Today is the initial unveiling of The Short Awards, our ongoing project to honor the best online short film releases of the previous year.
It doesn’t need to be repeated that 2020 was a challenging year. But, in the midst of disruption and anxiety, loss and pain, culture existed—even thrived—and the S/W team was proud to play our small role in providing a platform to talented artists throughout. As our worlds narrowed, submissions to S/W unexpectedly soared, and it became clear to us that the ability to share online was proving more vital than ever. It was a responsibility we took seriously, and I commend the whole team on the work they did, from handling the increased load in our day-to-day submissions to projects like SXSW Week at the onset of the pandemic in America and our #ShelterShorts initiative which provided a creative outlet to filmmakers cooped up at home. The adaptability and perseverance of filmmakers was a continual surprise and inspiration to us.
So now it is time for awards. All 256 films featured on Short of the Week in 2020 were eligible, these films themselves whittled down from over 9000 short films our team reviewed for consideration last year. Each member of the S/W team submitted a top-ten which we aggregated as a shortlist. From there, Rob Munday, Chelsea Lupkin, and I deliberated on the final selection: one winner and one special mention in nine separate categories. And, for the first time, we invited a Jury to award our final prize! Minhal Baig, Winnie Cheung, and Elise McCave graciously took up the task of deciding our Short of the Year, henceforth known as The Short Awards ‘Jury Prize’.
In one last wrinkle, we are also changing our ‘Audience Choice’ Award this year. Traditionally we picked the film that received the most on-site plays in the calendar year. However, the increased importance of social platforms for the distribution of shorts, including our YouTube channel (which passed 400k subscribers in 2020), made counting onsite plays feel anachronistic. As such, we turned it back to you, with a voting poll and gave you 48 hours to register a vote for one of this year’s award winners that is your favorite.
Thank you for following the work we do at Short of the Week, and for your support of the innovative creators that are pushing visual storytelling forward. 2021 promises to be a big year for us, and I hope you’ll continue to stay tuned for all the excitement that comes next! For now, here are the 2021 Short Award Winners. – Co-Founder, Jason Sondhi
dir. Kajika Aki
The S/W team is well-embedded in the festival scene and though we spend a large portion of our time wallowing in short film programs hunting for titles we want to share with you, there’s nothing we love more than a fresh online discovery. A short that hits the internet unannounced, that we encounter with no prior knowledge, coming out of leftfield and just blowing us away with its vision. In 2020 that film was Kajika Aki’s MOM. A dystopian tale of a young girl hunted in front of ever-present cameras, Aki brings emotion, drive, and stunning design to her futuristic vision, making it a short we’ve become “borderline obsessed” with. – Rob Munday
Special Mention: Bloeistraat 11
dir. Nienke Deutz
It’s a winning formula when an animator is able to combine novel craft with a moving story, and that is what Dutch-artist Nienke Deutz accomplished with Bloeistraat 11. Probably the most-honored short in our awards lineup, the film had a lengthy festival run that saw it take home numerous top-tier prizes, including an Annecy Cristal. Why? Craft is one reason, Deutz painstakingly animated the film using translucent plastic cutouts of the characters, blending 2D aesthetics in a 3D world in striking ways. However, it is the way her chosen technique interacts with the coming-of-age story that creates magic. A knowing story about inseparable best friends on the cusp of maturity, whose relationship splinters at the onset of puberty, there is an intense focus on bodies—their overlap, their changing. The blitheless comfort they take in each others bodies suggests a sense of permeability in their very identities that the technique is able to visualize, only to pull them apart again. – Jason Sondhi
dir. Graham Parkes
It’s a pretty effective writing prompt to just take an idiom and literalize it. We’ve received variations on all sorts of popular expressions over the years, some good, some bad. Graham Parkes’ latest takes a cliché we’re familiar with and gives it that hi-concept twist. Quieting the voice in your head is normally tough, and that’s without the voice’s actual personification waking up in bed next to you before belittling your genitalia in the shower.
