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Top Five Shorts of 2020

Top Five Shorts of 2020

Compiled by Laurence Boyce

Normally, a “Best of” list is the chance to look back over the previous year. But with 2020 not being a year that many want to look back on, it was perhaps with trepidation that the annual “Top Five Shorts” list was approached. Yet despite all the problems of last year, it is heartening to know that there were still films out there that moved and excited people, and it speaks of an industry that continues to inspire and bring people together even when we are forced to be apart. With the seismic shifts in the industry and the subsequent shift to online, the resultant lists are diverse yet — as always — there are certain films that still crop up time and again. Dorian Jesper’s “Sun Dog” was a popular choice, as was Anthony Nti’s Clermont-winning “Da Yie”: two very different films that prove the richness of the form.

As 2021 continues, we’re all wishing for a better year than the one before. But no matter what happens, the world of short films still keeps giving us brilliant flashes of hope during a time when it would be so easy to slip into malaise.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Keep watching shorts.

The usual rules and notes:

This is not meant to be seen as a way of quantifying a list of “the best.” The list is a snapshot and a reflection of those films that have — and continue to have — significant resonances across the short film circuit as felt by those who program and write about shorts. 

Each respondent was given a choice of five films. No ranking was required, so each list is not necessarily in order. 

Release dates are especially fluid in the short film world. Respondents were asked to choose films that “came to prominence in 2020.” Exactly what that meant remained under each individual’s purview, especially in terms of the events of 2020.

Each list remains the choice of the individuals who responded and does not necessarily reflect that of the organizations they work for.

The compiler would like to express his gratitude for all who responded.

***

Wouter Jansen (Square Eyes, Sales and Festival Handling, www.squareeyesfilm.com)

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“Sun Dog” (Dorian Jesper

Looking at my list, I only picked films that I was able to experience in a cinema during the few festivals I attended at the beginning of 2020. These are films that need the darkness to be fully experienced, a rapt audience watching in silence, and a proper, overwhelming sound system. These are films that I only grew to appreciate more after seeing them the first time or after discussing them with the filmmakers. I hope that I can return to these experiences and feelings again soon. 

“How to Disappear” (Total Refusal, 2020, Austria)

“Sun Dog” (Dorian Jespers, 2020, Belgium/Russia)

“Apparition” (Ismaïl Bahri, 2019, France)

“Tender” (Isabel Pagliai, 2020, France)

“Up at Night” (Nelson Makengo, 2019, Democratic Republic of the Congo/Belgium)

Lars Henrik Gass (Festival Director, International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, www.kurzfilmtage.de)

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“Six Portraits of Pain” (Teresa Villaverde)

“Junkerhaus” (Karen Russo, 2019, Germany/Great Britain)

“Porvenir” (Renata Poljak, 2020, Croatia)

“Shepherds” (Teboho Edkins, 2020, Germany)

“Six Portraits of Pain” (Teresa Villaverde, 2019, Portugal)

“Sugar” (Bjørn Melhus, 2019, Germany)

Tim Redford (Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, https://www.clermont-filmfest.org/)

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“I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face” (Sameh Alaa)

“White Eye” (Tomer Shushan, 2019, Israel)

“Masel Tov Cocktail” (Arkadij Khaet and Mickey Paatzsch, 2020, Germany)

“Maalbeek” (Ismaël Joffroy Chandoutis, 2020, France)

“The Present” (Farah Nabulsi, 2020, Palestine)

“I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face” (Sameh Alaa, 2020, Egypt)

Anne Gaschütz (Festival Co-Director Filmfest Dresden – International Short Film Festival, www.filmfest-dresden.de // Pardi di Domani Selection Committee Member – Locarno Film Festival, locarnofestival.ch)

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“Apocalypse Airlines” (Camille Tricaud and Franziska Unger)

“San” (Jin Woo, 2019, South Korea)

I watched some great South Korean animation last year, but this one stood out to me. Almost painful to watch, its uncomfortable sounds and images create a haunting picture of a broken body.

“ LOLOLOL” (Kurdwin Ayub, 2020, Austria)

“Yeah, I didn’t listen really,” 20-something Anthea exclaims after a superficial encounter with a fellow art student who takes himself a tad too seriously. Nor do we need to, really, in order to get through this hectic, crowded exhibition opening where art is just an accessory for a crowd of self-absorbed “art people,” who’d rather snort a line of coke in a somewhat unfancy bathroom. LOL.

“The Lamb of God” [O Cordeiro De Deus] (David Pinheiro Vincente, 2020, Portugal)

A family. Bodies. Heat. Sweat. Claustrophobia.

“Nox Insomnia” (Guy Charnaux, 2019, Brazil)

One of the most disturbing animated shorts I watched last year, and which quite rightly screened in our “Seriously, WTF?” section. You’re laughing, crying, and thinking “This can’t get worse,” and then it does.

