Chocolate Man - Top Shorts 2020 Best of Fest
The 6th annual Top Shorts 2020 winners have just been announced, and "Chocolate Man" is the big winner, taking home the most prestigious award, Best of Fest. This short film, directed by Murat Eyup Gonultas, was described by Top Shorts' Premier Judge, Dave Eichhorn, as "Simply stunning. Director Murat Eyüp Gönültas has rocked the world of short films with his latest outing, “Chocolate Man”, a tour-de-force of creative imagery and sound that takes us through a transformative 24 hours in the life of a jaded, world-weary war photographer."
Man in the Woods
Eichhorn, a multiple Emmy winning editor and sound designer, honored Man in the Woods (Kevin O'Neill) with Best of Fest Runner-Up, and selected it as Best Sound Design. In his review, Eichhorn wrote: "Here we have a shining example of how exemplary, well-executed sound design, along with tremendous acting and deft direction, can help draw us deeply into a story. Kudos to the sound team, as well as the entire crew. This is a moving little film, full of heart and intrigue."
Top Shorts' festival director, Roy Zafrani, honored Chelsea Nwasike's thriller "Written Words" with this year's Jury President Award. He explained his decision: "There were so many incredible nominees this year, that it was almost impossible to make a decision about the jury award. At the end of the day, I decided to award the film that touched my heart, the one that shocked me the most and made me connect to its protagonist, more than any other character, in any of the 300 films this year. Written Words, written and directed by the talented Chelsea Nwasike, starring the fabulous Victoria Floro- is that film."
The Sunset Channel
The Sunset Channel (dir. Matthew Kinahan) won Best Narrative Film. Top Shorts' juror Maximiliano Hernández stated: "With the use of surrealist wit and Sci Fi storytelling, Matthew Kinahan, beautifully captures a lonely man looking for closure after he endures tragic loss. Simon Lee Phillips' performance lends a subtle voice to the film and keeps it steadily moving down a road of realism and truth even when the circumstances are bizarre. David Kaminsky J’s affectionate cinematography captures pain and comedy in every frame."
Hernández, who won Best Actor at Top Shorts 2018, was honored to select this year's Best Director, and awarded The Painting (dir. Sergey Kalvarskiy, Stanislav Romanovsky). Hernández wrote: "The Directors of THE PAINTING tackle the difficult subject of government censorship in Russia with style and absurdity. Their central themes of who decides what is “acceptable” and does controversy fuel fame, is pulled off flawlessly with great comedic performances and an evenhanded view of the world. This “High Art” comedy hits all the right the notes."
The Painting also won Best Original Story. Juror Rui Yao wrote: "It combines religion, arts, politics and censorship in the tone of anti-utopia. It connotates art inevitably has to be taken advantage by the other fields including politics and religion. As a metaphor, it’s form and creative idea are attractive and eye-catching. Its narrative structure (from Day1 to Day7) and the other metaphorical elements such as the painter’s black cloak (like death) fits its subject well."
Yao selected Ellie (Becca E. Davis & Kathrene Gawel) as Best Screenplay of the year. He explained his decision: "This screenplay creatively expresses how a psychological experiment manipulates the relationships. It has a potential to be made as a film noir or sarcastic comedy. The structure, plot twist, characters and lines are also good."
William Baldwin in Talk
William Baldwin won Best Actor, for his performance in Talk. Juror Les Brandt, wrote in the review: "William Baldwin (Elvis, TALK) pushed his familiar talents in directions I havent seen him do in anything else before and with the help of director, Boulanger Romuald, took this film from zero to sixty from the start. Radio jock, Elvis (William Baldwin) deals with a caller who threatens the life of his wife and kid live and on-air on his hit radio talk show in LA, CA. Baldwin braided intimate, emotional and terrifying moments with a surgeon-like subltly throughout the film. William, is overloaded with charisma, personality, fun and charm."
Baldwin and his cast also won Best Ensemble. Juror Shaw Jones, stated: "TALK, written and directed by Boulanger Romuald and artfully executed by the talented cast, is a riveting film.
There is not a false note from any of the actors as they take us on a suspenseful and nail biting ride. Vanessa Guide, William Baldwin, Paul Spera and Tom Hudson and the rest of the cast all shine."
Chelsea Belle won Best Actress for her performance in Ripple Effect. Juror Lisa Roumain, wrote: "Chelsea’s performance as “Kat,” a teenager who is trying to find happiness in the midst of a toxic family life, is truthful & heart wrenching."
The Listener (dir. Petr Melnikov), which earned 10 nominations, won Best Indie Film and Best Duo (Sergey Pavlov & Diana Klyushkina). Juror Jolie Lennon stated: "The listener for me had a great full circle unexpected story line. I also love when a film makes a story work in basically one location and yet holds the viewer, its a hard task that was pulled off really well. It felt fresh, both visually and with the subject matter. Both leads played the parts with naturalism and ease. A great short film with great moments of suspense and hints of comedy."
