, Belgium and Japan in particular achieved greater recognition on foreign shores than at home. This also applies to countries without festival structures such as Hungary and Argentina.

Croatia witnessed the least favourable balance between domestic and foreign prize-winners in 2014.

Germany’s favourite production countries

In Germany, the most decorated films in 2014 came from the UK (24 awards), France (22), the USA and the Netherlands (12 apiece), Belgium (9), Austria and Switzerland (6 apiece), and Israel (5).
A long-term trend can be observed here in the case of the UK and France. Notable is that Polish films had a hard time in Germany in 2014. Brazilian and Spanish titles also fared disproportionately poorly on German soil.


Preferences in other countries

French films received the most foreign awards in Germany (17), Italy (10) and Spain (8). British films were – as in 2013 – particularly appreciated in Germany (19 awards), the USA (12) and France (9). Films from the USA earned prizes in several countries, but most of them in Germany (11), France, Austria and Switzerland. Films from the South American countries received the most awards on their own continent, followed by festivals in France and Spain. Besides awards at home, films from the Nordic countries did best in the USA and Germany.


International orientation of jury decisions

Amongst the ten countries presenting the most awards for short film, there were slight differences last year in terms of international orientation. In France, Italy, Portugal and Switzerland, more than half of the winners in 2014 were foreign films. In Germany as well, just over half of all awards were bestowed on foreign productions. In Spain, Brazil and the USA, more prizes were awarded in 2014 to domestic than foreign productions.

The largest range of countries represented amongst the winners can be found in Germany (49 different countries!) and France (42), followed by the USA (41), Spain (31) and Italy (27). This international outlook is increasingly taking hold. This is most evident in the USA, where each year more and more foreign films are recognized. In 2010, for example, only 12 countries were represented among the prize-winners.

Among the major production countries, only the UK is an inglorious exception when it comes to the international breadth of jury decisions, with only 9 countries represented in the nearly 50 awards conferred – a probable effect of the low number of international short film festivals there.


The year’s most successful films internationally

As is almost always the case, the top film of 2014 was once again animated: WIND by Robert Löbel (D) accumulated the most awards (17). In this hand-drawn animation, people on a beach struggle against the wind and weather. Löbel thus drafts a metaphor for the human capacity to adapt to harsh living conditions. The film was a graduate project at Hamburg University of Applied Sciences in 2012/13. In our last list of awards during 2013, it was already in fourth place and had received prizes at the FilmFest Dresden and DOK Leipzig, among others. In 2014, the film toured festivals abroad as well and also took part in many smaller festivals. It won the majority of its prizes at festivals for animated film.


Tied for second place in the ranking for 2014, with 13 awards, is the French-Chinese short film LA LAMPE AU BEURRE DE YAK (BUTTER LAMP) by Hu Wei. This film was likewise already well-represented in 2013 with seven awards. The film initially gives the impression of a documentary, as we watch nomadic Tibetans posing for an arranged family photo before exchangeable pictorial backdrops. Director Hu Wei staged the scene with non-professional actors with the aim of showing the clash between modern advances in the industrialised world and the traditional lifestyle of the villagers. The film embarked on its career more or less on the periphery (prizes at festivals in Greece and Ukraine) and then had its international breakthrough in 2014 with a Grand Prix in Clermont-Ferrand.

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The second film to win 13 awards is an “old acquaintance”: NASHORN IM GALLOP by Erik Schmitt already won nine awards in 2013. The narrative short film deals with urban life and the architecture of Berlin as backdrop for a romantic love story. As in all of the films by Erik Schmitt (and Stephan Müller), animations and objects made of cardboard symbolically stand in for the feelings and thoughts of the protagonists in the real world of the city.


In fourth place with ten awards is the animated film SINFONIA NO. 42 (Symphony No. 42) by the German-Hungarian filmmaker Réka Bucsi. In 47 scenes, the film chronicles episodes from an absurd world of fable where human emotions and behaviours are transferred onto animals. Incidentally, SINFONIA NO. 42, like RABBIT AND DEER, which took fourth place last year, was a final project at Moholy-Nagy University in Budapest. The film premiered in 2013 in the Berlinale Shorts programme and also received the prestigious Hiroshima Prize at the Hiroshima Animation Festival.

