Sundance 2012 Shorts Awards Honor Pirates, Robots, and More

Recognizing what is dubbed the Festival’s most innovative and experimental program, the Sundance Film Festival Awards for Best Short Films were just announced in a location that most definitely subverts expectations: the Jupiter Bowl, an irreverent, fluorescently-lit, DJ pulsing mega-bowling-plex. The awards were hosted by actress Michaela Watkins who described coming back to Sundance with her second film as returning to summer camp “when your boobs come in.”

Out of the nearly 7,000 short films submitted to the Festival, 64 films were accepted into the Short Film program presented by Yahoo! The 7 favorites below were selected for awards by three jurors: Beavis and Butt-Head and King of the Hill creatorMike Judge; the director of the award-winning short film and subsequent feature film Pariah, Dee Rees; and Shane Smith, director of public programs at TIFF Bell Lightbox. Smith turned to the shorts programmers at the beginning of the ceremony and called them “suckers” for having to watch all 7,000 films when he only had to watch the chosen few.

The Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking went to FISHING WITHOUT NETS, directed by Cutter Hodierne, and co-written by Hodierne and John Hibey. An epic tale of Somalian pirates - told from their perspective - this short film humanizes a group of rogue men who have made headlines across the globe. Yahoo! presented this film with a $5,000 award for the Jury Prize. “I’m about to puke,” said Hodierne before he thanked his producers and crew who journeyed to Africa with him to make the film. “We went to East Africa for a three week trip, which ended up being five months,” he said, describing the hardships of filming the short which included being held at gunpoint. “It’s a sensitive subject that we wanted to tell with a real human perspective,” Hodierne added.

Director Cutter Hodierne receives $5,000 Jury Prize from Yahoo! Photo credit by Jonathan Hickerson.

Blerim Gjoci. Photo credit by Jonathan Hickerson.

Sometimes two filmmakers are better than one. The Jury Prize in Short Film, U.S. Fiction was awarded to brothers Benny and Josh Safdie for The Black Balloon. The Black Balloon is not like other balloons—he rises above NYC to gain a fresh look on the Big Apple.

A film from Kosovo took the Jury Prize in Short Film, International Fiction: The Return (Kthimi),directed by Blerta Zeqiri, and written by Shefqet Gjocaj. In the film, a man’s homecoming from a Serbian prison is complicated by his struggles to continue where he left off with his wife and son. “We come from Kosovo, so you know we have a war-torn country. We are the youngest country in the world and tonight we became a true unsupervised independent country, so this award means a lot,” remarked producer Blerim Gjoci, standing alongside the director.

Lucy Walker. Photo credit by Jonathan Hickerson.

Today was a big day for Lucy Walker’s The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, which was nominated for an Oscar early this morning. Tonight, Cherry Blossom picked up the Jury Prize in Short Film, Non-Fiction. A visual haiku and a story of survival, this short film documents the resurrection of life in Japan following tragedy. “I think the film is about life and death and truth and beauty,” said Walker upon accepting the award. She was flustered by the remarkable events of the day, “I got nominated for an Academy Award and I got carded here,” joked Walker.

The second film to be nominated for an Oscar today, the Jury Prize in Animated Short Film was presented to Grant Orchard’s A Morning Stroll. Mike Judge introduced the prize for “sly commentary” to A Morning Stroll, which poses a deep, philosophical quandary: who is pluckier - a New Yorker or a chicken?

The jury acknowledged The Arm for a Special Jury Award for Comedic Storytelling by the female trio of directors and screenwriters: Brie Larson, Sarah Ramos, Jessie Ennis. The film provides an up-to-the-minute social commentary on teen love in a time of technology.

Brie Larson, Sarah Ramos, Jessie Ennis. Photo credit by Jonathan Hickerson.

Last but not least, the jury also gave a special recognition to director Kibwe Tavares’ Robots of Brixton with a Special Jury Award for Animation Direction. Drawing on the history of racial tension in a neighborhood, the film imagines a future where robots suffer from poverty and discrimination. Tavares gave a sweet shout out to his girlfriend and his family for crossing the pond to be with him at Sundance.

Director Kibwe Tavares and Juror Mike Judge. Photo credit by Jonathan Hickerson.

Lead photo: