By Heidi Simmons

“One week is not enough.  There is so much more I wish I could see.  It goes by too quickly,” said a visitor in line to enjoy an afternoon program of short films at the Camelot Theater in Palm Springs.  Her frustration is not because she can’t get tickets, but a fear that she’s missing something – a treasure or a gem of a film that might change her worldview or tap into her deep emotional psyche.

This is what makes the Palm Springs International Short Film Festival so special.   Once a year, during the summer, over seven days, emerging talent, young and old, from all over the globe come with their films, their stories and their visions of the world.  And then, they and their films are gone: Many films may never to be seen again.

But the lasting beauty is, during the week of films, movie buffs get to look in on these worlds and travel to exotic destinations from the air-conditioned comfort of a Palm Springs theater.   Ukraine, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Korea, Austria, Ethiopia, Estonia, Russia, Mauritius, Mexico and Morocco are just a few of the settings where human beings play out moments of their lives on the big screens in Palm Springs.

Concluding its 22nd year, the ShortFest delighted and entertained audiences with 50 plus provocative programs of nearly 400 fabulous films that included 46 World Premieres, 63 North American Premieres and 13 US Premieres.

Equally important during the week, and what makes the ShortFest a favorite among filmmakers, is the attention the ShortFest pays to the educational component.   Part of the mission of the Palm Springs International Film Society, the non-profit behind both the January and June festivals, is to serve, nurture and inspire the filmmakers.  The film society takes pride in helping and encouraging filmmakers advance their careers.

PanelEvery June, ShortFest conducts Roundtables and Forums for attending filmmakers with industry professionals designed to address the art and craft of filmmaking and the business challenges that come with it.

PSISFF joined forces with the University of California, Riverside, this year with “Tech Talks.”  This component took a look at the changing nature of technology pertaining to filmmaking platforms and the technological tools used across the medium of film.

From “Virtual Reality, a How to Guide” to the “Changing Ways We Watch Content” and “The Creative Process of Video Game Development,” filmmakers and students enjoyed panel discussions and demonstrations.

A high point of the program, and the week, was the Virtual Reality Lounge.   This event was open to the public for free and displayed the latest in virtual reality film technology.

Virtual RealityThe venue held three different Virtual Reality experiences:  “The Visitor,” a short narrative film, “Inside Impact: East Africa” a documentary short and “Kismet” an interactive video game.  Throughout the day there was an ongoing line to experience all three examples of VR.

“The Visitor” and “East Africa” both used Samsung smartphones with the lightweight Oculus Headset, which costs $99.  The phone attaches to the headset directly in front of the eyes.  Headphones provide the sound.  On the virtual screen, just align a white light onto a green spot and the film is ready to play.

When the film starts, as in “The Visitor” you find yourself a floating observer in the world.  Anywhere and everywhere you look –- up, down, and around — you are there observing the high-definition scene.  There is no 2D frame, empty space or pixilation.

“The Visitor” is the ultimate voyeuristic experience as a couple sorts out a bad dream from reality at a remote desert compound.

According to a PSISFF volunteer assisting viewers with “The Visitor,” a woman was so enthralled or scared she sprang up from her chair and screamed!

Produced by the Clinton Foundation, the VR experience “Inside Impact: East Africa” begins with sitting across from President Clinton in his New York office.  In eight minutes, you experience sitting in an East African home, a slum, a bustling city and a classroom.

No matter where you look, 360 degrees, you are in the location.  Instead of floating in the VR world, you are sitting alongside either President Clinton or East Africans.  This high-quality film delivers a very visceral experience while creating awareness and empathy.

Perhaps the most popular of the VR demonstrations was “Kismet,” a new original interactive game developed by the Santa Monica Company Psyop.   The headset used for gaming is the Oculus Rift, which costs a big chunk of change at $500.

A tad heavier and more intense looking in black, than the other, white Oculus headset, the VR is interactive and requires a significant amount of computing power.

“Kismet” offers three games: Tarot cards, astrology – a reading of the stars, and an ancient Egyptian board game.  With the help of a handheld controller, the user selects cards, dates and moves game pieces with an automaton fortuneteller.   According to one of the creators, the game allows for multiplayers to interact.

All three virtual reality experiences were fantastic!  Hundreds of guests went through line all day and many revisited the fortuneteller  —  maybe hoping for a better outcome.

The VR imagery is breathtaking, thrilling and most certainly, highly engaging.  The viewer enters the world with sharp clarity and it is simply amazing!  The future of virtual reality is here.  The only thing lacking, for now, is content and aroma.

DronesThe Venice, California, Company CTRL Me Robotics demonstrated custom performance drones for use in filmmaking and entertainment.   These machines are incredible at getting hi-definition, steady images and come in a size that is no bigger than a Frisbee.  For indoor or outdoor use, this technology makes expensive crane shots obsolete and the images are contained on the smallest of memory cards the size of a pinky fingernail.

Virtual reality and hi-tech drones are part of the future in modern filmmaking.   It was apropos that the PSISFF joined forces with the University of California, Riverside and brought this technology and information to the next generation of filmmakers.

