Everyone loves awards, and there is a decided dearth of them for short film. Do we really want The Webby’s to get final say on the best short films online? No! (Let’s not even discuss The Oscars…) So stepping into this void, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to celebrate our favorite online shorts of the past year.
While trying to be humble, I will assert that Short of the Week is well qualified to hand out awards. By our estimate our team watched over 6000 short films last year via a mix of submissions, film festival attendance, and copious trawling on Vimeo, which we whittled down to 303 officially featured films in 2017—it is from those selections that the winners we highlight here have been drawn. We’ve been picking our favorite short films online every year since 2007, and have seen all the trends, all the evolutions in style and technology, and have built up a reputation for quality of taste that has lead to being the #1 listing on Google for “short film”.
What used to be a simple Top Ten list in the early years of the site has morphed into the #SWawards, with winners and runners-up in individual categories. What are the categories? Well we mostly invent them up to honor the films we want to honor, so this year, due to a lack of appealing options in VR and Branded Content, we dropped those in favor of “Family-Friendly” and “Social Issues”—a perennial genre that has recently exploded with energy in this age of #MeToo & Trump. I’m sure that will change again in 2019, but for now here are 9 categories with winners + runners-up, as well as an Audience Award for the film most-viewed on site, and, of course, the coveted Short of the Year. That’s 20 films total that our worldwide team has deemed “the best” online releases of 2017. Pick and choose films you may have missed, or marathon all 20 in about 3 1/2 hours!
Without further delay, the 2018 SotW Award Winners. – Editor-in-Chief, Jason Sondhi
A close contender for Short of the Year here at S/W HQ, Jared Anderson’s AFI thesis Unremarkable wowed our team with its simple, yet inventive, premise and flawless production. Following the journey of a body as it is discovered in a parking lot, examined, processed, and released to the family, this film is all about how one person’s daily routine is another’s life-changing event. Featuring some imposing cinematography and unnervingly realistic FX work (Unremarkable isn’t a film for the faint-hearted), Anderson’s short was named “Unremarkable” to highlight the banal fact that people die and go through this process everyday, but really for the resonating power of its storytelling it could have easily been called “Unforgettable”. – Rob Munday
It’s likely you’ve all seen a film shot like Joschka Laukeninks’ Backstory over the last couple of years. You know that social media hit or YouTube viral where you’re lead around some exotic country following the back of a model-like women—this is essentially that—but with a deeply effective story too. Gone is the ideal version of life often presented in those videos, and in its place is a large serving of emotion-shattering realism. A devastatingly effective variation on the first-person POV, Backstory follows the life of one man, from his earliest memories to his dying day. It’s a simple concept, executed perfectly, and the journey Laukeninks’ film takes you on feels equal to that of a feature with all of the emotional resonance—what more could you ask for from a short film? – Rob Munday
Tamar Glezerman’s “long short” rom-com is the perfect blend of laughs and heart. It takes a ridiculous premise (it was literally inspired by a viral story of a woman who wouldn’t leave a KFC after getting dumped) and supplants it with emotions and ideas that are inherently relatable to anybody who has ever suffered a broken heart. The film’s broadly comedic moments (it takes place in a fictional restaurant delightfully named “Frybaby’s”) are balanced out by finely-crafted writing. A scene with a cop in the latter half of the film may just be my favorite dialogue exchange from any short in 2017. Were there more outright “funny” films that I screened this year? Maybe. But, no comedy got me to laugh while also getting me so verklempt. – Ivan Kander
I could write an entire essay about how Sarmad Masud’s Two Dosas perfectly encapsulates an entire generation of second generation immigrants—those who have roots to a different culture, but are firmly ingrained and acclimated in the lifestyle of their birth country. But, that would be far too self serious for a film that is so genuinely hilarious and warm-hearted. Our hero, Pavan, attempts to woo an “English Rose” with his authentic knowledge of Indian cuisine, only to watch as things spiral further and further out of control. Combine this with one of my favorite sight gags of the year—his two co-workers on a couch offering their literal armchair feedback—and you have a comedy that comes from a unique cultural perspective, yet feels universally relatable. – Ivan Kander