“Apocalypse Airlines” (Camille Tricaud and Franziska Unger, 2019, Germany)

This fake commercial for air travel just sums up 2020 in a nutshell.

Sarah Schlüssel (Selection Committee Member, Berlinale Shorts, www.berlinale.de // Coordinator Short Form Station, Berlinale Talents, www.berlinale-talents.de // Co-Founder, Shorts/Salon, www.shortssalon.net)

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“Apiyemiyeki?” (Ana Vaz)

“T” (Keisha Rae Witherspoon, 2019, USA)

“The Unseen River” [Giòng sông không nhìn thấy] (Phạm Ngọc Lân, 2020, Vietnam, Laos)

“Apiyemiyekî?” (Ana Vaz, 2019, Brazil/France/The Netherlands/Portugal)

“Thorax” (Siegfried A. Fruhauf, 2019, Austria)

“My Galactic Twin Galaction(Sasha Svirsky, 2020, Russia)

Bonus track:

“Crossings. On FREAK ORLANDO” (Johannes Binotto, 2020, Switzerland)

Emilia Mazik (Festival Director, Short Waves Festival, www.shortwaves.pl)

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“Same/Different/Both/Neither” (Fernanda Pessoa and Adriana Barbosa)

“Sun Dog” (Dorian Jespers, 2020, Belgium/Russia)

“Dustin” (Naïla Guiguet, 2020, France)

“Inflorescence [Slowloop–06]” (Nicolaas Schmidt, 2020, Germany)

“Same/Different/Both/Neither” (Fernanda Pessoa and Adriana Barbosa, 2020, Brazil/USA)

“Phoenix” (Su Zhong, 2020, China) 

Sébastien Simon (Programmer, Busan International Short Film Festival, bisff.org // Board Member, Short Film Conference)

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“Beyond Noh” (Patrick Smith)

“Re-entry” (Ben Brand, 2019, The Netherlands)

An awe-inspiring “conversation with God” type of film that’s actually profound and full of meaning.

“Empty Places” (Geoffroy de Crécy, 2020, France)

The fact that it came out in the year of Corona makes this excellent short even more of a must-watch. It’s so prescient it’s spooky.

“The Toxic Pigs of Fukushima” (Otto Bell, 2020, USA/Japan)

The cursed Fukushima area claims new, unexpected victims. Heartbreaking and necessary.

“Red Aninsiri; or Tiptoeing on the Still Trembling Berlin Wall” [อนินทรีย์แดง] (Ratchapoom Boonbunchachoke, 2020, Thailand)

The high espionage, meta-cinematic, queer, doomed love story I never knew I always dreamed to see.

“Beyond Noh” (Patrick Smith, 2020, USA)

As simple a concept as can be, but for a highly impressive (and impressionistic) result!

Per Fikse (Festival Director, Minimalen Short Film Festival, www.minimalen.com)

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“Blue Honda Civic” (Jussi Eerola)

“Witness” (Ali Asgari, 2020, Iran)

“Blue Honda Civic” (Jussi Eerola, 2020, Finland)

“Sun Dog” (Dorian Jespers, 2020, Belgium/Russia)

“Interstate 8” (Anne Thieme, 2019, Germany)

“Push This Button if You Begin to Panic” (Gabriël Böhmer, 2020, UK)

Niels Putman (Chief Editor, Kortfilm.be // Chief Editor and Co-Founder, Talking Shorts // Managing Director, Short Film Conference // Programmer, Leuven International Short Film Festival)

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“Dummy” (Laurynas Bareisa)

“This Means More” (Nicolas Gourault, 2019, France)

“Dummy” (Laurynas Bareisa, 2020, Lithuania)

“Son of Sodom” (Theo Montoya, 2020, Colombia)

“The Bite” [A Mordida] (Pedro Neves Marques, 2019, Brazil)

“Dustin” (Naïla Guiguet, 2020, France)

Rico Johnson-Sinclair (Director and Programmer of CineQ Queer Film Festival, www.cineqbirmingham.co.uk)

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“Liverpool Ferry” (Lee Armstrong)

“Top 3” [Topp 3] (Sofie Edvardsson, 2019, Sweden)

A refreshing tale of mismatched love and how sometimes it can be overcome, this film was a welcome addition to the year for its light-hearted approach, colorful animation, and happy conclusion.

“Morning Song” (Bijan Sheibani, 2020, UK)

One of the best shorts to come out of the year, this film uses interesting cinematic techniques to blur reality as a new mother battles with psychosis.

Liverpool Ferry (Lee Armstrong, 2020, UK)

A poignant tale of what young Irish women go through to be able to make their own choices about abortion.

“Here/Not Here” (Bim Ajadi, 2020, UK)

A beautifully imaginative amalgamation, this story looks at receding public space in London and the diverse groups affected by the shift.