The film is clever in this routine way but extraordinary in unexpected ways. It possesses a twist that is simply jaw-dropping, and, as a whole, possesses surprising pathos and insight. For such a darkly funny film, filled with crude and loud humor, its closing scene is tenderly devastating, speaking to the deep comfort we take in the familiarity of our self-destructive behaviors. – Jason Sondhi
Special Mention: Princess Rita
dir. Blair Waters
What do you look for in a comedy? For me, there have never been many films that have a particularly high ‘laughs per minute’ ratio so instead I find the comedy I’m drawn to is more the uncomfortable kind, the type that can be rated in sniggers instead of full LOL’s. Blair Waters’ Princess Rita is my kind of comedy. A tale of loneliness and hope, from Fedor Steer’s awkward appearance to his revealing narration (“I had a dream where you had the aroma of a warm tangerine”), Blair’s 10-minute short blends dark-comedy with surprising emotion to make for a film that will either deliver laughs or feels…depending on your disposition. – Rob Munday
dir. Berthold Wahjudi
A charming short which proves that romcoms don’t have to be saccharine to be effective, Berthold Wahjudi’s Summer Hit goes down like an ice-cold beer (Bavarian, of course!) on a hot summer day. An accomplished narrative that captures the essence of Erasmus (Europe’s heralded student exchange program), its gorgeous cinematography and soundtrack transport us to Laia and Emil’s Summer semester in Munich. That ‘student-life’ vibe, mixed with the international atmosphere, reminded me of another film I love—Klapisch’s L’auberge espagnole, but Summer Hit feels more anchored in reality, its genuine feel making it feel like a pleasant memory from seasons past. It’s a film you will look back on fondly, with real warmth, just as you imagine Laia and Emil will, when they reminisce about their time in Munich. – Céline Roustan
Special Mention: Night Swim
dir. Victoria Rivera
Complex, nuanced, and with multiple layers hiding unspoken feelings, female friendships are rarely depicted accurately on-screen—especially teenage ones. I have a real soft spot for coming-of-age stories that capture the awkwardness and mistakes we make during those years, without judgment. This year’s standout example is Victoria Rivera’s second S/W-selected short film, Night Swim, where a friendship triangle’s dynamic hit close to home for me. For that reason, following the main character through the series of events that define that one night was nothing short of captivating. The way she navigates the situation, reacts to the unforeseen danger and grapples with the decisions she has made makes for one of the most profoundly compelling short film experiences I’ve seen in some time. – Céline Roustan
dir. Sean Wang
If I was to quickly list out all the things that we believe an online audience is looking for in a short film, Sean Wang’s Still Here (還在) would probably be the antithesis of these qualities. A slow-paced, meditative film, it’s a testament to Wang’s confident filmmaking approach that we not only featured his film but named it as our favorite documentary short of 2020. The story of the last residents of an almost-abandoned Taiwanese village, the film’s themes of isolation took on extra relevance in a year many of us experienced similar feelings, but the work will resonate long after its topicality expires due to its intimate ruminations on the importance of home. – Rob Munday
Special Mention: The Grass Is Always Greener On TV
dir. Matt Pizzano
Portrait documentaries focused on artists are tricky business. Usually leaning too heavily on the craft, the films play as bland infomercials for their subject. The Grass is Always Greener on TV is a welcome exception to this common pitfall, bolstering a popular subgenre desperately in need of reinvention. Matt Pizzano’s film is a human story first and foremost, with a moving arc, capturing the oh many ups and downs of Mark Bennett’s life with a nose for drama. The quality of Pizzano’s craft is indisputable, with incredible editing and a visual flair perfectly complemented to Bennett’s life story. And what a story! I have to confess that I actually own a floorplan of an apartment of one of my favorite shows, so naturally, I was very interested in learning more about this man and his unconventional art form. Turns out that his passion and obsession for TV was actually his form of escape from the grim reality of a troubled upbringing. Just when you think you have a handle on his story, another twist emerges, immersing you deeper in his life. As the 15-min doc finished, I found myself wiping tears from my ears…not what I expected at all. – Céline Roustan