Juror Mor Cohen, who picked Sergey Pavlov & Diana Klyushkina for Best Duo of the Year, explained her selection: I absolutely loved watching Sergey Pavlov & Diana Klyushkina in The Listener! Their relationship was so believable that you felt the presence of the other character even when they weren’t on screen. Our investment in their relationship is integral to the building suspense and guides the tone of the film throughout.
The Little Picture
Last year's Best Drama winner, Virginia Bach ("Tell Him"), served as a juror this year, and selected The Little Picture (dir. Toby Kearton) as Best Drama of the Year. Bach described The Little Picture as "A beautiful short film. Brilliant screenplay, cinematography and directing. Toby Kearton is a very talented Filmmaker. In the troubled times we are now experiencing, I found this story extremely relevant."
Benjamin Schnau who plays Gunter Wolfgang, the Nazi commander, won Best Supporting Actor. His character was described by Top Shorts' team as "so cruel and brainwashed, that he never lets himself feel or show compassion- exactly the type of character that makes everyone else better, literally."
Bach selected Infinito (DOP Daniel Lares) as Best Cinematography, stating: "Brilliant work of cinematography. Great mastery of the lenses, the camera moves, the use of the flare and the techniques of animation, to immerse the audience into a world full of poetry and wonder."
What the Hell
Best Comedy went to What The Hell (dir. Dede Harlan). Juror Mason Heidger (who recently won Best Performance of the Year at the Actors Awards), stated: "In "What the Hell" one can go to Heaven, one can go to Hell, or they can both go to hell! It’s up to them to decide who gets the honor. I laughed my entire way through this hilarious 10 minute short, especially when finding out how they both died (I’ll just say it involves a turkey dinner)."
Happy Earth Co
Heidger awarded Happy Earth Co (dir. Hylton Jandrell) as Best Dark Comedy: "Shot well, edited amazingly, acted wonderfully, and was funny to boot. I really loved this futuristic progression of society continuously buying that “new thing” they have to get to make them happy. And in the case of “Happy Earth Co.” it works. With an almost mind numbing quality."
The Malicious (dir. Noel Vinson) won Best Thriller. Juror Shaw Jones explained his decision: Writer/Director Noel Vinson does a masterful job of creating tension in this chilling film. His use of sound and imagery grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Actors Jacki Mison, Matthew R. Grego and Yannick Lawry exquisitely breathe life into Vinson’s horrifying vision.
Caducea (dir. Christophe Mavroudis) took home two awards - Best Horror and Best Fantasy Film. Juror Jarek Marszewski praised the film: "Gripping with the atmosphere, style and mystery, "Caducea” is a gothic parable of loneliness and otherness. The great creative collaboration of the director/writer, Christophe Mavroudis, and the DOP, Gillaume Simonin, resulted in a visually and emotionally powerful film - full of poetry and sensitivity, with memorable performances from Helena Coppejans, Marie-Jeanne Maldague, Vincent Deldre, Guillaume Alexandre." And juror Anup Kulkarni, added: "Good dark fantasy is a rare thing to find in movies nowadays. Director-writer Christophe Mavroudis’s dark mystery Gothic fantasy film CADUCEA has all landmarks of distinctive pieces of work. It was a wonderfully written film. The visuals, especially in the Art Direction & Cinematography departments, are beautiful, full of little details, and a fine-tuned sense of tone. Not to mention, Catherine Rossignot's character played by Marie-Jeanne Maldague and Alain - Guillaume Alexandre is outstanding."
The Best Action Film winner, The Teacher (dir. Jeremy Weiss) , was selected by last year's Best Actor and Best First Time Director Hugo Diego Garcia, who wrote: In The Teacher, Jeremy Weiss delivers a brilliant action short film packed with brilliant fighting choreography. The movie is technically excellent, the cinematography is on point and he uses sophisticated techniques on par with the best Hollywood movies of the genre. An incredible production, excellent performers, pure violence and fast pace, The Teacher is a must see and one of the most impressive action short films out there."
If We Had Tomorrow
Garcia awarded Anastasiya Yevchenko ("If We Had Tomorrow") as Best First Time Director: "You wouldn’t expect “If we had tomorrow”, to be a first film. There is mastery and control in this captivating and beautifully shot surrealistic dream-like short film. Approached as a puzzle and treated like a piece of art, it keeps you guessing the whole time.
This tremendously talented director tackles a deep subject, the war and its consequences, and increases its horror and devastating effects on life by showing in an iconographical perfection what will never be because of it. Every aspect of filmmaking is nailed and the narrative technique very clever.
A perfect blend of form and content, full of metaphors and brilliant filmmaking techniques. More than a filmmaker to follow, a real artist that we’ll keep hearing about."