“Vert” (Kate Cox, 2019, UK)

A visually stunning exploration of acceptance for an older man with gender dysphoria, who is given the chance to be whoever he wants to be in virtual reality. Tender and heartwarming.

Neil Young (Critic [Screen, Modern Times Review, etc.] and Programmer [European Film Festival Palić, Kortfilmfestivalen Grimstad, etc.])

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“13” (Shinya Isobe)

“13” (Shinya Isobe, 2020, Japan)

“Nenad” (Mladen Bundalo, 2020, Belgium/Bosnia and Herzegovina) 

“Postdigital Flipbook / Le visage” (Pablo-Martín Córdoba, 2020, France)

“Further Radical” (Stefano Canapa, 2020, France)

“Tremendous Cream” (Alexei Dmitriev, 2020, Russia) 

“Whatever worthwhile comes to you, won’t be through the channels you were searching last year.”

This Side of Paradise, 1920

Miguel Dias (Festival Director, Curtas Vila do Conde – International Film Festival, www.curtas.pt)

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“Wind Vane” (João Rosas)

“Genius Loci” (Adrien Mérigeau, 2020, France)

“Peasant Homily” [Omelia contadina] (Alice Rohrwacher, 2020, France/Italy)

“Subject to Review” (Theo Anthony, 2019, USA)

“The Human Voice” [La voz humana] (Pedro Almodóvar, 2020, Spain)

“Wind Vane” [Catavento] (João Rosas, 2020, Portugal)

And one short longer than 45 minutes:

“Name Above Title” [Um Fio de Baba Escarlate] (Carlos Conceição, 2020, Portugal)

Julie Rousson (Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, www.clermont-filmfest.org)

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“Don’t Panic” (Wissam Charaf)

“Masel Tov Cocktail” (Arkadij Khaet and Mickey Paatzsch, 2020, Germany)

The film succeeds in putting on screen the visual aesthetic of a new generation to talk about identity, history, and our own prefabricated clichés.

“Easter Eggs” (Nicolas Keppens 2020, Belgium/France/The Netherlands)

With a unique animation style, the film observes the peregrination of two teenage dumbheads and their relationship between bully and friendship.

“Bitch” [Chienne] (Bertille Zénobie Estramon, 2020, Belgium)

Revenge at its purest level, the film shows the complexity of a teenage girl coping with trauma by shooting at the same level of intense bodies and emotions.

“Ain’t No Time for Women” [Y’a pas d’heure pour les femmes] (Sarra El Abed, 2020, Québec/Canada)

This documentary shows women talking politics on the eve of the Tunisian presidential election at a salon in which different generations hope for a better future.

“Don’t Panic” [Pas de Panique] (Wissam Charaf, 2020, Lebanon)

Produced right after the catastrophe that shook Lebanon last summer, the film is the best testimony that culture and films will help us come back to life.

Molly Cowderoy (Senior Programmer, Leeds International Film Festival, https://www.leedsfilm.com/ )

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“Red Ants Bite” (Elene Naveriani)

“Good Night” [Da Yie] (Anthony Nti, 2019, Ghana/Belgium)

“Red Ants Bite” (Elene Naveriani, 2019, Switzerland/Georgia)

“Sër Bi” (Les Tissus Blancs) (Moly Kane, 2020, France/Senegal)  

“Stay Awake, Be Ready” [Hãy Tỉnh Thức và Sẵn Sàng] (Pham Thien An, 2019, Vietnam)

“This Means More” (Nicolas Gourault, 2019, France)

Philip Ilson (Artistic Director, London Short Film Festival, www.shortfilms.org.uk // Shorts Programmer, BFI London Film Festival, https://www.bfi.org.uk/london-film-festival)

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“Lizard” (Akinola Davies)

Five personal favorites that made it into the UK Competition strands at the 2021 London Short Film Festival.

“Shagbands” (Luna Carmoon, 2020, UK)

This film feels personal. It’s an autobiographical take by the filmmaker Luna Carmoon on childhood turning to adulthood, on being confident with an attitude and not being afraid to be confused, while savoring the friendships that are so important at that age. Stylistically, you can see Harmony Korine in the loose structure, letting kids be kids, and shades of 1980’s teen rebel films Out of the Blue (1980) and River’s Edge (1986) — who doesn’t love a mullet? — but with an emo twist. The ghost of Pete Wentz observes all from a bedroom wall and chart-topping UK garage is never far away as the final credits roll.

“An Everyday Act” (Gavin Scott Whitfield, 2019, UK)

It is very difficult to write about “An Everyday Act” without giving an obvious spoiler, the film’s power relying on a knotty plot that it’s best not to untangle before watching. Its director Scott Whitfield is originally from a journalistic background and came to filmmaking slightly later in life, with his first short made in 2015. Having grown up in Thatcher’s ‘80s, experiencing a Liverpool in economic decline with high unemployment, this social deprivation informs his filmmaking, focusing on underbellies and outcasts while being fiercely political. Scott Whitfield continues the tradition of an angry Northern socialist realism in his work, with parallels here to Jim Allen, the late playwright and close collaborator of Ken Loach.