A master of viral shorts, Steve Cutts is also simply a master animator. Happiness is the apotheosis of both his gritty, graphic style and his caustic cultural pessimism. Imaging a literal “rat race”, a workaday rat jumps from cheap fix to cheap fix to still his existential emptiness, following whatever trend the capitalist media and advertising industries suggest. Brutally dark, but within that, morbidly funny, from the first stirrings of Bizet’s Carmen at the opening of the film, you know you’ll be onboard for wherever Steve Cutts wants to take you, now and forever. – Jason Sondhi
Here’s the Plan is a difficult film to describe to people—it’s a “G-rated” CG animation about two talking animals who live together…and it’s not meant for kids. In my experience, indie animated shorts tend to fall into two categories: the CG stuff trying to rip off Pixar (serving as a calling card to get a job there) and the avant-garde 2D stuff meant for artistically inclined adults. Here’s the Plan is neither, and it feels undoubtedly unique because of it. It’s a film meant for adults, but is anything but weird (apart from its anthropomorphized lead characters). Rather, filmmaker Fernanda Frick tells a remarkably “normal” story about a “real” relationship between two good…ahem…animal people. We watch as they grow together, and then apart, as they struggle to make their dreams a reality. There are no villains. No big, bombastic moments. It’s a sweet story about the tiny moments that comprise a life…about how easy it is to drown in a sea of mundanity…of routine, and how a strong relationship is the vessel needed to traverse its murkiest waters. I was in tears by the end of it. – Ivan Kander
A real festival favourite, Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas’ multi-layered 12-minute documentary The Rabbit Hunt is a film focused on customs and community. Following a group of youngsters as they go hunting in the fields of Florida, carrying on a tradition migrant workers began in the early 1900s, there’s a palpable sense of discomfort and tension coursing through this short that makes it a unique emotional experience. With the air filled with smoke and ash from the controlled fires in the fields, there’s an almost apocalyptic tone to proceedings, but this isn’t a film set in a dystopian future, this is a film set in the here and now. With this sense of realism magnified by the verité filmmaking approach, The Rabbit Hunt is a film of great impact—a short with many messages, and a film that gets stronger with each subsequent viewing. – Rob Munday
The precocious critic/filmmaker, Charlie Lyne, feels like he’s been an important voice in UK culture for a decade, and yet is still only 26. Among his many creative endeavors, he has turned into a premier documentarian, and Fish Story is a resonant example. Jumbling up personal anecdotes, family history, and cultural nostalgia, the film is an obsessive investigative dive into an incredibly pointless historical event, and is all the more charming for it. Subtly aping the detective tropes of our popular true crime boom in media, you don’t really care about the object of Lyne’s quest, but you care about Lyne and the quest itself, in this remarkable winner of the the UK’s BIFA for Best British Short Film. – Jason Sondhi
BEST Family Friendly
Without a doubt the online short film phenomenon of the year, Esteban Bravo and Beth David’s graduation animation from Ringling College tapped into a deep latent desire within the culture. A cute 3D work that tells a school-yard romance where the protagonist’s heart literally jumps out of his chest to chase after the object of its affection, the short has been viewed over 35M times on YouTube—a truly unheard of number. While absolutely an accomplished work artistically and technically, why such extensive interest from audiences? Working in a mainstream Pixar-style, the filmmaking duo had the temerity to make its protagonist gay. Is it subversive to award such a film in the “Family-Friendly” category? The better question is to ask Disney, Pixar and their peers—”does representation matter?” To millions of young fans, In a Heartbeat has meant everything. – Jason Sondhi
