The Palm Springs International ShortFest took place in California this weekend, honoring the best work in narrative, documentary, live action, and animated short films. $25,000 in cash prizes were given out to various winners, who were narrowed down from over 300 official selections. The top prize went to Sander Joon’s Estonian short film “Sierra,” a surreal animated film about a boy who turns himself into a tire in order to help his father win a race.
The festival’s Oscar-qualifying status means that winners in the Best Live Action Short, Best Documentary Short, Best Animated Short, and Best of the Festival categories may be eligible to submit their work to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Oscar consideration this year.
Keep reading for the complete winners list, with synopses courtesy of the festival.
Greater Palm Springs CVB Best of the Festival Award
Winner: “Sierra” (Estonia), Directed by Sander Joon. A father and his son are losing the folkrace. In order to win, a boy turns himself into a car tire. Loosely inspired by the director’s childhood, Sierra pulls us into the surreal car racing world.
Best Animated Short
Winner: “The Cave” (South Korea), Directed by Kim Jinman, Chon Jiyoung. A boy longs for affection from his distant fisherman father. When he dies, the boy’s grief turns into an obsession with his father’s belongings. In an imaginary cave, he curses those relatives who took items of his late father’s. The curse begins to eat the boy’s soul…
Best Documentary Short
Winner: “The Sentence of Michael Thompson” (USA), Directed by Kyle Thrash, Haley Elizabeth Anderson. Michael Thompson is the longest-serving nonviolent offender in the history of Michigan. After 25 years, three appeals and two denied applications for clemency, it seems that Michael may finally have a chance at freedom.
Best Live Action Short Over 15 Minutes
Winner: “Further and Further Away” (Cambodia), Directed by Polen Ly. A young indigenous Bunong woman and her older brother spend one last day in their rural village in northeastern Cambodia, before an impending move to the capital city in search of a more prosperous life. While her brother is excited for the move, she feels a quiet desire to return to their long-gone village that was lost to the development of a nearby hydroelectric dam a few years earlier.
Best Live Action Short 15 Minutes and Under
Winner: “The Right Words” (France), Directed by Adrian Moyse Dullin. Kenza, 15, and her little brother Madhi, 13, regularly humiliate one another. On the bus, Kenza puts her naive and romantic little brother to the test: profess his love for Jada, a girl that Madhi loves but who does not know he exists.
Best International Short
Winner: “Sideral” (France/Brazil), Directed by Carlos Segundo. In Natal, the northeast of Brazil, the country is preparing to launch its first manned spaceship. A couple with two children lives near the space center. The husband is a mechanic, the wife a maid who dreams of other horizons.
Best U.S. Short
Winner: “Act of God” (USA), Directed by Spencer Cook, Parker Smith. Stuart, a disabled man, isn’t the most honest guy when it comes to asking for help. Total self-reliance is his goal, which is tough when you can’t get out of bed on your own.
Best Comedy Short
Winner: “The Diamond” (Sweden), Directed by Vedran Rupic. Stefan is lonely with a blinding ambition to make friends. One day he stumbles upon a diamond in the woods. Unable to reach it, a solution presents itself in the form of a smaller man.
Best LGBT+ Short
Winner: “High Jump” (Belgium), Directed by Lennert Madou. Otto lives in a remote village while his boyfriend, Casimir, a professional dancer, has been living thousands of miles away for work. From a distance, Otto finds comfort in his lover’s choreography and uses his own body to fight his longing.
Best Midnight Short
Winner: “Your Houseplants Are Screaming” (USA), Directed by Benjamin Roberds. Human houseplants are held captive by a giant plant creature. Confined to their pots, the houseplants struggle to comprehend the horror of being shelf ornaments in a grotesque hell house made of flesh, meat, muscle and bone.
Mozaik Bridging the Borders Award
Winner: “Freedom Swimmer” (Australia/France/UK/Hong Kong), Directed by Olivia Martin-McGuire. This hybrid, poetic documentary, interweaving hand-drawn animation and film, tells the tale of a grandfather’s perilous swim from China to Hong Kong during the Cultural Revolution while creating a parallel with his granddaughter’s participation in mass protests now.
Local Jury Award
Winner: “BABYBANGZ” (USA/UK), Directed by Juliana Kasumu. Anastasia Ebel, owner of the Babybangz hair salon in Mid-City, New Orleans, reflects on her continuing desire to cultivate spaces of intentional reflection for both herself and her local New Orleans community.
Vimeo Staff Pick Award
Winner: “Meantime” (USA), Directed by Michael T. Workman. After Tim’s work-related stroke leads to troubling signs of memory loss, his son Michael returns home to Montana. As they spend more time together than they have since Michael’s childhood, they reckon with Tim’s past..
Young Cineastes Award
Winner: “Lucky Fish” (USA), Directed by Emily May Jampel. Two Asian-American teenagers meet in the bathroom of a Chinese restaurant while having dinner with their families..
Winner: “Cat and Moth” (Canada/UK), Directed by India Barnardo. A fluffy white cat wants nothing more than to find the most comfortable spot in the universe, but little does she know someone else has their eye on it too.
Best Student Documentary Short
Winner: “La Prova” (Belgium), Directed by Toni Isabella Valenzi. In the south of Italy, Rosa and Peppe witness the passing of time as they grow old together and raise a pig.
Best Student Animated Short
Winner: “The Seine’s Tears” (France), Directed by Yanis Belaid, Eliott Benard, Nicolas Mayeur, Etienne Moulin, Hadrien Pinot, Lisa Vicente, Philippine Singer, Alice Letailleur. October 17, 1961, in the middle of the Algerian war, Algerian workers are demonstrating against the mandatory curfew imposed by the Paris police.
Best Student International Short
Winner: “Bug” (Israel), Directed by Bar Cohen. After not seeing her for four months, Alma’s father asks her to leave her baby sister with him without her mother’s knowledge. Alma is forced to choose between her mom and her dad.
Best Student U.S. Short
Winner: “Foreign Uncle” (USA/China), Directed by Sining Xiang. Sining brings his American boyfriend, Patrick, back to China when he goes to visit his family. Everyone’s attitude towards Patrick changes once Sining inadvertently comes out, except for his 7-year-old nephew’s, Naonao.
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