HollyShorts 2021 – Noteworthy Films & Award Winners!

The time has finally come for the 2021 HollyShorts Film Festival to kick off, and we’re starting with the most hotly anticipated films of the year, with many of these incredible pieces of art hearing their names called at the HollyShorts awards ceremony. While every film that is a part of the festival is great in its own right, these films have the attention of all.

Al-Sit – Suzannah Mirghani’s tale of a young Sudanese girl faced with a difficult life situation. While she fosters a crush on one of the boys in her village, her parents have decided a young businessman should be her new husband. Thanks to village customs, Al-Sit, the elder of the village, must give her blessing, which causes conflict between the parties involved. It’s a beautifully told story, with great looks into the culture of small villages in this region, as well as inspecting the differences between the modern world and that of tradition.

Anja – Beno Baranyi’s drama that follows a doctor trying to look after a patient after their surgical birth is one fraught with tension, difficulty and the story of one doctor trying to do right by his patients, despite the challenges in doing so. Erik Major stars in the film, and he’s excellent in it, as is the rest of the cast. While a tough watch at points because of the content, it is well worth giving a chance.

“Dolapo Is Fine”, courtesy of Netflix

Dolapo Is Fine – One of the more frustrating things to see in the modern world are the pressures to conform to what is viewed as “normal”, a stigma fostered by many people who have no knowledge or insight into what is normal in other cultures. This is the dilemma in this film, as a young boarding school student is ready to move into the world of commerce, and who faces calls to change who she is to fit what people believe is the proper way.  While much of the film is about the assimilation into the normalized culture, this story is about so much more than that, presenting a hopeful tale of those who own their uniqueness, letting them be who they genuinely are and  asking others to conform, instead of the other way around. A great film from director Ethosheia Hylton, as well as writers Joan Iyiola and Chibundi Onuzo.

This film also won the Women in Film Award.

Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma – A powerful story of attempting to educate people on culture, this film tells the story of black educators in 1970 using the tools at their disposal to give black-centric materials to a white schooling system, which formed the Black ABC’s. It’s an incredible story, brought to life by Topaz Jones and Rubberband.

This film also won Best Documentary.

Electromagnetic – This Andrew Marks helmed film stars Bodhi Elfman, Jose Zuniga, Sarah-Jayne Bedford and Kate Simmons as we watch the journey of an editor who truly brings their skills to a new level as he shows off something very unique and very personal to a director and actress while there to take a look at a cut of the film. It’s a deep and fascinating piece of art that is both sinister and completely enthralling.

This film also won Best Editing for David Marks.

Empiric – Ioana Turcan’s film about women’s reproductive rights in Romania during a difficult point in the country’s history is a harrowing look into the way wome are treated during this time. It’s a important subject, and one that needs to be spoken more about, as the health of women during pregnancy and the right to be able to choose what to do with that, despite the wishes of some aspects of society, is not something to ignore. WHile this is a tough watch, it’s well worth it.

Poster for enough.

enough – A film a decade in the making, enough follows Nathan Nzanga as the Congolese-American comes of age in the United States. This journey though the life of Nzanga as he expresses what it was like as an African-American living and growing up through the pitfalls of American society when you’re a person of color. The entire short film is more an extended music video than anything else, as Nzanga takes us on the path of growing up as an other, and what that means now as the world has evolved and changed in the time since he was a younger man. An absolute powerhouse by both Nzanga, and co-writer (with Nzanga) Caleb Slain. The music is incredible, and the performance by Nzanga is worth all the attention this film is getting.

Fabiu – Stefan Langthaler’s story of an older retiree taking care of his ill wife is one of tension, drama, and powerful emotions. Having inly had female nurses to assist him in the care of his spouse, a new, male care worker arrives, throwing Arthur’s entire life for a loop. There is so much to this brilliant story, and the cast does an excellent job in bringing this to life.

This film also won Best International.

Georgia – Based on a true story, Jayil Pak’s short about two parents with no knowledge of computers who design a banner to protest the police’s refusal to look into the case of their child’s apparent suicide. The film is difficult, and tackles difficult subjects, but does it in an incredible way. This film is painful and beautiful, showing heartbreak, loss and an attempt to grieve. The cast is wonderful, especially those who played the parents of the deceased, Chae Kyung Lee and Lee Yang-hee.

