A Jordanian drama about an aging couple, a Dutch film about a cat thief, a Brazilian comedy about phone solicitors and an animated epic from Poland have qualified for the 2011 Academy Awards by winning jury prizes at the 17th Palm Springs International ShortFest, PSISF organizers announced on Sunday.
The four films – "Bahiya & Mahmoud" from Jordan (left), "Cat and Mice" from the Netherlands, "The Hours' Home" from Brazil and "The Lost Town of Switez" from Poland – were among the more than two dozen short films to win jury and audience awards at the seven-day festival, the largest showcase for short films in North America.
The festival presented more than 330 films over seven days, and joins only the Student Academy Awards, the Aspen Shortsfest and the Los Angeles International Short Film Festival in qualifying four or more winners for the Oscars.
(Most of the other 68 Oscar-endorsed festivals only qualify one or two "best of fest" winners.)
The top audience award went to the Australian comedy "dik," a good-natured if ribald tale in which a parental misreading of the caption on a child's drawing has consequences that escalate dramatically.
Another of the 32 Australian films at the festival, Elizabeth Tadic's "UMOJA: No Men Allowed," won the Panavision Grand Jury Award for its depiction of women in Northern Kenya who create an all-female community.
The Future Filmmaker Award went to recent USC graduate Mitsuyo Miyazaki for "Tsuyako," a lovely and affecting period piece inspired by a family photo. Set in Japan in the 1950s, the film deals with a young wife and mother torn between familial obligation for forbidden longing.
Miyazaki's film was also the runner-up to "dik" for the audience award.
Judging by a small sampling of shorts viewed after TheWrap participated in a "meet the press" panel on Saturday, the festival lineup was strong and varied.
Films shown at one of the marquee events on Saturday night included Neil LaBute's wicked, barbed vignette "Sexting," made for less than $1,000 and essentially a monologue for a very funny Julia Stiles; a twisted comedy starring Colin Firth and Keira Knightley, "Steve"; and "Not Your Time," a semi-autobiographical $170,000 musical from Sony Pictures staff editor and aspiring director Jay Kamen, who coaxed a variety of moguls and power players into appearing as themselves. (Sony's Amy Pascal steals the show.)
But before those high-profile shorts screened, a smaller adjacent theater hosted a more typical PSISF program: a batch of seven mostly low-budget shorts dealing with lesbian themes, which was less star-studded but strong and heartfelt. "Tsuyako" was the final film in this group, and certainly a highlight – but so was Ali Scher's "The Maiden and the Princess," another ambitious and wonderfully realized short made at USC. Simultaneously grand and intimate, the film shifts from uncomfortable reality to extravagant fantasy and upending the usual fairy-tale verites with wit and style.
On Sunday, several hours before the awards ceremony, a filmmakers brunch included talks from Academy short-film governor Jon Bloom, who provided a primer for qualifying shorts for the Oscars, and from director Terry George ("Hotel Rwanda," "In the Name of the Father"), who debuted a new short at the festival (it won a second-place jury prize) and who told the assembled filmmakers to focus on original, personal projects rather than big-studio schlock.
Still, George brought down the house when he laughed about how a "Candyland" movie is in the works, and then one-upped that project by pitching his vision of a tentpole "Rice Crispies" movie: "Snap is in anger management, Crackle has a drug problem and Pop is coming out of the closet."
Best of Festival Award: "Bahiya & Mahmoud," Zaid Abu Hamdan *
Panavision Grand Jury Award: "UMOJA: No Men Allowed" (right), Elizabeth Tadic
Future Filmmaker Award: "Tsuyako," Mitsuyo Miyazaki
Jury Special Citation: "Nullabor," Patrick Sarell and Alistair Lockhart
Favorite Live Action Short: "dik," Christopher Stollery
Runner-up: "Tsuyako," Mitsuyo Miyazaki
Favorite Documentary Short: "Johnny & Lyman: A Life Together," Paul Detwiler and Michael Chen
Runner-up: "The Unforgettable Hampton Family," Julie Cohen
Favorite Animation Short: "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore," William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg
Runner-up: "Danny & Annie," Dave Isay and Tim Rauch
Shortfest Online Audience Award: "Stephany + Me," Peter Shanel
JURY CATEGORY AWARDS
Best Live Action Short 15 Minutes and Under: "Cat and Mice," Nova Van Dijk *
Second Place: "Nowhere Elsewhere" ("Au Milieu de Nulle Part Ailleurs"), Annick Blanc
Jury Special Citation: "Pass the Salt, Please" for Best Onscreen Pairing
Best Live Action Short Over 15 Minutes: "The Hours' Home," Heraldo Cavalcanti *
Second Place: "The Shore," Terry George
Best Animation Short: "The Lost Town of Switez," Kamil Polak *
Second Place: "Interregnum," Nick Fox-Gieg
Jury Special Citation: "The Cord-Woman" for Best Sound Design
Best Documentary Short: "75 Watts," John Cullen
Second Place: "Collaboration Horizontale," Ciaran Cassidy
Best Student Live Action Short 15 Minutes and Under: "The Promised Land," Vanessa Knutsen
Second Place: "Kiss," Alex Murawski
Best Student Live Action Short Over 15 Minutes: "Bekas," Karzan Kader
Second Place: "Negative," Yoav Hornung
Best Student Animation: "The Birds Upstairs," Christopher Cinq-Mars Jarvis
Second Place: "Heavy Heads"
Best Student Documentary Short: "Goodbye Mandima," Robert-Jan Lacombe
Second Place: "Wajeh" Murad Nassar
Best Student Cinematography: Taj Musco, "Eh Jeung"
Alexis Award for Best Emerging Student Filmmaker: "En Jeung," Taj Musco
Bridging the Borders Award: "Bekas," Karzan Kader