BEST FAMILY FRIENDLY
dir. Jeanne Hammel, Margaux Cazal, Louis Holmes, Sandy Lachkar, Agathe Leroux & Léa Rey–Mauzaize
As a father of two young boys, the Family-Friendly channel on S/W is one I’m always looking to keep well-stocked and nothing excites me more than being able to share a short film I love with the kids. The word family is important in that label though, these aren’t just films for kids—there should be something there for the adults to enjoy as well and this is certainly the case with Gobelins short T’as Vendu Mes Rollers? (You Sold My Rollerskates?). At first sight, you may be a little hesitant in sharing a subtitled film with the young ones, but the visual language here is so strong that words aren’t really needed. Following its young protagonist through a series of beautifully designed frames as he hunts for his beloved rollerskates, it’s a low-stakes adventure, but the quest-like feel and videogame inspired aesthetic make it a “must-watch for animation fans of all ages”. – Rob Munday
Special Mention: A Night in Camp Heebie Jeebie
dir. Dylan Chase
Confession time: I struggle with a lot of animated short films. The short-medium is tailor-made for experimentation, and in turn, that often leads to the production of a lot of abstract animations that are hard to parse. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the Pixar clones: films trying to mimic the iconic studio’s penchant for glossy CG and stirring one’s heartstrings. Dylan Chase’s film falls into neither of those buckets and is better for it. It’s “cute” like a Pixar film, but never saccharine or stylistically derivative. And, it’s not so weird or high-concept that it will immediately turn off younger viewers. Although it may sound like hyperbole, I’d argue that A Night in Camp Heebie Jeebie is a tonal masterwork, the kind of thing that just shouldn’t work, but somehow does: equal parts thrilling and funny, hinting at childhood nostalgia without feeling manipulative in the process. It’s the most “fun” I had watching a short this year. – Ivan Kander
dir. Caleb J. Phillips
In snarky Slack conversations, the Short of the Week team often likes to rib that horror shorts are universally bad. We’re being tongue-in-cheek to be sure, but there is a hint of truth to our petulance: the problem with most horror films (especially shorts) is that they all feel so derivative—almost like they are operating from the same “boo scare” template with a random monster cycled in. Caleb Phillips’s Other Side of the Box eschews this convention. It’s unpredictable. It’s unsettling. It crafts a unique scenario with a unique set of rules. Moreover, it’s a horror film as scary as it is uncanny, built upon an insane (and clever) high concept premise that invariably sticks with you. There’s a moment in the middle of the film—the “creature” reveal—that is so ingrained in my psyche that it often appears in my dreams. Actually, make that nightmares…If that’s not an indicator of a good horror short, I don’t know what is. – Ivan Kander
Special Mention: Suicide by Sunlight
dir. Nikyatu Jusu
Prior to watching Nikyatu Jusu’s Suicide by Sunlight, I thought that I’d seen it all when it came to Vampire films. In an entirely exhausted subgenre of horror, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Jusu’s take was entirely unique. Following a day-walking black vampire, protected by the sun by her melanin, she is forced to suppress her bloodlust in order to regain custody of her two daughters. Suicide by Sunlight is a monster movie exploring themes of motherhood, prejudice, and human nature. A highbrow horror with a conscience, Jusu’s short is sexy and full of female empowerment—how could we not give it our Horror special mention? – Chelsea Lupkin
dir. Matthew Puccini
I remember the first time I watched Dirty, in the middle of a long day of screening back to back shorts. Needless to say, I was deeply moved. That day, I instantly knew I had just seen one of my favorite shorts of the upcoming season. The fact that a good 2000 shorts later, I have still such a clear memory of the first time I saw it is a testament to the emotional impact it had on me, and clearly a lot of people agree, given all the laurels it’s collected since its Sundance 2020 premiere. Though its simple, universal premise has been depicted on screen many times before, Puccini infuses so much authenticity and vulnerability that this narrative of two high school teenagers about to “do it” for the first time has quickly become one of the most emotionally relatable shorts I have ever seen. – Céline Roustan