This film also won Best Director for Jayil Pak.

Joanna Tomassoni: “Tell Me A Story”- An absolutely haunting and beautiful song, Tomassoni lends her incredible voice to this song, performing brilliantly in this fantastically shot video, melding multiple forms of media into one exceptional performance, bringing the title of the song front and center, as both the song and the video speak of something mysterious and ethereal.

This also won Best Music for director Sasha Solodukhina.

“Leylak” photo courtesy of the film’s IMDb listing

Leylak – A turkish man working in Queens as a grave digger is the focus of this story from directors Scott Aharoni and Dennis Latos, along with writer Mustafa Kaymak. Yusuf is face with some difficult situations, and an heartbreaking truth to tell to his young daughter. As Yusuf attempts to keep their lives together while hiding the truth of an illness affecting his wife, Yusuf has to deal with everything, unable to hide it any longer. This was an amazing film that, while painful, was worth every moment to see.

Little Bear – A young girl faces a new dynamic in her life, as she begins sleepwalking, taking a nightly journey to the woods she visited with her dad as a child. As the understanding of this phenomenon is known, she and her friend begin filming the trek as a means to better understand why it’s happening, and why the route seems to be the same each time. It’s a film that’s a bit of a slow burn, really building to the how and why. But it’s very much worth it to see it all the way through.

This film also won for Best Live Action.

No One’s In The Room – A video for the song of same name by the very talented Jessie Reyez, this is a gorgeous piece of music that evokes feelings of finding yourself and asking yourself the important questions on the journey towards discovery and the solidification of your own sense of self.

A still from Pushing Mercury

Pushing Mercury – A short piece by Cobi Krumholz, the film focuses on Bill Bradley, an endurance athlete on a journey to attempt one of the toughest events in endurance sports, the Solo Self-Contained Badwater 146. One of the most punishing challenges to ever be conceived, this feat has only been completed by half a dozen people in history. The short documentary gives the differences between other Badwater Endurance events (a trek over dozens of miles through an area called the Badwater Basin, near Death Valley in California. Bradley, the focus of the piece, is obviously an unfathomable athlete, taking treks in one of the hottest places on the planet over hundreds of miles, and on this journey Bradley will be doing it all on his own, with nothing but him and a heavy cart full of supplies. It’s a terrifying prospect to think about, especially considering the California heat, but Bradley is a inspiring presence throughout the film.

Right To Try – In just 25 minutes, Right To Try manages to give you hope, send it dashing into the rocks and to build it back up all over again as you follow Jeffrey Drew on the journey that could change the way HIV is treated, both medically and in society as a whole. Jeffrey, a volunteer for an experimental treatment that could lead to a cure, has been documenting his experience with the help of Director Zeberiah Newman and the crew of this film. Throughout, not only does Jeffrey inspire hope with his commitment to doing what he can to help, but we get a look at the medical system as a whole, it’s glaring flaws and what treatments like his could have on the future of medicine. It’s a powerful and inspiring film, while being infuriating at the same time for how pharma companies treat people like Jeffrey, among so many others. Just an incredible piece of filmmaking.

Sales Per Hour – Daniel Jaffe and Michelle Uranowitz bring in this very interesting film that focuses on a salesperson who stumbles into a sexual encounter in one of the dressing rooms that is unclear about whether or not it was consensual. This brings up a moral dilemma that pits sales and profits from a potential large purchase versus doing what you believe is the right thing, even if you’re not certain of the entire situation.

Staff Pick – One of the more interesting concepts in this slate of films, Staff Pick is several films within films, bringing forth a commentary on meta narratives in film while also displaying that narrative itself. It’s fun, frenetic and full of a lot of interesting themes all rolled into one as the overall narrative solidifies at the end of the film. Its title is one that feels apt in many ways, as it’s a pick for this very festival, while also being themed on several genres that would normally be considered the type of awards fodder that gets put on end of year staff lists.

This film also won Special Jury Mention.