“The Long Goodbye” (Aneil Karia, 2020, UK)

Aneil Karia has screened two movies at the London Short Film Festival (2013’s “Beat,” 2017’s “Work”), both made ahead of his debut feature “Surge,” which premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. In collaboration with actor-musician-activist Riz Ahmed, this work transcends the genre confines of a music video to create an incisive conceptual accompaniment to the title track from Ahmed’s personal album of the same name. Set in a speculative future of a risen right-wing and rampant post-Brexit racism, Riz unpacks his feelings towards his country in a powerful, gut-punch monologue of rap and spoken word.

“Lizard” (Akinola Davies, 2020, UK)

London-based, Nigeria-raised filmmaker Akinola Davies Jr. returns to the Lagos of his childhood, steering us through a deeply religious and matriarchal society through the eyes and imaginings of its protagonist: an eight-year-old girl with otherworldly intuition. A personal and at times autobiographical story of exploration, we discover the workings and underbelly of a mega-church as she floats unseen like a ghost through the congregation, past the dodgy money-laundering happenings in the back rooms, and into the surrounding streets before a violent reality brings her back.

“Filipiñana” (Rafael Manuel, 2020, Philippines/UK)

The minimalist caricature of Roy Andersson comes to mind in this deadpan drama from 2020 Berlinale Silver Bear recipient, Manila-born filmmaker Rafael Manuel. The film uses golf etiquette and the pettiness of country club politics to foreground class and power in Philippine society as new “tee-girl” Isabel buffers against the strict, and often arbitrary-seeming rules of this rich person’s playground. These frictions mirror broader class frictions, and cinematographer Xenia Patricia sets up distanced long shots, using the artifice and symmetry of the golf course for ambiguously surreal scenarios, blurring seductive aesthetic with the uglier realities of hierarchy and marginalization.

Camille Hébert-Bénazet (Head of Cannes Court Métrage, Festival de Cannes. http://www.cannescourtmetrage.com/en/)

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“Sudden Light” (Sophie Littman)

“I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face” (Sameh Alaa, 2020, Egypt)

“The Game” [Das Spiel] (Roman Hodel, 2020, Switzerland)

“Dustin” (Naïla Guiguet, 2020, France)

“Inflorescence [Slowloop–06]” (Nicolaas Schmidt, 2020, Germany)

“Sudden Light” (Sophie Littman, 2020, UK)

Mathieu Janssen (Head of Competitions, Go Short- International Short Film Festival Nijmegen, https://www.goshort.nl/)

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“The Bite” (Pedro Neves Marques)

“Apiyemiyekî?” (Ana Vaz, 2019, Brazil/France/The Netherlands/Portugal)

For me, this is the most powerful film of the year. It was made with so much respect, creating so many layers within a delicate and important subject. It shows how we give a voice to those who need it.

“Push This Button if You Begin to Panic” (Gabriël Böhmer, 2020, UK)

Gabriël Böhmer strikes again. This is a perfect blend of technique and topic, our mind as a frame vs. the very complex and abstract (medical) world around us. It’s also stylish as hell.  

“Carbón” (Davide Tisato, 2020, Switzerland/Cuba/France)

What a great find, these two men discussing economy and worker’s rights, and a pile that keeps on smoking. Enough to make my heart beat faster for film and sociology. 

“The Bite” [A Mordida] (Pedro Neves Marques, 2019, Brazil)

A unique atmosphere and touching, mysterious topics — this is a fiction you only come across once per year. It definitely deserved more screenings in 2020. Also: HAUT wins best soundtrack.

“Sun Dog” (Dorian Jespers, 2020, Belgium/Russia)

And then there was “Sun Dog.” Its cool use of classic Eastern aesthetics in a modern way made me stroll through Murmansk on Google Street View. 

And a special mention for Nicholaas Schmidt’sInflorenscence [Slowloop-06],” which I saw ‘at’ Vienna Shorts for the first time, and it kept lingering in my mind as the perfect summary for 2020.

Carmen Gray (Freelance Film Journalist and Programmer [Winterthur International Short Film Festival])

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“My Galactic Twin Galaction” (Sasha Svirsky)

“Sun Dog” (Dorian Jespers, 2020, Belgium/Russia)

“Cause of Death” (Jyoti Mistry, 2020, South Africa/Austria)

“This Day Won’t last” [هذا اليوم لن يدوم] (Mouaad el Salem, 2020, Tunisia/Belgium)

“Dustin” (Naïla Guiguet, 2020, France)

“My Galactic Twin Galaction(Sasha Svirsky, 2020, Russia)

Léo Soesanto (Short Films Selection Coordinator, Cannes Critics’ Week)

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“The End of Suffering (A Proposal)” (Jacqueline Lentzou)

As for last year, this list, with no particular order, excludes the ten titles we picked at Cannes Critics’ Week (https://www.semainedelacritique.com/en/edition/2020/selection), which are by definition my other favorite short films.