Special Mention: Amies (Girlfriends)
dir. Marie Davignon
Admittedly, my love for Marie Davignon’s Amies snuck up on me because it wasn’t a film that was on my radar until it came time for our awards. As an avid fan of the coming-of-age genre, this complex exploration of young womanhood spoke to me in a way that not many films dare to. Cinematographer turned director, Davignon guides the camera like an extension of the trifecta of her characters. When longtime friends Amélie, Maude, and Pascale reunite by trekking to a secluded cabin, rivalries and tension slowly flare between them. Blurring the lines between friendship and sexual desire, Davignon weaves an intricate web that probes into the very psyche of teenage youth. But Amies is no John Hugues movie—this film takes a dark turn that reveals just how deeply young hearts can love and hate to their very depths. Sexy, destructive, and delicate in nature, Amies holds nothing back. – Chelsea Lupkin
dir. Kate Cox
I couldn’t be more pleased that my favorite film of 2020 has won this genre category! Starring Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Attack the Block) and BAFTA nominee Nikki Amuka-Bird, Kate Cox’s visionary sci-fi film Vert is a tender portrait of love (in all its forms), that will subvert your expectations to the very end. Following an open-minded couple celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary, they venture into the virtual reality world of ‘Vert’, where people are presented as their ‘ideal selves’. This gender-bending story is a reminder that it’s never too late to accept our true selves and that love comes with compromise. Cox’s use of the genre space to tell such a complex human story makes for an incredibly moving experience that will take you outside of yourself. While there may be no flashy special effects, with its hypnotic pops of color Vert is nonetheless eye candy fitting of its science fiction genre. This is high concept filmmaking that I wish to see more of – Chelsea Lupkin
Special Mention: Avarya
dir. Gökalp Gönen
Slick CGI animation combined with science-fiction is a match made in heaven, but like every short we feature on S/W, success is largely grounded in the storytelling. Rely too heavily on the visuals and though it provides sweet eye-candy distraction, it’s going to be forgotten in a heartbeat. Described as “massively ambitious” with the “twisty pleasures of a great Twilight Zone episode”, when we featured it back in October, Gökalp Gönen’s Avarya strikes the perfect balance. With its epic narrative and meticulous design, this 20-minute animation will delight sci-fi fans, CGI enthusiasts and anyone who loves a good story – Rob Munday
dir. Adam Butcher
Adam Butcher‘s What Happened To Crow 64? is a complete surprise of a film that, in many ways, reshaped how I view horror films. Ingeniously crafted to unfold like a true crime story, Butcher’s short investigates a mysterious unreleased N64 game called Catastrophe Crow! While you can remember – and still play – games like Mario Kart, Catastrophe Crow! may not be a game you want to win. What begins as a documentary/video essay suddenly turns into a twisted gameplay video that gives the viewer a POV experience of a truly disturbing alternate reality. Reimagining the classic ghost story, What Happened To Crow 64? is a film that the entire S/W team couldn’t stop talking about. In fact, as soon as the short was published, we were all abuzz with our own fan theories about what happened in it. We dare you to give this a watch and let us know what you think happened to Catastrophe Crow! – Chelsea Lupkin
Special Mention: Getting a Grammy
dir. Derek Milton
It feels contradictory to proclaim Getting a Grammy as “trailblazing” when it is so unapologetically lo-fi. Storytelling through minimalistic phone texts, still images retaining their stock-photo watermark, what is innovative about this shaggy-dog tale of a quixotic quest to fake a Grammy award?
Stay with me a sec. Every couple of years we are presented the idea that creativity in video storytelling will be “revolutionized” via the accessibility of technology and amazing filmmaking will emerge from the masses: first NLE editing arrived, then DSLR’s. Next, it was our phones (your best camera is always in your pocket!), lately, it’s been about how Stories and TikTok are upending visual storytelling. The results are always disappointing. Technology aside, the construction of a good film takes skill, dedication, and shares the same basic outline as it did decades ago.