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Tied for fifth place are two films with eight awards each:

  • 37°4 S by Adriano Valerio tells of love-struck teenagers on a distant island. The young couple has to go its separate ways because the girl wants to leave the deserted island while the boy wishes to remain. The poetic fictionalised documentary by the Italian director is a French production that was filmed between two ship passages on the island of Tristan Da Cunha, which is located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean (the title cites the coordinates). The film launched its career in 2013 in Cannes and in 2014 received awards including the Italian David di Donatello film prize. URL (production):
  • A MILLION MILES AWAY is a fiction film by the US director Jennifer Reeder. In the magic realist style, it recounts the story of a teacher unhappily in love and her precociousness female teenage students. At a choir rehearsal, the emotional relationships are transformed as a single song is rehearsed. The film got its start in Rotterdam in 2014 and has since received awards at festivals including Oberhausen, Vienna, Ann Arbor, Bristol and Winterthur. URL:

Review and preview: From the “top ten” of the previous year, the animated film PANDAS by Matus Vizár is back on top of the list in 2014, while probably one of the most successful German short films in 2014/15, SIEBEN MAL AM TAG BEKLAGEN WIR UNSER LOS UND NACHTS STEHEN WIR AUF, UM NICHT ZU TRÄUMEN by Susann Maria Hempel, already won six awards in 2014.


Film genres

Comparing films that received more than three prizes, 25 of the 53 were fiction, 15 animation, nine documentaries and four experimental or hybrid films. The high number of prizes for animated films is due not only to their typical popularity but also to the large number of specialized animation festivals. The other genres are at a disadvantage in this respect, seeing as almost all other festivals are not genre-bound and allow animated films to compete. Conspicuous in 2014 was the growing number of honours for documentaries (2013: only 2) and the lack of artistic and experimental films at the top of the prize pyramid. The classic short fiction film is still the preferred genre of the juries.


German films

In 2014, eight German films were amongst the 53 films with more than three awards. Apart from the previously mentioned titles, these were: STILLER LÖWE by Julia Neuhaus (6 awards), SUNNY by Barbara Ott (6), VIRTUOS VIRTUELL (5) by Thomas Stellmach & Maja Oschmann, KATHEDRALEN (4) by Konrad Kästner, SIMPLYclever (4) by John Kürschner & Franz Müller, and STUFE DREI (4) by Nathan Nill, as well as the co-productions THE CHICKEN by Una Gunjak (6) and WO WIR SIND (4) by Ilker Çatak.

135 additional German films received one to three awards in 2014. Abroad, German films enjoyed the greatest success in Spain (10 awards), the USA and France (8 apiece). Overall, 50 German films brought home awards from abroad.


Audience awards

A total of over 170 audience awards were cited on our website. The most popular films in 2014 were NASHORN IM GALOPP (4 audience awards of 13 awards in total, thereof 2 in D), STUFE DREI (all 4 prizes were audience awards in Germany), DISCIPLINE (3 of 6, thereof 1 in its homeland CH) and LA BÛCHE DE NOËL (3 of 5, thereof 1 in Belgium).


Award concentration in 2014 – it’s still lonely at the top

When we looked back over the year 2008, we already noted that the distribution pyramid for film prizes tended to taper off considerably toward the top. In 2009, only 15 films were able to amass more than four awards each. The pattern continued in festival year 2010, when 54 films (out of 870 award-winners) swept up nearly one-quarter of all prizes. In 2011, we recorded slightly in excess of 1,200 awards, which were distributed amongst 884 films. Only 18 films won more than four prizes. In 2012 by contrast, 876 films received only one award and 35 won more than three prizes. In 2013, a “top tier” of 42 titles accumulated more than 253 awards. However, a total of 977 films were awarded only one prize.

In 2014, 27 films grabbed more than four awards. At the top of the ranking, the 53 film titles with more than three awards accumulated a total of 295 of all the prizes that year (i.e. nearly 20% of all the awards recorded on the website). The pyramid was hence somewhat flattener than the previous year, which appears to be a long-term, albeit gradual trend. However, the overwhelming majority of films (956) received only one award each in 2014.


Short film awards at prestigious feature film festivals

It used to be that short films played only a supporting role at festivals dedicated primarily to feature-length film. But things have changed in the last few years. Most of the major festivals now include short film in their programmes not as a lead-in but with its own competitions. Participation in feature film festivals and the awards conferred there are thus exerting an increasing impact on the short film scene, though not necessarily influencing jury decisions, as we can see from the following. Here are some examples in chronological order:

  • Sundance (01/2014):
    The Short Film Grand Jury Prize winner OF GODS AND DOGS received a further award in Nyon.
    The animated film winner YEARBOOK was subsequently successful at three further festivals. The other seven short film winners at Sundance did not go on to receive additional awards.
  • Rotterdam (02/2014):
    Of the three winners of the Tiger Awards for Short Films (a tie) only LA ISLA received a further award (in Huesca), along with THE CHIMERA OF M. (in Zagreb).
  • Berlinale (02/2014)
    The Golden Bear of the Berlinale Shorts went to TANT QU’IL NOUS RESTE DES FUSILS À POMPE, which, following its premiere in Berlin, went on to win three more prizes (in Bordeaux, Geneva and Rio). The Silver Bear winner LABORAT won no further prizes.
    The DAAD Short Film Prize winner PERSON TO PERSON was also distinguished at the short film festival in Vila do Conde (Prémio Ficção).
    Greater success was enjoyed by the winner of the Crystal Bear in the competition Generation KPlus: SPROUT by Ga-eun Yoon (Rep. Korea) went on to win three prizes in Busan and one in Aspen.
    The winner of the Crystal Bear for Generation 14plus, MIKE, also won a prize in Bilbao (Mikeldo de Plata).
    The film MOY LICHNIY LOS’ (MY OWN PERSONAL MOOSE) received both a special prize in the GenerationKplus competition and an audience award at the Fantoche Festival.
    Six further Berlinale prize-winners received no further festival awards in the course of the year.
  • Cannes (05/2014)
    The winner of the Palme d’Or, LEIDI, received no more short film awards in 2014.
    AÏSSA and JA VI ELSKER tied for a Mention spéciale, with only the latter, Norwegian, film succeeding elsewhere too (in Brest and at PÖFF).
    The animated film THE BIGGER PICTURE by Daisy Jacobs (UK), which tied for a third prize from Cinéfondation, was the most successful of all, receiving six more awards after Cannes.
    CROCODILE by Gaëlle Denis won two further awards following the Prix Canal+ from Semaine Internationale de la Critique.
    In the other competition categories, only the Brazilian winner of the Quinzaine of Réalisateurs, SEM CORAÇíO (HEARTLESS), received three prizes elsewhere, and the Mention spéciale winner TRECE SI PRIN PERETE (IT CAN PASS THROUGH THE WALL) by Rada Jude went on to pocket two awards at other festivals.
    Four winners at Cannes did not receive any subsequent prizes.
  • Locarno (08/2014):
    The winner of the Pardino d’oro, ABANDONED GOODS, received no additional prizes. The Pardino d’argento winner, SHIPWRECK, won two more awards (in Bilbao and in Torun).
    The winners of the eight other short film awards did not receive any prizes elsewhere.
  • Venice (09/2014):
    The winner of the Orizzonti Award for Best Short Film, MARYAM, and the Venice Nomination for the European Film Awards, PAT – LEHEM (DAILY BREAD), received no further awards in 2014.
    Because of the late date of the festival, however, further festival wins are still possible in 2015 (this also applies to Locarno).


Are major festivals important as trend-setters for a film’s later career?

Filmmakers face the dilemma of whether it’s worthwhile to put all their cards on the big (fiction film) festivals. These major festivals generally demand a world premiere for eligibility – or at least a national debut. Short films submitted there are hence blocked from participating in other festivals or being screened elsewhere for the time being. And the statistics show that if they are successful at one of the big-name festivals, they rarely go on to receive awards elsewhere. In fact, the films that premiere at one of these larger festivals and do not win an award actually have the best chances!

This is evident from looking at the short films that won the most prizes at the premiere festivals. Here are the results for the ten films for which we registered the most prizes in 2014: LA LAMPE AU BEURRE DE YAK had its premiere at the Semaine Internationale de la Critique in 2013 and was not awarded there. NASHORN IM GALLOP got its start in 2013 in the Generation category at the Berlinale; SINFONIA NO. 42 at the Berlinale in 2014; 37°4 S in Cannes (with a tie for Honourable Mention); A MILLION MILES AWAY in Rotterdam in 2014; THE BIGGER PICTURE in Cannes in 2014 (tied for third prize of the Cinéfondation). BAGHDAD MESSI premiered at the Dubai Film Festival UAE in 2013 and is an exception to the rule because it was chosen there as Best Film. BOLES started its career in Annecy in 2014; BORDER PATROL at the Student Film Festival in Beijing with one award (Best Director). DISCIPLINE had its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2014. Only the film with the most awards in 2014, namely WIND, debuted at a relatively minor event without competition, namely at Pictoplasma in Berlin in 2013.


National and international film awards

Nine national short film awards were posted on the website in 2014, from Germany, Denmark, France, UK, Italy, Canada, Austria, Sweden and Switzerland, as well as the American Academy Awards. It is striking that virtually no correlations can be found here with the jury decisions at the festivals.

  • German Short Film Award
    Of the winners of the Film Award in Gold and the nominees for the German Short Film Award, only SIEBEN MAL by Susann Maria Hempel went on to win several further prizes (6). PATCH (nominee) by Gerd Gockell received the Prix spécial du jury in Annecy. EL CARRO AZUL (nominee) by Valerie Heine won the NRW Competition at Oberhausen. The other ten prize-winners came up empty-handed at the festivals!
  • Murnau Short Film Award
    Of the seven award-winners only VIRTUOS VIRTUELL by Thomas Stellmach & Maja Oschmann and WO WIR SIND by Ilker Çatak won prizes elsewhere.
  • Danish Film Academy
    The winners of the Danish “Robert”, 2 PIGER EN KAGE (Jens Dahl) and TAL R: THE VIRGIN (Daniel Dencik), did not win any further prizes.
  • British Academy
    Of the eight BAFTA Short Film Award winners, only two films received festival prizes as well. ORBIT EVER AFTER (nominee) by Jamie Stone won an audience award at British Shorts Berlin and Best Use of Digital Technology in Sydney. KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES (nominee) by Megan Rubens was named Best Thriller Short at the London Short Film Festival. The BAFTA Short Film Award winner ROOM 8 by James W. Griffiths came up empty-handed.
  • French Césars
    AVANT QUE DE TOUT PERDRE (Meilleur Film) by Xavier Legrand was named Best International Short in Sidney and awarded the Premio della stampa at the Sedicicorto Festival. MADEMOISELLE KIKI ET LES MONTPARNOS (Meilleur Film d’Animation) by Amélie Harrault received only one further award in 2013, at the Grand off in Warsaw.
  • Italian Premi David di Donatelli
    As already mentioned, the prize-winner here, 37°4 S (Miglior Cortometraggio), was also very successful elsewhere.
  • Canadian Screen Awards
    NOAH (Best Live Action Drama) by Patrick Cederberg & Walter Woodman was named Best Short Film at the Lago Film Festival and was awarded the Grand Prix Labo and Prix du Public Labo at Clermont-Ferrand.
    SUBCONSCIOUS PASSWORD (Best Animated Short) by Chris Landreth also won prizes in Bristol and at the Cinequest Festival in San Jose.
  • Austrian Film Award
    The “Best Short Film”, ERDBEERLAND by Florian Pochtlatko, received no further awards
  • Swedish Guldbagge
    ON SUFFOCATION (Best Short) by Jenifer Malmqvist received the fiction film prize in Trondheim.
    ÄTA LUNCH (nominee) by Sanna Lenken received prices in Uppsala and Valladolid in 2013. The second nominee, ME SEAL, BABY by Joanna Rytel, did not receive any other prizes.
  • Swiss Film Award
    THE GREEN SERPENT (Best Short Film) by Benny Jaberg was also awarded at Videoex in Zurich. THE KIOSK (Best Animated Film) by Anete Melece received prizes in Solothurn and in Ismalia, Egypt.
  • Academy Awards
    A similar picture presented itself at the Academy Awards and the Student Academy Awards. All the same, BORDER PATROL (Student Academy Award Bronze) did receive five additional awards. The Danish film HELIUM (Short Film Live Action) by Anders Walter won two more prizes at home in Odense. And Mr. HUBLOT (Short Film Animated) by Laurent Witz & Alexandre Espigares pocketed three additional awards. The other 14 films awarded an “Oscar”, including the German fiction film NOCEBO by Lennart Ruff (Foreign Category Gold Medal), did not receive any festival prizes in 2014 (or incidentally in 2013). Especially surprising is that the American Oscar winners did not even enjoy success at festivals in their own countries. For the period 2013–14, we by the way registered nearly 400 short film awards in the USA.

As we can clearly see, completely different criteria and modes evidently prevail for the national film awards than for the juries at film festivals. For the filmmakers, such diversification is of course not a bad thing, because otherwise even fewer films would get a piece of the prize cake. It’s still the case that only 20 films laid claim to more than 10% of all awards. But we do have a record number in 2014 of nearly 1,200 short film titles that received at least one prize.

Postscript: After we post these annual statistics online, we sometimes receive letters from filmmakers telling us they have received more awards than the ones mentioned here. This is surely true for most films if one takes into account all competitions and festivals including smaller regional events. The selection of festivals evaluated here is however limited in terms of quality and quantity. The criteria are openly disclosed in the introduction above. These are the same festivals that are listed in the monthly Festival Calendar on the website. If any important short film festivals are missing there, we would definitely like to know about it!

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