The following titles were the ones coming spontaneously to mind. Some of them are diaries/letters/inner monologues: they mirror a year that was a time of self-reflection for many of us, and I won’t even mention how the film’s titles subconsciously define 2020.

“This Day Won’t last” [هذا اليوم لن يدوم] (Mouaad el Salem, 2020, Tunisia/Belgium)

“Places” [Miegamasis rajonas] (Vytautas Katkus, 2020, Lithuania)

“The End of Suffering (A Proposal)” (Jacqueline Lentzou, 2020, Greece)

“Point and Line to Plane” (Sofia Bohdanowicz, 2020, Canada)

“The Return of Tragedy” (Bertrand Mandico, 2020, France)

Heinz Hermanns (Founder and Artistic Director Interfilm Berlin, www.interfilm.de)

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“A Mind Sang” (Vier Nev)

“Up Here, with the White Gods” [Hier oben, bei den weißen Göttern] (Alexander Lahl, Jalal Maghout, and Mike Plitt, Germany, 2020)

A shocking, animated real story about hate and racism in former East Germany that could be a story of today.

“My Romanian Diary” [Mein rumänisches Tagebuch] (Carmen Lidia Vidu, Romania/France/ Germany, 2019)

A deeply personal animated documentary made in many different techniques and styles.

“A Mind Sang” [A Mãe de Sangue] (Vier Nev, Portugal, 2019)

I’ve never seen an animation that plays so much with perspectives, giving the spectator a hard time to cope with the images, creating a fascinating work in the process. 

“The Birth of Valerie Venus” (Sarah Clift, UK/Mexico, 2020)

Great actors, great camerawork, and a great story. It does not always have to be a drama. Hard to find good comedies these days.

“Good Night” [Da Yie] (Anthony Nti,  Belgium, 2019)

A film that gives us a realistic look into the life of two African children. You feel for the two kids and fear for the worst at all times.

Tom Grimshaw (Senior Programmer, London Short film Festival, https://www.shortfilms.org.uk/)

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“Labor of Love” (Sylvia Schedelbauer)

“2 Lizards” (Meriem Bennani and Orian Barki, 2020, USA)

“An Arrow Pointing to a Hole” (Steve Reinke, 2020, USA)

“Bittersweet” (Sohrab Hura, 2020, India)

“Inflorescence [Slowloop–06]” (Nicolaas Schmidt, 2020, Germany)

“Labor of Love” (Sylvia Schedelbauer, 2020, Germany)

Dagmara Romanowska (Short Fiction Curator, Krakow Film Festival, https://www.krakowfilmfestival.pl/en)

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“White Eye” (Tomer Shushan)

“The Fear” [Wielki Strach] (Pawlina Carlucci Sforza, 2020, Poland)

For great bravery to tackle an untold story, kept by a community in silence for decades, and the simplicity that makes it even more powerful.

“White Eye” (Tomer Shushan, 2019, Israel)

For managing to mix “first world problems” with the real ones, as well as for one master shot that changes this social drama into a thriller.

“Between a Rock and a Hard Place” [Mellem Sten og et Hårdt Sted] (Mads Koudal, 2019, Denmark)

For incredible sensitivity and sincerity in looking at challenges that are not usually present in cinema of any sort. A film made with amazing tenderness.

“He Can’t Live without Cosmos” [On ne mozhet zhit bez kosmosa] (Konstantin Bronzit, 2019, Russia)

For believing in dreams and humor, and for pursuing them — always, at any circumstance.

“Alice and the Frog” [Alicja i Żabka] (Olga Bołądź, 2020, Poland)

For matching a socially important debate with crazy form and Alice in Wonderland.

Lydia Beilby (Experimental Programmer, Edinburgh International Film Festival, www.edfilmfest.org.uk)

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“Autoficción” (Laida Lertxundi)

“Aberración cromática (fiebre)” (Andrés Baron, 2020, France/Colombia)

“Signal 8” (Simon Liu, 2019, Hong Kong)

“How a Sprig of Fir Would Replace a Feather” (Anna Kipervaser, 2019, USA)

“Kopierwerk” (Stefanie Weberhofer, 2019, Austria)

“Autoficción” (Laida Lertxundi, 2020, USA/Spain/New Zealand)

Enrico Vannucci (Pardi di Domani Selection Committee Member, Locarno Film Festival, locarnofestival.ch // Artistic Director, Torino Short Film Market, tsfm.centrodelcorto.it // Owner, Varicoloured, varicoloured.eu)

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“L’effort commercial” (Sarah Arnold)

“I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face” (Sameh Alaa, 2020, Egypt) 

Although the idea behind it is simple, the film powerfully portrays its story both narratively and visually. The viewer is left stunned. 