Getting a Grammy feels like both a break and a continuation of certain strands within short film. Simultaneously a two-fingered salute to the snobs shooting in 12-bit Raw but also to the thought-leaders that have continually promised masterpieces on the horizon from high-schoolers. The film is gloriously amateurish, clearly made in defiance of aesthetic standards, yet it is in no way simple to craft a story this enjoyable and effective—it is an old-school focus on script, storytelling, and comedic timing that makes Getting a Grammy so pleasurable, and displays the purity of a good yarn which transcends mediums. More than any film of recent memory, Milton’s work has made me believe again in the liberatory potential of democratizing filmmaking. For a film about LA, it is deeply ironic to see a masterpiece that’s about what’s within rather than on the surface. – Jason Sondhi
THE S/W Achievement AWARD
dir. Jossie Malis
In the world of short film, watching directors “move on” is a regular occurrence. Filmmakers often make short films as a transitional step, a way of proving their talent, showcasing their craft or introducing a larger story or world. Longevity isn’t something we expect to see, which is why Jossie Malis’ Bendito Machine series is such an impressive, unparalleled project. 13-years in the making, the six episodes that constitute the series follow the exploits of simple-minded organisms, as their relationship with machines leads them through an extraordinary chain of events—tackling war, religion, industry, and more along the way. Having followed the project from the very beginning (the first installment was the 4th film ever featured on this site), Malis feels like short film royalty for the team at S/W and with the final episode released in 2020, what better time to celebrate his achievement. Although we’ll miss the excitement that always came with a new Bendito Machine release, we know we’ll be revisiting this project as a real landmark in the short film arena for years to come. – Rob Munday
Jury Prize for Best SHORT Film
For the first time in S/W history, we have assembled a jury to decide our top prize! We’re honored to welcome the following, illustrious figures as our inaugural jury.
Minhal is a writer & director. Her feature-length film, Hala, premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and was released by Apple. She has worked as a story editor on Bojack Horseman, and as staff writer on Ramy, produced by A24 for Hulu. She has written and directed several shorts, including S/W selections Pretext, After Sophie and Hala, and music videos.
Elise has been working with documentary filmmakers since 2008. As Kickstarter’s Senior Director of Film since 2016, she’s worked with film organizations and filmmakers worldwide, providing tailored support and mentorship on fundraising and audience-building for projects in development and production.
A Hong Kong born, Queens raised, Brooklyn based filmmaker, Winnie collaborates with artists across various disciplines, using illustration, animation, and dance to place the corporeal body within surreal spaces. She has directed films that have screened at Sundance, Fantastic Fest & Fantasia. Her latest film Albatross Soup was our 2020 Short of the Year.
dir. Graham Parkes
Well look at this! Comedies usually get the short shrift come awards season. In America, if the Golden Globes didn’t break them out as a separate category, they would likely be ignored altogether by the major nominating bodies.
This is silly. Comedy is not only popular, it is also hard, and a film that tickles both one’s brain + body is a rare combination. This sort of achievement should not be considered inferior to serious films about serious subjects. In this, our first year of the Short Awards where we brought in outside voices to determine our top prize, our jury agreed—The Voice in Your Head, Graham Parkes’ hi-concept dark comedy, is the 2021 Jury Prize Winner for Best Short.
“The Voice in Your Head is a great concept and genuinely made me laugh out loud” noted one of our jury members, and another added that is “a great marriage of conceptual ingenuity, acting, cinematographic style”. Parkes’ ability to elevate a cliché premise into something both surprising and profound did not escape notice these past several months, and, in a year of hardship, the film’s insights into loneliness and mental health were undeniably topical.
Structurally adventurous (the twist arrives halfway through the film!), sharply written, and brilliantly performed by rising screen star Lewis Pullman (Top Gun: Maverick) and Mat Wright, we’re proud to recognize The Voice in Your Head as Short of the Week’s Short of the Year. – Jason Sondhi
THE AUDIENCE CHOICE AWARD
dir. Jeanne Hammel, Margaux Cazal, Louis Holmes, Sandy Lachkar, Agathe Leroux & Léa Rey–Mauzaize
At festivals, sitting amongst friends, colleagues and fellow short film fans, it’s easy to get a read on which films are real crowdpleasers, which stories really hit a nerve and which comedies really work. When it comes to online, how do you measure a film’s impact on its audience? Views? Comments? Shares? There are a number of metrics we can – and have in the past – look at to determine our most “popular” S/W pick, but this year, with our faith somewhat restored in the voting process, we handed the decision back to you, our audience. Decided by a simple poll, where viewers could select a number one pick from our category winners, or vote for their own personal favourite – we’re proud and excited to announce T’as Vendu Mes Rollers? (You Sold My Rollerskates?) as our 2021 ‘Audience Choice’ winner. Brimming with infectious enthusiasm this six-minute animation wraps you in its warm embrace, overwhelming you with charm and filling you with happiness. It’s the type of short you instantly want to either watch again, or share with someone else – a perfect pick for our ‘Audience Choice’ award.– Rob Munday