In 2017 I became the last of our editor team to join the parenting club, and with it came new perspective at how little of the content on the site is suitable for children. This is something we want to rectify, and it was immensely pleasing to see such a fine example of family-friendly filmmaking come from one of our most frequently recognized talents, Danny Madden. A hybrid blend of live-action and animation, the film takes place a sleepover party where all the girls are busy playing with their phones and ignoring each other. One girl unleashes her creativity through a doodle, but the doodle takes life and wreaks havoc! Combining a cute message and truly impressive action-adventure sequences, Frolic n’ Mae put a big smile on this adult’s face. – Jason Sondhi
A mockumentary about two housemates sharing a cottage in rural England might sound like a slightly odd selection for our favourite Sci-fi short of 2017, but what if I was to tell you that one-half of this odd couple was actually a robot! A dark comedy centred around an unusual on-screen partnership, Jim Archer’s Brian and Charles is an instantly likeable short that shows that engaging science-fiction narratives don’t always need to revolve around impressive FX work. In fact, if it’s slick CGI you’re after, one look at Charles should tell you this isn’t the film for you! But with that particular sector of science-fiction feeling stuffed with choice in recent times, if original and fun is what you’re after, then look no further than Brian and Charles – Rob Munday
It’s a bit of a giveaway to label Reset as Sci-Fi. The early film takes place at a secluded farm-house and the rustic trappings of the home and the costumes of its inhabitants make it feel like a period-piece. But then things get strange. A combo of horror and futurism, a young girls routine gets interrupted in terrifying ways when she learns that the daily letters from her father that her mother reads to her are, in fact, blank. Beautifully shot, with expert pacing from its pair of Swedish directors, Marcus Kryler and Fredrik Akerström (former professional editors), the film is an expert exercise in mystery and tension which pays off big at the end. No wonder the directors are moving to features—their upcoming flick Hummingbird, is on the way and just cast Milla Jovovich, and an adaptation of this film is in the works. – Jason Sondhi
Horror has a long (and not particularly proud) history of punning so I’ll need you to overlook the title of Rob Savage’s short which is a groan-inducing homage to the landmark 1978 zombie-film by George Romero (RIP!). Schlock comedy this is not however, it’s actually a pretty serious treatment of an interesting premise, as we follow separate storylines in the lead up to a day-zero event—a piercing sound that zombifies all that hear it. The only people safe? Deaf folk! In a year of relative disappointment in the sci-fi shorts space, this origin story was not only our favorite horror film, but also the most compelling proof-of-concept. Here’s hoping we see more in this world soon. – Jason Sondhi
Few horror shorts genuinely frighten me. And, I don’t mean in the “boo” jump scare kind of way. Loud noises are easy, but a feeling of deep unrelenting dread? That’s hard. Bingham is the real deal. A spooky tall tale meant to be told over the campfire…the kind of thing that will keep you up at night, haunting your dreams. For a film that’s essentially all about body horror, it’s remarkable how little director Matt Richards actually “shows.” Rather, instead of gore, you’ll be unsettled by the film’s ideas for days. Sweet dreams… – Ivan Kander
BEST Social Issue
#MeToo was the defining cultural movement of 2017, so it’s fitting that a film about toxic masculinity would make our top films of the year. But, it’s the way that Norwegian filmmaker Henry K. Norvalls explores the issue that makes Sweet Things so special. Rather than a bombastic expose on a “bad man,” Norvalls instead crafts something much more subtle—a inappropriate glance makes you cringe, slight body contact makes your stomach turn. If we’re going to address the problem of sexual misconduct, it needs to be about more than the obviously heinous stories: the Weinsteins…the Tobacks. Rather, we need to confront the insidious way that gendered power relationships have inserted themselves into all cracks of society. Sweet Things is the just the kind of chisel will need to start breaking through the surface. – Ivan Kander