“The Best City Is No City at All” [Die beste Stadt ist keine Stadt] (Christoph Schwarz, 2020, Austria) 

An essay film portraying one of the most compelling analysis of our contemporary way of life and its architectures. Simply fascinating. 

“1978” (Hamza Bangash, 2020, Pakistan) 

Fuck, yeah! Rock and roll Lenny!

“Shergar” (Cora Yolandi McKenna, 2020, Denmark)

A sharp animation for a sharp story. In just seven minutes the audience is blown away by this student film. 

“L’effort commercial” (Sarah Arnold, 2020, France/Switzerland) 

Cinéma vérité framed as a sci-fi from the ‘70s. Genre films have always been the most political, haven’t they?

Salaud Morisset (Distributor, http://www.salaudmorisset.com/)

The whole team had quite the same favorites this year, so we decided to do a common list. We didn’t include any of the films that we represent, we love them all of course!

“I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face” (Sameh Alaa, 2020, Egypt)

“Touch Me” (Yorgos Zois, 2020, Greece)

“Watermelon Juice” (Irene Moray, 2019, Spain)

“Matriochkas” (Bérangère McNeese, 2019, France)

“The Affected” (Rikke Gregersen, 2020, Norway) 

Gaia Meucci-Astley (Short Film Programmer, Encounters Festival,

www.encounters.film)

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“The Last Ferry from Grass Island” (Linhan Zhang)

“Sun Dog” (Dorian Jespers, 2020, Belgium/Russia)

This film totally captivated me with its utter strangeness: its setting, its dreamy quality, its floaty camera work reflecting the protagonist’s view of this frozen, dark, forgotten place in the Arctic circle. The sound design and music are excellent too. Everything contributed to conjure up this young locksmith’s distorted, nearly hallucinatory perspective.

“Filipiñana” (Rafael Manuel, 2020, Philippines/UK)

A great character study and reflection of class inequalities within a very unique context. Each shot is superbly composed and controlled without taking anything away from the emotive impact of the film.

“Red Ants Bite” (Elene Naveriani, 2019, Switzerland/Georgia)

A gently paced, understated story of two male friends who gradually realize they have stronger feelings for each other, told against the backdrop of their lives as Nigerian immigrants in a European city where they don’t fit in.

“The Last Ferry from Grass Island” (Linhan Zang, 2020, Hong Kong)

A minimalist story about an aging hitman whose time has come. I loved its elegant visual compositions, narrative pace, and economy. Every shot is so well-considered and, tonally, the storytelling is a beautiful balance of deadpan and sorrowful.

“Genius Loci” (Adrien Mérigeau, 2020, France)

A stunning animation that evokes the vulnerable and chaotic quality of the human soul through vivid visuals, sounds, and unpredictable intuitions.

Daniel Ebner (Festival Director of Vienna Shorts – International Short Film Festival, viennashorts.com)

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“How to Disappear” (Total Refusal)

“Genius Loci” (Adrien Mérigeau, 2020, France)

An exceptionally dense, expressionistic, and fluid animation that draws you into the perceptual world of its protagonist.

“How to Disappear” (Total Refusal, 2020, Austria)

An extraordinary examination of pacifism, desertion, and civil disobedience in the context of a computer game.

“One” (Anouk de Clercq, 2020, Belgium/Norway)

A film, a performance, a protest song, a call to action, a commitment, an instruction, a stand against mindlessness and distraction.

“Lihkku!” (Irma Bergdahl, 2019, Sweden)

A punk-poetic film and visual firework without any compromises, and at the same time a sharp look at minority, youth, and history.

“Apiyemiyekî?” (Ana Vaz, 2019, Brazil/Portugal/France/The Netherlands)

An intense political and historical trip through the Amazon region that will stay on your mind for a long time.

Marija Milovanovic (Managing Director, Lemonade Fillms, www.refreshingfilms.com)

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“The Unseen River” (Pham Ngoc Lan)

“BBQ” (Jeanne Mayer, 2020, France)

This short film contains it all: sci-fi, music, and a society that eats each other up.

“Sun Dog” (Dorian Jespers, 2020, Belgium/Russia)

“Sun Dog” captures a very special atmosphere in an outstanding location. 

“Apiyemiyekî?” (Ana Vaz, 2019, Brazil/France/The Netherlands/Portugal)

“Apiyemiyekî?” is an important audiovisual document about a crime that has cost hundreds of innocent lives because of abuse of power and greed.

“Dustin” (Naïla Guiguet, 2020, France)

A very physical experience on many levels. 

“The Unseen River” [Giòng sông không nhìn thấy] (Phạm Ngọc Lân, 2020, Vietnam, Laos)

“The Unseen River” captures the past and the present in a wonderful and unique way. Long shots, bright colors, and great characters that guide us through the film.