And better yet, ShortFest made it available to the public, further showing their desire o share the love for films and filmmaking.  Another great Fest!


Home Receives Best of the Festival Award; La Laguna, Limbo and Minh TâmReceives Top Jury Awards; The Chop, Phil’s Camino and Taking Flight Receive Audience Awards

The 2016 Palm Springs International ShortFest, the largest short film festival and only short film market in North America, announced its Festival award winners on Sunday, June 26, 2016.  327 short films screened throughout the Festival along with more than 4,100 filmmaker submissions available in the film market.  More than $115,000 in prizes, including $20,000 in cash awards were awarded in 21 categories.

“A common thread of immigration and compassion dominates our award winning films this year – echoing current issues around the world,” said Festival Director Helen du Toit. “After a stimulating and energizing week of storytelling and networking between the next generation of filmmakers, we leave with a sense of hope for a world that, despite some setbacks, does seem to be evolving slowly but surely.”

The 2016 Palm Springs International ShortFest award winners are:


Jury Awards and awards in the non-student and student competition categories were selected by ShortFest jury members David Ansen, Jeremy Boxer, Zorianna Kit (Huffington Post), Molly Parker (actress, House of Cards), Rachel Samuels (Condé Nast) and Alison Willmore (BuzzFeed).

homeBEST OF FESTIVAL AWARD – Winner received $5,000 cash prize courtesy of the Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau, and Final Cut Pro X courtesy of Apple.  The winner of this award may be eligible to submit their film to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Oscar® consideration.

Home (Kosovo), Daniel Mulloly

A young, happy family seems to be going on holiday but is instead on a journey similar to millions of others in this speculative and provocative film.

Jury Statement: “The winner of the Best of the Fest Award goes to a film that devastated the jury with its portrayal of a family escaping danger.  This surprising and incredibly powerful film deftly elicits not just our compassion, but more importantly, our empathy.”


minhtmGRAND JURY AWARD – Winner received a $2,000 cash prize.

Minh Tâm (France), Vincent Maury

At the age of 33, Minh Tâm has given up on love. Devoted to the education of her autistic son, overwhelmed by a domineering mother, she uses men just to escape briefly from daily life. Until the day she meets Olivier, who causes her to question her certainties.

Jury Statement: “For its honest, haunting and subtly devastating depiction of an emotionally damaged woman struggling to reconnect her body and her soul.”


lalagunaPANAVISION BEST NORTH AMERICAN SHORT – The use of a camera package valued at $60,000 courtesy of Panavision.

La Laguna (Mexico), Aaron Schock

Deep in the rainforest of southern Mexico, a young Mayan boy lives a life of freedom and joy until confronted by family problems and the realities of growing up that might push him out into the world.

Jury Statement: “This film really took the Jury on a gorgeous journey into another world.  It is so beautifully photographed and edited, and shows an impressive level of intimacy with its subjects.  It felt like a Terrence Malick film- to have this much aesthetic control in a documentary situation is truly impressive.”


limboFUTURE FILMMAKER AWARD – Winner received a $2,000 cash prize.

Limbo (Greece), Konstantina Kotzamani

The leopard shall lie down with the goat. The wolves shall live with the lambs. And the young boy will lead them.

Jury Statement: “This haunting film displays a level of mastery in terms of directing that feels truly visionary. Every frame is exquisitely composed, and also perfectly expresses the film’s tone of deep mystery and otherworldliness.”


All first place winners in the non-student categories received a cash award of $2,000.  First place winners in the non-student Animation and Live Action categories may be eligible to submit their film to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Oscar® consideration.

gloveBEST AnimatED short

Glove (US), Alexa Lim Haas & Bernardo Britto

An astronaut loses a glove in space and contemplates where it will go.

Jury Statement: “In five deceptively simple minutes, this animated film takes us from a factory in Delaware to the farthest reaches of space, transforming a real event into a delightfully speculative meditation on our place in the universe.”


bonvoyageBEST Live Action short over 15 minutes

Bon Voyage (Switzerland), Marc Wilkins

A couple’s compassion is put to the test when they come across a sinking ship of refugees while on a pleasure trip across the Mediterranean.

Jury Statement: “A superbly directed thriller that explores the current dilemma of the refugee crisis. The film challenges the audience at every turn, implicating the viewer asking them to think what would they do if faced with the same situation.”


filipBEST Live Action short 15 MINUTES AND UNDER

Filip (Sweden), Nathalie Álvarez Mesén

A naturalistic story about a young boy and his older brother. Both are on journeys of self-discovery and revelation.

Jury Statement: “We loved the intimacy, sensitivity and delicacy of this family portrait, and were impressed by the nuanced performance of the young star; and we felt truly immersed in his point of view.”


clnicademigranteslifelibertyandthepursuitofhappinessBEST Documentary short

Clínica de Migrantes: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (US), Maxim Pozdorovkin

Everyday, Puentes de Salud, a volunteer-run clinic in South Philadelphia, serves the uninsured Latino immigrants of the community. A moving and human examination of immigration and health care in America today.

