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  • Brandon MacMurray

PALM SPRINGS INTERNATIONAL SHORTFEST WINNERS AND REVIEWS


The jury and audience results are in and the winners of Palm Springs International Shortfest have been announced! It's hard to argue with the results. We at ShortStick like to think we have pretty good taste and try to be a bit ahead of the curve. Throughout the festival season have reviewed a lot of the below winners already so we have compiled them all into this winners article along with a couple of new ones. If you weren't able to make the festival in person this year a selection of the award-winning shorts will be playing shortfest @ home from July 10-14. Tickets are just $75 to enjoy some of the best the festival had to offer. Visit here to buy tickets: https://www.psfilmfest.org/shortfest-2024/passes-and-tickets . Thanks to everyone for hanging out and reading our thoughts throughout the fest!


Best of the Festival Award

  

Winner: Bogotá Story (Colombia/USA), Directed by Esteban Pedraza



Colombia has a long history of political violence. Land, power, and wealth are unevenly distributed, and many rural citizens are used to fending for themselves. Organized crime in Colombia grew increasingly powerful with the introduction of drug trafficking, and some guerrilla groups and paramilitary organizations resorted to extortion and kidnapping for financing. These activities led to a loss of support from the local population, after which the organizations bought weapons which were then used to attack military and civilian targets. All of this led to war between the government of Colombia, far-right paramilitary groups and crime syndicates, and far-left guerrilla groups, fighting each other to increase their influence in Colombian territory. This is the world of Bogotá Story.

“I wish I had memories of Bogotá,” says Valeria (voice of Victoria Rivera), our guide to her family’s story. Valeria was a baby in 1992, so she doesn’t remember the droughts, power rationing, or 8 hours of government mandated blackout every day. She is remembering what she has heard about her home country, what her parents Pilar (Catalina Rey) and Alejandro (Victor Tarazona) have told her. Her story starts in the aftermath of one of the worst of a series of car bombings; this one killed 14 people, including three children. Valeria’s grandfather was on the outside of the blast and afterwards had a heart attack and is in hospital. The family tries to go about their life afterwards, but the threat of violence still looms over them every day. By giving viewers this context about the violent history of Colombia, writer-director Esteban Pedraza gives suspense to the whole of Bogotá Story—we know the threat of violence is there, even if we don’t see it.


Rather than focusing on the iconography and cheap thrills of any number of Colombian cartel films, or the Pablo Escobar mythmaking of Narcos and other similar television series, Pedraza instead tells an intimate family story, in the midst of a violent and turbulent era. Pilar wins an internship in New York City, and the couple must decide whether or not they are able to leave behind the life they have created in Colombia; Pilar has to choose between her family and her dreams. Pedraza shoots long takes of the couple arguing, until the simmering tensions explode like a car bomb; the ruthlessly efficient storytelling can say so much with just one establishing shot. With its ferociously committed central performances and strong directorial hand, Bogotá Story is the very deserving winner of Palm Springs International ShortFest’s Best of the Festival Award.


Review by: Joshua Hunt


Best of the Festival Special Mention: Basri and Salma in a Never-Ending Comedy (Indonesia), Directed by Khozy Rizal

  

Best Animated Short

   

Winner: The Car That Came Back from the Sea (Switzerland), Directed by Jadwiga Kowalska



From the late 1970s, communist Poland had been in a deep economic recession. This domestic crisis led to essential goods being heavily rationed, which acted as a stimulus to establishing the first anti-communist trade union in the Communist Bloc, known as Solidarność. Following countless strikes and demonstrations by employees of chief industrial regions, Poland was heading towards bankruptcy. The government drastically restricted everyday life by introducing martial law and a military junta in an attempt to counter political opposition, in particular Solidarność.


Despite this heavy context, director Jadwiga Kowalska makes her film The Car That Came Back from the Sea a light and funny road trip comedy, refusing to let the memories of the era be negative (“most of this truly happened; just different,” the credits joke). The Car That Came Back from the Sea introduces us to Leszek, himself a member of Solidarność, and the other residents of Świdnica, “A small grey dump in communist Poland.” Like most young people in Poland at the time, Leszek just wanted to get away, the only problem was that there was almost no way to travel out of Świdnica—there’s only one car in town but its owner is so protective that he doesn’t even drive it. Eventually, Leszek is able to his own car…even though it has no wheels.


This sets off the incredibly charming plot of The Car That Came Back from the Sea. Leszek gathers his friends, all pack into the one small car, and they drive to the coast of the Baltic Sea. Kowalska’s simple but effective black-on-white rotoscope animations capture the vigour and effervescence of the youths on their roadtrip, experiencing freedom for the first time. The gang use their food stamps to get Vodka because there is no food left on the supermarket shelves, go to a Russian military base to trade vodka for gas, and all sleep in one bed to save money. Ingenious touches capture the humour and quick-wittedness of Leszek and his friends, like the subtitles changing on-screen halfway through a sentence depending on who the boys are talking to.


Arriving at the Polish coast of the Baltic Sea, Leszek realizes he wants to leave Poland before martial law shuts the borders and they are isolated in Poland. Several hundred thousand people had left Poland by this point, and Leszek dreams of joining them—we see his dreams of western Europe in a thought bubble above his head, a bright slash of vibrant colour shows the promise of freedom and a better life, where the Poland is only portrayed in dull black and white. Even though both his car and his country are breaking down, Leszak and his friends find a youthful joy; they live in the moment and enjoy small pleasures. In a world where this type of oppression is still unfortunately very present, The Car That Came Back from the Sea shows the strength of resistance, and the power of living with optimism not despair.


Review by: Joshua Hunt


Best Animated Short Special Mention: Wander to Wonder (Netherlands/France/Belgium/United Kingdom), Directed by Nina Gantz



Wander to Wonder kicks off with the opening theme song of an 80’s children’s tv show by the same title. In this opener we are introduced to the show creator, Uncle Gilly and three miniature humans in brown furry costumers: Mary, Billybud and Fumbleton (voiced by Amanda Lawrence, Terence Dunn and Toby Jones).


Within the first couple of minutes of this short it is revealed that Uncle Gilly has died on the set, leaving the three miniature stars to their own devices. Wander to Wonder chronicles the eerie yet humorous descent of Mary, Billybud and Fumbleton into insanity as they attempt to survive alongside Uncle Gilly’s decaying body and their now fly-infested set. Each minute becomes more and more wild as they move through the different stages of grief. From denial as they attempt to carry-on normally and film the show on their own, to anger when the last gherkin goes missing, and depression as Mary sadly watches one of her favourite moments from the show on repeat.


“I’m sorry for the state of things, it’s all a little bit messy.” 


This quote by Mary encapsulates the acceptance of the situation they have found themselves in. Wander to Wonder reaches its peak at the short’s conclusion as everything spirals out of control. It is chaotic in the best way possible.  


Wander to Wonder is a delightful blend of live action and stop motion animation. The production design really stands out by tying the miniature characters and their small set together with the larger room they are trapped in. Wander to Wonder is qualified for the 97th Academy Awards after winning the Grand Prize at Anima Festival and the International Grand Prize at Tampere Film Festival.


Review by: Brandon MacMurray

  

Best Documentary Short

  

Winner: Seat 31: Zooey Zephyr (USA), Directed by Kimberly Reed



In April, 2023, broadcasting news and social media reported the shockingly censoring of the Montana representative Zooey Zephyr, who was vetoed from speaking and even entering the house of representatives by her republican colleagues. Banned from being present in the room, Zooey decided to sit on a bench outside the house and participate virtually in the sessions. The main reason for her veto was the incisive speeches that she gave on the law which bans the rights of trans people to have health care secured. 


Following the consequences of the punishment, Seat 31: Zooey Zephyr is directed by Kimberly Reed and had its world premiere at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival 2024. The 13 minutes film is effective to exemplify the chaotic results of the censoring by the house of Montana, which brought safety threats to Zooey’s girlfriend, Erin Reed. It also shows how conservatives supporters tried to affect Zooey psychologically while occupying the bench where she would work. With a turn the other cheek approach, she decides to work standing-up at the snack bar nearby instead. 


The film shows that it is not enough to elect transgender people if their rights to speak are not properly guaranteed, even voting for a law that directly affects the community. When Zooey told the Montana house that voting no for the rights of gender-affirming care is having bloods on their hands, it showed that this truth bothered them more than the suicide of trans people who don’t have the right care and support from public policies. The Republican lawmakers only wanted to conform to their ideology rather than protecting Montana’s young people. It just showed how hypocritical they are when it matters the most. 


Seat 31 is an interesting analysis on the months of chaos in the life of an important representative, who was only trying to make a difference for those who voted for her. The film won the mini-doc award and it is now qualified for the 2025 Academy Awards. 


Review by: Pedro Lima


Best Documentary Short Special Mention: Frank (USA), Directed by David Gauvey Herbert


Best Documentary Short Special Mention: Kowloon! (USA), Directed by Mona Xia and Erin Ramirez



Kowloon! gives us a behind the scenes look at the biggest Chinese restaurant in the US. Boasting a whopping 1200 seats today, the restaurant is a family business currently owned by the third generation of the Wong family.