Christoffer Ode (Programme Director Uppsala Short Film Festival, www.shortfilmfestival.com)

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“Endless Love” (Duda Gambogi)

“Day in the Life” (Elizabeth Povinelli, 2020, Australia)

“The Natural Death of a Mouse” [Der natürliche Tod der Maus] (Katharina Huber, 2020, Germany)

“Spontaneous” (Lori Felker, 2020, USA)

“Sun Dog” (Dorian Jespers, 2020, Belgium/Russia)

“Endless Love” (Duda Gambogi, 2020, Brazil)

John Canciani (Artistic Director Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur, www.kurzfilmtage.ch)

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“In the Air Tonight” (Andrew Norman Wilson)

“There Must Be Some Kind of Way Out of Here” (Rainer Kohlberger, 2020,Germany)

Like most festivals, Internationale Kurzfilmtage had to go online as well. In our case, we had to switch from hybrid to online at the last minute. We already tested several DCPs, and one of them was Rainer’s new film, which I asked the operator to run for me. It’s a film that has to be seen on the big screen. We were three people in a cinema, watching this apocalyptic film, and we had such an intense immersive experience. It was mesmerizing, like we are used to from Rainer’s work, but in a new way. Let’s go back to cinemas soon to have the real experience and to have a blast!

“New Gods” [Les nouveaux dieux] (Loïc Hobi, 2020, Switzerland/France)

Making films about and with post-Internet elements has been on the table for a while now, and it’s a topic, technique, and aesthetic that has found a fixed place within the short film sector. This film doesn’t just follow this tradition — it is on the same qualitative level as other films that are considered landmarks of the genre. This experimental documentary is an observation of an obsessive man and his online behavior.

“In the Air Tonight” (Andrew Norman Wilson, 2020, USA)

A witty film and something that speaks to me as a music nerd. I love the structure, which reminds me in so many ways of how it feels to explain to people why I like a certain form of music or film, and that sometimes one has just to listen (and watch) until the end to fully understand something… Besides that, cinema is always about showing — but, maybe just as much, also about not showing.

“The Natural Death of a Mouse” [Der natürliche Tod der Maus] (Katharina Huber, 2020, Germany)

A film that I like to dive into and simply follow the clustered thoughts of the protagonist. This animation is so amazing and different in many aspects. It shows what animation can be when it’s at its best, by bringing us into a world that can’t be shown in any other way. It sometimes feels like reading a book in which you let your thoughts wander around. 

“I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face” (Sameh Alaa, 2020, Egypt)

A film that, even though it is reduced to its very essence, is telling so much. A simple structure with the right timing. A perfect example of how one can tell a story in 15 minutes, opening a whole world to us. Let’s not forget that it’s made with beautiful cinematography too. This sparks my love for narrative shorts. I couldn’t agree more that this film won the 2020 Palme d’Or.

Julie Marnay (Head of Programme, European Short Pitch, 

www.europeanshortpitch.org)

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“Bella” (Thelyia Petraki)

“Coldshot” (Evin Collis, 2020, Canada)

“Playback” [Playback. Ensayo de una despedida] (Agustina Comedi, 2019, Argentina)

“Lake on Fire” [Sjö i brand] (Jennifer Rainsford, 2020, Sweden)

“Maalbeek” (Ismaël Joffroy Chandoutis, 2020, France)

“Bella” (Thelyia Petraki, 2020, Greece)

Anna Zača (RIGA IFF, SHORT RIGA Curator, www.rigaiff.lv // Head of Latvian Animation Association, www.latviananimation.com

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“Symbiosis” (Nádja Andrase)

In no particular order, these are the short films that will stay with me long after 2020. This year came with an abundance of online festival offers and awoke my sleeping FOMOF (Fear Of Missing Out a Film). This fear came out in the form of excessive online festival attendance. Needless to say, I saw a number of films that I am afraid to say out loud and putting just five of those upfront is a painful process. So, my top five is actually a top six, and these films come in pairs. Why in pairs? I guess I just can’t stop programming.

“Sun Dog” (Dorian Jespers, 2020, Belgium/Russia) and “The Fantastic Garden” [O Jardim Fantástico] (Fábio Baldo and Tico Dias, 2020, Brazil) 

The first film deals with loneliness and the Arctic night, the second with culture and identity, but both of them are beautifully crafted trips in the form of a fiction short. 

“Naked” (Kirill Khachaturov, 2019, Russia) and “My Galactic Twin Galaction(Sasha Svirsky, 2020, Russia)

These two animated shorts left me on the edge of my seat thinking of Victor Pelevin. 

“Blue Fear” [Filles bleues, peur blanche] (Marie Jacotey and Lola Halifa-Legrand, 2020, France) and “Symbiosis” (Nádja Andrasev, 2019, France/Hungary) 

Both of these films deal with jealousy in a very honest and disarming way, thus their visual concepts leave a fine aftertaste.