Jury Statement: “For its immensely empathetic and measured approach to capturing the workings of a volunteer-run clinic servicing the uninsured and undocumented in Philadelphia. It’s a film that’s both urgent in its timeliness and warmly human in its approach to the doctors and patients it follows.”


All first place winners in these categories received a $500 cash prize.


Mr. Madila (UK), Rory Waudby-Tolley

This hilarious and creative gem of an animated documentary brings to life interviews with a highly opinionated spiritual healer. Not content with talking about his craft, he also has plenty to say about filmmaking.

Jury Statement: “We loved this highly inventive and imaginative film. We were completely drawn into Mr Madila’s hilarious and wild world.”


peacockBEST STUDENT Live Action short over 15 minutes

Peacock (Czech Republic), Ondrej Hudecek

A twisted gay romance set in 19th-century Bohemia tells the true story of the birth of one of the nation’s most influential writers. Suspense, laughter, violence, hope, heart, nudity, sex and a mostly happy ending.

Jury Statement: “For its incredible style, visual élan, and droll sense of humor in telling the strange, funny, and true story of the early days of famous Czech writer. We had trouble believing that this was a student film, but we have no trouble at all believing that Ondrej Hudecek is the successor to Wes Anderson.”


Gabber LoverBEST STUDENT Live Action short 15 MINUTES AND UNDER

Gabber Lover (France), Anna Cazenave-Cambet

Laurie doubles on the back of Mila’s motorbike to a lake where they dance with abandon. Her gaze harbors longing but will the friendship sustain this transition?

Jury Statement: ““Energetic and stylish, this film examines the fear and courage implicit in a proclamation of new love. The jury was stuck by this films pacing and use of color and music. Clearly, this student is a filmmaker to watch”



I, Destini (US), Nicholas Pilarski & Destini Riley

In an animated diary, Destini Riley reflects on her life in Durham, N.C., a city divided by class and race. For Destini, whose brother is in prison, the carceral environment is difficult to escape.

Jury Statement: “This urgently timely story of incarceration and its effects on a family employs a spare animation style and an eloquent metaphor to transform a deeply personal tale into a cinematic language that speaks to us all.”




Thunder Road (US), Jim Cummings

Jimmy Arnaud eulogizes his mother.

Jury Statement: “The jury would also like to give a special mention to a film that in one breathtaking, surprising and hilarious take revealed the extraordinary talent of its writer director and star, Jim Cummings, a filmmaker and actor we are sure we’ll be seeing much more of.”

People of the Delta (Ethiopia), Joseph Lawrence

In Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley, a young man comes of age in a harsh time.

Jury Statement: “Beautifully shot with a dual storyline that intersects, the film is made all the more poignant by having real tribesmen, not actors, taking the viewer through this fictional narrative.”




The Chop (UK), Lewis Rose

In this “kosher comedy,” a skilled and charming Jewish butcher must expand his horizons after he loses his job.

Runners-up: Millions of Tears, Bon Voyage, Thanks for Dancing, The Babysitter Murders and Zoya



Phil’s Camino (USA), Annie O’Neil and Jessica Lewis

When a Stage 4 cancer patient is told he cannot accomplish his bucket-list goal to walk the 500-mile Camino de Santiago in Spain, he decides to create his own camino in his backyard.

Runners-up: Clinica de Migrantes: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, These C*cksucking Tears and Alzheimer’s: A Love Story



Taking Flight (USA), Brandon Oldenburg

A bored child stuck with his grandfather for the day stumbles across a photo of his father in a magic wagon, unleashing an unforgettable adventure.

Runners-up: Violet and Alike



High Chaparral (USA), David Freid

In this documentary, a theme park celebrating America’s mythic Wild West in wintery Sweden becomes a welcoming home for refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war.



ALEXIS AWARD FOR BEST EMERGING STUDENT FILMMAKER – The Alexis Award is selected by the Festival’s programming team and was created in honor of Alexis Echavarria, whose talent as a budding filmmaker and gift for inspiring excellence among his fellow students were cut short suddenly in 2005 at age 16.  The recipient received Final Cut Pro X courtesy of Apple.

Peacock (Czech Republic), Ondrej Hudecek

A twisted gay romance set in 19th-century Bohemia tells the true story of the birth of one of the nation’s most influential writers. Suspense, laughter, violence, hope, heart, nudity, sex and a mostly happy ending.


HP BRIDGING THE BORDERS AWARD PRESENTED BY CINEMA WITHOUT BORDERS – The winner received the award’s diploma and an HP ZBook 17 Mobile Workstation valued at $3,000.

French (France), Josza Anjembe

Teenage Seyna faces unexpected obstacles on her mission to become a French citizen, from the disapproval of her Cameroonian father to the limitations of the camera lens.


YOUTH JURY AWARD – The winner received a $500 cash prize.

Taking Flight (US), Brandon Oldenburg

A bored child stuck with his grandfather for the day stumbles across a photo of his father in a magic wagon, unleashing an unforgettable adventure.

The Palm Springs International Film Festival will be held January 5-16, 2017 and the Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala will be held January 2, 2017.

For more information, call 760-322-2930 or 800-898-7256 or visit