Using a mix of archival footage and interviews, this documentary film takes us on the journey from the original 40-50 seats, then known as ‘The Mandarin House’, to 1958 when Madeline and Bill Wong bought the restaurant and renamed it to ‘Kowloon Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge’ through to present day where the restaurant feels like a whole ecosystem of guests dining and celebrating in the many themed rooms.


Perhaps more importantly though the documentary hones in on what it means to have a family business in practice. From helping their employees with down payments on a house or car purchases, to spending the holidays at work and missing yet another Christmas, it shows the highs and lows of what the Wong family has built over the years. Whether you are serving thousands of customers each year or just a handful, the idea of giving it everything you got for ‘The American Dream’ or just financial stability is something that likely resonates with a lot of viewers - and even if it doesn’t you are guaranteed to leave craving some delicious Chinese food!


Review by: Robin Hellgren

  

Best Live-Action Short Over 15 Minutes


Winner: Oyu (France/Japan), Directed by Atsushi Hirai



Satoshi visits a small town onsen (hot-spring community bath) in Atsushi Hirai’s lovely and enigmatic short film Oyu. He arrives in Toyama on New Year’s Eve to pick up something that was left at the onsen, but when he finds an old ticket to get admission to the baths, he uses this stroke of favor as an invitation for self-reflection. The lonely and quiet Satoshi is played by Okihiko Yoshizawa, in an understated and open-hearted performance that remains largely interior but doesn’t waste a word or glance in bringing the deceptively emotional Oyu to its poignant final shots. 

 

Every shot in the onsen is a steamy fantasy, and cinematographer Benoit Pain makes the baths feel hazy and shrouded, like a dream or a memory from a distant past. The scenes of bathing are almost like a sort of big-screen ASMR, as voices chatter, water drips and splashes, and wet footsteps paddle from side to side. Satoshi begins the bathing ritual as if he is trying to wash something away, but what is he trying to forget? In an intimate look at masculinity that is rarely seen in movies, the men in the baths idly talk about their wives and families. The unhurried examination of loneliness and leisurely scenes of male bonding bring to mind the films of Tsai Ming-liang, especially his own journey to Japan in No No Sleep.

 

Many of the voices are onscreen, as if the audience, along with Satoshi, are eavesdropping on such intimate conversations. These men fully nude in the baths, but it is their stories that are more revealing, these overheard conversations about love and loss and family bringing a figurative warmth of community to the literal warmth of the hot springs. Satoshi’s story does gently reveal itself in the last few minutes of Oyu, but the real pleasures of the film are the bathing scenes, which without becoming voyeuristic, reveal an intimacy rarely seen on film.


Review by: Joshua Hunt


Best Live-Action Short Over 15 Minutes Special Mention: Making Babies (Canada), Directed by Eric K. Boulianne

 

Best Live-Action Short 15 Minutes and Under


Winner: Complications (Norway), Directed by Ivar Aase


In Complications we see the cam girl Lotte (played by Anna Ladegaard) whip in hand having what appears to be a regular session with Arne (played by Sven Henriksen). Arnes kink is power play and he enjoys getting insulted by Lotte as he confesses his bad eating habits, spending too much on fast food he knows is bad for him.


Suddenly the call takes a turn when Arne starts to gasp for air, clenching his chest and falling to the ground. Lotte quickly shifts out of character and tries to call out for the unresponsive Arne. Realizing the urgency of the situation, she now has to figure out a way to send help to an unknown address before it is too late.


Complications, original title Komplikasjoner, as part two of a trilogy that started back in 2021 with the first entry Transaksjoner from a small crew headed by director / producer Ivar Aase. The focal point in the trilogy is the sex worker Lotte who we follow as she gets into absurd yet eerily realistic situations in her line of work. The closing film is titled Reservations (Reservasjoner) and we are eagerly awaiting to see where it makes its debut which is yet to be announced.


-Robin Hellgren


Best Live-Action Short 15 Minutes or Under Special Mention: Favours (Sweden/France), Directed by Agnes Skonare Karlsson

  

Best Student Animated Short 


Winner: On the 8th Day (France), Directed by Agathe Sénéchal, Alicia Massez, Elise Debruyne, Flavie Carin, Théo Duhautois



The Biblical creation story tells of how God created the world in 7 days. On The 8th Day acts as a cautionary tale warning of the impending possibility of destruction by humans on the day after. It is truly shocking to learn that this is a student film as it has some of the most impressive and unique animation I have ever seen from a short film.