Andreea Pătru (Film Critic // Programmer, Tenerife Shorts, www.tenerifeshorts.com)

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“Clean with Me (After Dark) (Gabrielle Stemmer)

“The Unseen River” [Giòng sông không nhìn thấy] (Phạm Ngọc Lân, 2020, Vietnam, Laos)

Phạm Ngọc Lân continues with both the 4:3 aspect ratio he championed in “Blessed Land” (2019) and his dual, apparently unrelated storylines. The shots from the deserted hydroelectric power plant automatically recall Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979), featuring luxurious vegetation, heavy rain, and a wandering dog. The director works with rhythm and space-time landmarks with an auteur sensibility, his use of zooms revealing feelings better than dialogue. I loved the visual contrast between the neon kitsch of the Buddhist temple and the immensity of the concrete walls that halt the Mekong’s waters. An intertwined mood piece, accompanied by Naomi and Wean’s heartbreaking score. 

“What Probably Would Have Happened, If I Hadn’t Stayed at Home” [Was wahrscheinlich passiert wäre, wäre ich nicht zuhause geblieben] (Willy Hans, 2020, Germany)

When the pandemic and the following general lockdown began, I immediately expected the so-called quarantine short films. Low-quality shootings, one-location films with very few characters seemed like the new norm. Willy Hans’ short film is by no means like this, although its minimalism (mainly shot in an apartment room) initially made me think of Jean-Paul Sartre’s play No Exit. Beautifully shot on 16mm, featuring casually incoherent small talk, “What Probably Would Have Happened, If I Hadn’t Stayed at Home” is about conflict and interchange, about a closeness we lost even before we were physically separated. Its existentialism depicts a certain social void through an indoors gathering, yet I love that it didn’t forget to look outside the window. 

“War in Academia” [Ett akademiskt krig] (Lisa Östberg, 2020, Sweden)

I loved Lisa Östberg’s film for its wit and its way of addressing issues such as power relations, authority, and critical thinking in such a simple dialogue-based formula. Apart from the debate regarding the artist’s condition and the role of education in the creative process, the gaze plays an important part in this humorous confrontation between students and teachers. 

“Point and Line to Plane” (Sofia Bohdanowicz, 2020, Canada)

Sofia Bohdanowicz explores grief through art in such a luminous short. The diary film form suits the eloquence of her discourse, and the editing accompanies the associations between mourning and shapes. I particularly liked the idea of reliving through art, and loss not being permanent but a matter of how we look at it. 

“Clean with Me (After Dark)” (Gabrielle Stemmer, 2019, France)

Cleaning as a mode of connecting women. While it’s easy to laugh at the sectarian aspect of this online clique, this desktop film painfully reveals aspects of gender inequality and frustration in a modern approach. Ironically, women look for social validation by delivering the tasks of their submission and developing compulsive behaviors. The exposé aspect of social media and digital tools in revealing more than just people’s addresses in this film adds a subtle layer to its apparently simple form.

Laurence Boyce (Head of Programme [Live Action], PÖFF Shorts, Black Nights Film Festival, https://shorts.poff.ee/ // Chairman of the Board, Short Film Conference, http://shortfilmconference.com/ // Film Journalist)

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 “An Everyday Act” (Gavin Scott Whitfield)

“I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face” (Sameh Alaa, 2020, Egypt)

The winner of the 2020 Palme d’or is a delicate and beautiful piece of work. It’s a perfect example of the short film, being able to pack so much within such a small space. It’s a study of grief, a paean to life, and just consistently wonderful.

“Five Tiger” (Nomawonga Khumalo, 2020, South Africa)

A breathtaking work from Khumalo, the film is a strong and powerful account of one woman’s struggle as she must look after her sick husband and daughter in any way she knows how. The narrative is familiar, but it’s imbued with such life, vitality, and tenderness that you can’t help but be blown away. It deserves a lot of attention on the circuit, and Khumalo is a talent to watch.

“Mountain Cat” (Lkhagvadulam Purev-Ochir, 2020, Mongolia/UK)

The spaces between superstition and modernity are cleverly explored in this wonderfully put together film from Purev-Ochir. Some strong performances and a delicate script make this a consistently fascinating piece of work.

“Red Ants Bite” (Elene Naveriani, 2019, Switzerland/Georgia)

What initially seems to be a story about two immigrants attempting to fit in soon morphs into something different as the nature of their relationship becomes clear. For all the dramatic issues the film deals with, this is a beautiful, understated piece of work that manages to cleverly balance all of its themes to create a tight and controlled piece of work.

“An Everyday Act” (Gavin Scott Whitfield, 2019, UK)

The kind of film in which to talk too much about it is to spoil it. But with the tropes of British social realism, Whitfield makes an urgent film that tells us much about the state of the UK today. 

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Top image: Anthony Nti’s “Da Yie”

This list is compiled by Laurence Boyce who can be contacted at laurence.boyce@gmail.com.

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