At Aspen Film’s Shortsfest, stories with surprises and fresh perspectives win top honors

April 10, 2024

At Aspen Film’s Shortsfest, stories with surprises and fresh perspectives win top honors

Aspen Film has announced the winners of nine awards from last week’s “Shortsfest,” ranging from a three-minute dark comedy about capitalism and consumerism to a 24-minute drama about cultural identity.

Five of the winners, chosen by a jury of industry pros, will now be qualified for the Oscars, and all of the top honorees took home cash prizes. The festival is one of just four Oscar-qualifying programs in the U.S. that’s strictly dedicated to short films.

The main jury panel included TV executive Arvand Khosravi, documentary producer Jannat Gargi, and filmmaker Gabriella Moses. Moses screened one of her own shorts at the festival last year, before making her feature film debut at Tribeca.

She has been a recipient of film festival honors herself — and has also served as judge for screenwriting competitions and selection committees at other festivals.

Moses said that these awards can help filmmakers build a larger audience, and name recognition for emerging artists.

“Short films are often a launchpad for a voice or for a longer story,” Moses said.

The jury process at Shortsfest is collaborative, and while Moses admits it’s “incredibly difficult” to judge the quality of art, she’s found ways to determine the best of the bunch. Moses said she looks for unexpected narrative, with a distinct vision and perspective from the filmmaker.

“I’m looking to be surprised as a juror and to find voices that you know, transcend the medium or (are) trying something different, maybe, or are really relevant and speaking to something that feels of the moment,” Moses said.

“But I’m sure for all of us (jurors), there’s going to be (a) common thread along what has really spoken to us,” she added.

There were plenty of unique stories among this year’s awardees, such as a dramedy about the execution of a customer service agent and a documentary about a costume designer reconnecting with their estranged parents. (A full list of the winners, with jury commentary, is included below.)

The festival also invited a youth jury, primarily composed of local students, to select one of the award categories; Aspen Film tabulated audience scores for another honor. An “Ellen Jury” determined the winner of an award named in honor of Aspen Film’s late founder and executive director, Ellen Kohner Hunt.

In addition to screenings and awards, programming included filmmakers Q-and-As, panel discussions and other events where audience members could mingle with filmmakers. There were 70 films on the lineup this year with both domestic and international production teams.

Moses said that sense of community and connection is one of the biggest benefits of the festival for every participant, whether they win an award or not.

“These filmmakers are coming to a pretty remote location to share in each other’s stories, and … you have the time and space to take things in and then have conversations around it,” Moses said. “That’s really beautiful.”

Aspen Film’s 2024 Shortsfest Award Winners

Jury comments, as provided in a press release, are included below. Oscar-qualifying categories have been noted with an asterisk. The primary jury panel — Moses, Gargi and Khosravi — selected the winners of the comedy, drama, documentary, animation, “short short” and student-produced categories.

Student Short: “Bust,” directed by Angalis Field

Jury statement: “This film drops us into a tense moment in time between two strangers in vulnerable positions. We applaud the filmmaker’s intimate portrayal of how our identity can come in direct conflict with our survival, and feel like a self-betrayal. The film’s ingenious title is as layered as its story and protagonist.”

Special Mention: “Wire and Cloth,” directed by Swetha Regunathan

Short Short (less than 10 minutes): “Paper Towels,” directed by Ethan Kuperberg

*Oscar-qualifying category

Jury statement: “What was so effective about this brilliantly economical film was that the absurdity of its premise, the literal execution of a worker whose performance fails to satisfy a customer, feels just a moment away from becoming actual policy in this late-capitalist era of extreme consumerism: we laughed to stave off the discomfort.”

Special Mention: “Seahorse Parents,” directed by Miriam Guttmann

Animation: “Beautiful Men,” directed by Nicolas Keppens

*Oscar-qualifying category

Jury statement: “In a stacked category that transported us through many different worlds through a multitude of styles within the medium, this short stood out in its unexpected exploration of a trending phenomenon to combat something that plagues more than half of the population. Tinged with bitter-sweet moments between flawed family members and toxic dynamics, this hilarious, raw, and beautifully crafted stop-motion animation made us feel for male fragility and the unrealistic beauty standards no one is safe from.”

Special Mention: “The Miracle,” directed by Nienke Deutz

Documentary: “Wouldn’t Make It Any Other Way” directed by Hao Zhou

*Oscar-qualifying category

Jury statement: “Marc Marcos is one of the most delightful documentary subjects we’ve ever seen: a singular artist whose vision we witness come to life as they craft whimsical costumes for a theater show. Even more evocative is what’s behind the curtain: an intoxicating mix of heart, love, raunch, and pain, all brilliantly brought to life by the filmmaker’s dexterous mastery of cinematography and editing. We hope this isn’t the last we see of Marc Marcos.”

Special Mention: “Bob’s Funeral,” directed by Jack Dunphy

Comedy: “Terminally Ill” directed by Chris Cole

*Oscar-qualifying category

Jury statement: “A fresh take on saying farewell to a loved one. The filmmaker surprisingly infuses the heartache of letting go with levity and creativity which is both delightful and heartfelt.”

Special Mention: “Rational Behaviour,” directed by Lola Frears

Drama: “Motherland,” directed by Jasmin Mozaffari

*Oscar-qualifying category

Jury statement: “Set against rising tensions during the Iran hostage crisis in the US, this powerful and bittersweet story of cultural identity and belonging, of yearning for home when home is so far away is poignant and masterful from the beautiful writing and directing to the heart-rendering performances.”

Special Mention: “The Masterpiece,” directed by Alex Lora Cercos

Ellen Jury: “Beautiful Men” directed by Nicolas Keppens

Jury statement: “We … arrived on a film that is funny, tender, poignant, and was constructed with a unique sense of artistry. It is wonderfully eccentric yet totally grounded in humanity and reality. It stuck with us, gnawing at our hearts and minds, generating enthusiastic dialogue, and laughter. A story of the complicated familial bonds of brotherhood, and the frailty and insecurities one faces in life.”

Youth Jury: “Gaby’s Hills,” directed by Zoe Pelchat

Jury statement: “This film stood out to all of us from the moment we stepped foot into the Wheeler Opera House watching the program on the big screen. This film represents a struggle that teenagers have to go through and will continue to grow through. It used humor to show the drastic and awkward transitions and struggles through puberty and self-confidence. I especially relate to this film because it seems as if society wants me to be ashamed of this change.”

Special Mention: “Bogota Story,” directed by Esteban Pedraza

Audience Award: “Terminally Ill,” directed by Chris Cole

This story was updated to correct the spelling of Marc Marcos.

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