A film about aftermath and consequences, Naima Ramos-Chapman’s challenging short And Nothing Happened undeniably felt like topical viewing in 2017. A year in which many of us found ourselves shell shocked by the events of 2016, whilst also dealing with the revelations of 2017, the uncomfortable experience of Ramos-Chapman’s personal storytelling reverberated strongly for our team here at Short of the Week. Focused on a young woman dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault, it’s to the director’s credit that after viewing And Nothing Happened it wasn’t the harrowing storyline we were discussing but the inventive, refreshing production. It is a challenge for films that seek to traumatic, overwhelming experiences to find a way to communicate that sensation without being bluntly overwhelming themselves, but Ramos-Chapman’s fresh approach presents you with a bit of thinking space to really digest what you’re witnessing—which, in my opinion, is far more thought provoking. – Rob Munday
Cracked Screen: A Snapchat Story’s main headline grab is that it’s shot via Snapchat and unfolds via the format of the platform’s lauded Story stream. The elements are familiar to the digitally hip: the vertical video orientation, the use of the selfie cam overlaid with text and emojis, the chronological presentation. Telling a story this way is decidedly innovative. Yet, Trim Lamba’s film is so much better than that—so much better than it has to be really—it not only examines how storytelling can, and does, function within the ubiquitous tools we spend so much of our free time within, but it engages the culture of the platforms, and the behavior they encourage from their users, critiquing both on psychological and ethical levels. Cracked Screen is defined by a startling act of violence, and cuts across identity issues of both race and gender, starkly critiquing the naked need of performative sharing, and the feedback mechanisms upon which these platforms and communities run. It’s been over a year since the film’s online release, and the cultural conversation is just now catching up to the dark side of social media that this film explores. – Jason Sondhi
I’ve always liked cinema that challenges me. Sure, every now and then I just want some mindless entertainment, but for me, film is at its most rewarding when it surprises you and catches you off-guard and this is undoubtedly what I experienced watching Andrew T. Betzer’s I Turn to Jello. Following a nervous cellist (brilliantly played by Eleanore Pienta) at a nightmarish audition, this is a film that can make you feel uncomfortable one minute and howling with the laughter the next. For the majority of the short, I wasn’t really sure if I should be taking it seriously and then at its WTF-conclusion it brilliantly leaves you with no doubt. I Turn to Jello is a film that needs a little patience, a film you have to stick with to truly reap the rewards, but for me, out of all the short films I watched in 2017 this is the one that’s stuck with me the most. – Rob Munday
We didn’t actually open up voting for you all, and we tend to prioritize our own opinions over the “wisdom” of the crowd. But fortunately, you, our dear audience, displayed exquisite taste in making Anna Kerrigan’s Sundance short Hot Seat the most viewed film on our site in 2017. A film on my personal Top-Ten list of the year, Hot Seat takes a raunchy premise, but through skillful writing and acting, unveils layers of development and depth. At a teenage birthday party innocence and maturity clash, as the entertainment—a male stripper—arrives, proceeding to make everyone uncomfortable. Incorporating themes of coming-of-age, sexual liberation vs. victimization, and incipient romance, set against the cliquish backdrop of high school drama, the film is a marvel of tone that leaves you on the edge of your (hot) seat. – Jason Sondhi
SHORT OF THE YEAR
Claiming the top spot on four of our team members personal top-ten’s at the end of 2017, there was little doubt that Andrew Fitzgerald’s satirical comedy on contemporary internet culture would claim Short of the Year.
We spend so much time on the internet now, via our phones, via social media platforms, that it is something of a surprise that only recently have we seen a flood of films that grapple with this reality. So many are surface level though—haha isn’t funny that we’re all at show/movie/dinner/concert and yet our attention is siloed off within our devices? Or, isn’t it actually devastating that we’re siloed off in our devices—these poor lovers/friends/family-members don’t connect emotionally anymore! Both approaches are too easy—they don’t actually grapple with the culture of these platforms, the anti-social behavior they beget, the deliberate design of these experiences—they don’t delve into the motivations that lead us to escape into the virtual, or deal honestly with the ramifications.