In On The 8th Day we see a vibrant world of landscapes and animals, stitched and woven together with fabric-like animation. Bright yarn acts as the lifeblood of this world flowing as water flows, across the earth, into each of the animals and into the beating soul of the planet. It is used as both a metaphorical and physical connection of the environment to the creatures that live in it. 


Dark yarn (fittingly the approximate same colour as the humans in this short) acts as a pollutant pouring out from the cities. As the swelling score (beautifully composed by Adèle Chavy) builds and crescendos, the dark yarn consumes the bright colourful yarn until everything snaps, quite literally. 


On The 8th Day is a spectacular feat of animation that tells an important story of the harmony humans have to achieve with the earth if we are wanting to survive. It is qualified for the 97th Academy Awards after its win for Best Animated Short at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. 


Review by: Brandon MacMurray


Student Animated Short Special Mention: Bug Diner (USA), Directed by Phoebe Jane Hart


Student International Short 

Winner: Where Insects Hide at Night (Brazil/USA), Directed by Lucas Acher

Special Mention: Jellyfish and Lobster (United Kingdom), Directed by Yasmin Afifi


Student U.S. Short 

Winner: Primos (Puerto Rico/USA), Directed by Ricardo Varona

Special Mention: Bita Joon (USA), Directed by Sara Boutorabi


Student Documentary Short 

Winner: Remember, Broken Crayons Colour Too (Switzerland), Directed by Urša Kastelic, Shannet Clemmings

Special Mention: Jardines (Mexico), Directed by Alfredo Torres

Special Mention: Outside Center (Canada/Germany), Directed by Eli Jean Tahchi

 

Best International Short

Winner: The Real Truth About the Fight (Croatia/Spain), Directed by Andrea Slaviček

Special Mention: A Bird Called Memory (Brazil/United Kingdom), Directed by Leonardo Martinelli

 

Best U.S. Short

Winner: Trapped (USA), Directed by Sam Cutler-Kreutz and David Cutler-Kreutz

Special Mention for Direction: Jedo’s Dead (USA), Directed by Sara Nimeh

 

Best Comedy Short

Winner: Favourites (Australia), Directed by Nick Russell

Special Mention: The Bullfighter (USA), Directed by Giselle Bonilla

  

Best LGBT+ Short

Winner: Honeymoon (Greece/France/Cyprus), Directed by Alkis Papastathopoulos

 

Best Midnight Short

Winner: Wander to Wonder (Netherlands/France/Belgium/United Kingdom), Directed by Nina Gantz

Special Mention for Worst Nightmare: Dream Creep (USA), Directed by Carlos A.F. Lopez

 

Bridging the Borders Award

Winner: Palestine Islands (France/Palestine), Directed by Nour Ben Salem, Julien Menanteau

Honorary Mention: Don’t Leave Home! (Georgia/Estonia), Directed by David Japaridze

  

Desert Views Award Sponsored by Silvercrest

Winner: Then Comes the Body (USA/Nigeria), Directed by Jacob Krupnick

Special Mention: Madeleine (Canada), Directed by Raquel Sancinetti

   

Young Cineastes Award

Winner: Guts (USA), Directed by Margaux Susi

Special Mention: Hello Stranger (Canada), Directed by Amélie Hardy

 

Kids’ Choice Award

Winner: Mog’s Christmas (United Kingdom), Directed by Robin Shaw

Special Mention: Shellfish (France), Directed by Justine Aubert, Cassandra Bouton, Grégoire Callies, Maud Chesneau, Anna Danton, Loic Girault, Gatien Peyrude, Justine Raux

 

Audience Awards

Best Animated Short - Winner received a $600 cash prize. 

And Granny Would Dance (United Kingdom), Directed by Maryam Mohajer

 

Best Documentary Short - Winner received a $600 cash prize. 

Then Comes the Body (USA/Nigeria), Directed by Jacob Krupnick

 

Best Live-Action Short - Winner received a $600 cash prize. 

The One Note Man (United Kingdom), Directed by George C. Siougas

 

Best Student Short - Winner received a $600 cash prize. 

Allégresse (Belgium), Directed by Gillie Cinneri

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ShortStick

The short end of the stick: The inferior part, the worse side of an unequal deal

When it comes to cinema and the Oscars it always feels like short films and getting the short end of the stick. Lack of coverage, lack of predictions from experts and an afterthought in the conversation. With this site we hope to change that, highlighting shorts that stick with you, predictions, and news on what is happening in the world of shorts. 

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