The Kicksled Choir – This Norwegian film (Sparkekoret in its native language) focuses on a young man whose dream is to join and help the Kicksled Choir, a  group of carolers whose goal is to raise money in their community for the refugee population.  A noble effort that is stymied by his father, who isn’t in favor of the idea. It’s a challenging film that is excellently performed, bringing a touching ideal from a young man against the realities of some that live in society. For better and often, for worse., and how even the most stubborn of people can get a new perspective. Beautiful work by director Torfinn Iversen and the entire cast and crew.

Promotional Photo from Riz Ahmed’s YouTube channel

The Long Goodbye – Aniel Karia’s film, co-written with star Riz Ahmed, focuses on Riz and his family as they watch a right wing march play out on television, which makes its way closer and closer, until it finally makes its way to their home. Ahmed is amazing in this film, with a topic that is scary and real. As the situation escalates, it becomes more and more terrifying, a feeling that so many people of color have felt over the years from violent extremists groups. The ending sequence is one of the most powerful things I’ve ever seen, capping off a difficult and painful film that is definitely one of the most compelling films in this year’s festival line-up.

This film also won Grand Prix Best Short.

The Speech – From writer and director Haohao Yan, this is a film that feels much more prescient and powerful given the time that we’re in. Focusing on the 2003 SARS outbreak in Beijing and the response of the Chinese government, this film puts the focus on three girls attempting to make sense of what’s happening while the city is on lockdown. It’s a bit difficult to see this happening given the lockdowns and difficulties during the our current pandemic, but it serves as a reminder of the way that people can attempt to make it through, even those that are very young.

As well, here are the list of films not mentioned that won awards in their categories. Congratulations to all of the award winners!

  • Best Action: Maximus directed by Richard Prendergast
  • Best Animation: I Am A Pebble from Berteraut Mélanie, Bresson Yasmine, Coulombier Léo, Grondin Nicolas, le Chapelain Maxime, Massé Louise
  • Best Comedy: The Deep End directed by Sean Pettis
  • Best Commercial: Widen The Screen directed by Kevin Wilson Jr.
  • Best Composer: Brian Hall & Jonah Ramey for The Night I Left America
  • Best Drama: I Would Never directed by Kiran Deol
  • Best Horror: Lilias Adie directed by Elize du Toi
  • Best LGBTQIA+: Bracha directed by Mickey Triest & Aaron Geva
  • Best Midnight Madness: M*therfucker directed by Adam Long & Adam Peterson
  • Best Podcast: Carcerem by Shane Salk
  • Best Producer: Henry Tumwesigye for The Night I Left America
  • Best SciFi: Jack and Jo Don’t Want To Die directed by Kantú Lentz
  • Best Screenplay: Dummy written by Andrew Kaberline
  • Best Student Film: Team Meryland directed by Gabriel Gaurano
  • Best Thriller: Reklaw directed by Polaris Banks
  • Best TV Series: Cronos directed by Michael Middelkoop
  • Best TV Screenplay: Half-Assed written by Tracie Laymon
  • Best VFX: Untitled Earth Sim 64 directed by Jonathan Wilhelmsson
  • Best Web Series: Best Before directed by Laura Bergeron & Maxime Robin
  • Hawk Films Screenplay Award: Glaciers written by Frank Berry & Matthew Bates
  • HollyShorts Honorable Mention: Koreatown Ghost Story directed by Minsun Park & Teddy Tenenbaum
  • HollyShorts 3rd Place Screenplay: David written by Jacob Mittlestadt-Raab
  • Latinx Award:  Nuevo Rico directed by Kristian Mercado Figueroa
  • SAG Indie Award: Some Still Search directed by Nesaru Tchaas
  • Shot on Film Award: The Archivists directed by Igor Drljača
  • Shot on Film Honorable Mention: Beity directed by Isabelle Mecattaf
  • Shot on Film Award – Super 8MM: Strong Son directed by Ian Bawa
  • Social Impact Award: Under The Heavens directed by Gustavo Milan
  • Women in Film Screenplay Award: Sara written by Jessica L. Hinkson

Congratulations to all of the filmmakers listed, and to all who are a part of this year’s festival. It’s going to be an incredible time! Please make sure to check out the full schedule (when available) on BitPix, and reserve your tickets for your favorites, or even the whole thing! This will be a worthwhile event for all who attend, either in-person or virtually.

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