I Know You From Somewhere doesn’t suffer from those deficiencies, it is broad, and outrageous, yet beneath its top-level plot it is wickedly incisive. The sheer number of topics and complaints that it weaves into its story is impressive. Well over a year since it first turned up at film festivals, it has only improved with age, and rewatching the film demonstrates how prescient it was as well.
Spiritually inspired by the Jon Ronson book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, the film tells the story of Katherene (Angela Trimbur) who is caught on cell phone video berating her boyfriend and narcissistic best friend over their infidelity. Due to the lousiness of the video/audio quality, the clip is uploaded online with the (deliberate?) assertion that, in the midst of her righteous diatribe, Katherene slurs her friend with the N-word. She is immediately descended upon by an internet mob, humiliating and scaring her as the viral meme machine transforms her into the villain du jour.
Whether we like to admit it or not, Katherene’s exaggerated tribulations (actually not that exaggerated) strike a real chord of fear in many of us. It’s hardly a revelation to proffer that cesspools of hate abound online (see GamerGate) yet self-righteousness turns even relatively normal people into pitchfork-wielders as well. One slip-up, an indiscrete thought expressed, or an infelicitous word choice online, holds the potential to put any of us in the site-lines of a mass piling-on.
Fitzgerald nails so many aspects of the new reality. Katherene’s Instagram-obsessed friend is a broad caricature, but someone we’re all familiar with. The ease of hookups via Tinder and the infidelity they enable is an ever-present psychological burden. Who hasn’t engaged in social-media sleuthing to uncover unfaithfulness? Fitzgerald visually zooms into these virtual spaces, blowing up feeds and comment sections into fullscreen landscapes where much of the action unfolds. A story about the deleterious effects of technology is in large part told through technology. As seemingly absurd as Katherene’s situation is, its effects are devastatingly real, and these visual flourishes pointedly collapse the now-irrelevant demarcation between online and offline. Offline is life, but online is just life too, and both bleed back and forth into each other without friction.
This theme is best represented by the bookending sequences of the film. Katherene is at a job interview and is confronted with the need to preemptively explain why any basic Google search of her name will expose myriad accusations that she is a racist. The story of the film, from the beginning to the end is Katherene’s retelling of her travails. What’s subtly wonderful about this closing sequence is that the tech executive interviewing her is so blithely dismissive of her long explanation. His deadpan question of “Ok, are you, or are you not racist? Cuz, you know, we can’t have racists working here”, just kills me. His platform has enabled racism to flourish! The tools they invented have lead to destruction of Katherene’s life! The abrogation of responsibility and lack of empathy is massive, all while virtue-signaling “we can’t have racist’s working here”.
While the story up to this point has focused on users bad behavior, this sequence subtly, devastatingly implicates the creators. I think this point gets lost in discussions of the film, yet it is the theme that proves Fitzgerald’s prescience. The amount of topical themes that the film intersects abounds: it is a film about fake news before we knew that phrase, it questions the dark side of call-out culture before its wide-spread codification in #MeToo, but it is the culpability of the technology itself that we’re only starting to wrap our heads around as a culture—the repeated calls for Twitter to do something (anything!) about racism and sexist abuse, the rise of #deletefacebook, and so on. There is plenty of blame to go around according to Fitzgerald, but we need art to accurately depict it if we’re to open our eyes and prevent these idealized utopias of Silicon Valley’s imagination from turning into the dystopias of our nightmares.
In all these ways, IKYFSW is a near perfect short: technically accomplished and innovative, as well as thematically complex, this stand-alone narrative engages with the culture in genuinely important ways (via the medium of its own distribution no less). It’s simply a bonus that the short is fast-paced and hilarious, making its caustic satire go down easy. As the other 19 films on this list prove, short film was f-ing brilliant in 2017, but despite stiff competition, IKYFSW is a worthy winner of Short of the Year, one that I feel confident that many of us will be returning to again and again in the years to come. – Jason Sondhi