Amara (dir. Ethan Chancer) won Best Sci-Fi. Juror Beate Malkus stated: "AMARA is an incredible dystopic masterpiece of art full of beautiful details made by director, cinematographer and VFX artist Ethan Chancer. Visuals and aesthetics intertwine perfectly with Chancer’s dramatic concept, music (Brian Ziff) and wardrobe & make-up (Skingraft/ Mother of London & Kerli Koiv). Four minutes which left me floored. WOW!"
Return to Foretop's Father
Malkus also selected the Best Inspirational Film of the year: Return to Foretop's Father, by Preston Randolph. In her review, Malkus wrote: "The documentary follows Crow tribal elder and pipe lighter Grant Bulltail on his way to sacred Heart Mountain. Director Preston Randolph combines the visual style and sound with the heritage and vision of the Crow tribal elder in such a quiet, beautiful and intense way that Grant Bulltail’s wise words get the space to reach right to the heart."
Sergio Herencias' Muñeca won Best Experimental Film. Roy Zafrani described the film as "A joy to the eyes. In Muñeca, a young woman, driven by the sadism of an egomaniac, mutates into a human marionette. This creative short film by Sergio Herencias is visually stunning, and incredibly well produced, shot and edited. The colors, location, costumes and makeup are breathtaking."
Fantasy of Alice
Zafrani also awarded Fantasy of Alice (dir. Phyllis Tam) as Best Romantic Comedy: "What if anything you wish for, could become your reality? Alice is an artist who accidentally gets a magical pen which can bring whatever she draws to live. She decides to draw Vincent, the man of her dreams, who lives across the street. But things can't always be as you wish...After several amusing incidents, Alice realizes there's no such thing as perfect. Original, funny and produced in the highest level. A wonderful short film."
Juror Lisa Roumain who picked Take Out (dir. Xiaodong Zhang) as Best Crime Film, described it as "a quietly intense film that completely immerses the audience in an emotional journey. Incredibly raw and truthful work!"
City of Shells
City of Shells (dir. Sean Hamilton) won Best Mystery Film. Juror Jolie Lennon (Top Shorts 2019 Best Actress) praised the film: "What a triumph on so many levels. Visuals and a soundscape to delight and intrigue the senses. It is a captivating and beautifully shot short exposing the beauty, mystery and misery in the abandoned, lost and missing. Wonderfully directed, this film held my attention for it's duration, in fact, I want to watch it again."
A Lack of Colour
Richard Prendergast, whose film Sylvia was selected as Top Shorts 2019 Best of Fest Runner Up, served as a juror this year, and selected A Lack of Colour (Craig Brownrigg) as Best LGBTQ Film: "A film maker is uniquely positioned to change opinions and shed light on subject matters that may otherwise be uncomfortable to discuss. Craig Brownrigg has taken an emotionally charged subject matter and managed to craft a cute love story whilst simultaneously addressing the public perception of gender dysphoria. No easy feat. The casting, dialogue, score and cinematography work in unison, making this seamless 26min film a must watch." Britt MacLennan who plays Ethan's mother, won Best Supporting Actress.
Prendergast also selected The Undeparted (dir. Chris McGuinness) as Best Documentary: "For a subject that I'd usually call bullshit on, I was 100% gripped from start to finish. Every aspect of this documentary is perfectly executed (is that a pun?). The colour grade, cinematography and edit pace are spot on. As a storyteller, Chris McGuinness has mastered the ability of immersing the viewer in the subject of his documentary. I don't watch many films twice but I'll be sure to give this a second viewing."
The Undeparted also won Best Editing (Beth Anthony). Juror Les Brandt admitted it wasn't easy to pick the winner: "Best Editing was a tough category... its almost an invisible art that takes an exteme amount of skill. I realized the work that went into Beth Anthony's The Undeparted contribution! She was magical at times with powerful edits that help make the terror and fright of the script sync automatically. Anthony was effective and skillful in her work alongside Director, Chris McGuiness, in The Undeparted."
In his third year as a juror, former LAFA Best of Fest winner Jarek Marszewski awarded K.R.A.P. (Hayley Holmes, Brynn Chamblee) as Best Web/TV Pilot, stating: "Locating the action at an acting school for children is an amazing and fresh idea. All these very young actors bring in their pure talents, authenticity and wonderful energy - along with the whole acting team so cleverly cast and navigated by the directors Brynn Chamblee and Hayley Holmes. K.R.A.P. proves that in comedy there still lots of space for intelligent, good taste jokes and unpretentious humour. Cannot wait for the following episodes!"
Amber Brooke Wallace, the creator of OKStupid, took home Best Web Series, and some compliments by the jury: "OKStupid has all the right ingredients of an entertaining series, with fantastic rhythm, excellent plot and amusing incidents. From the very first scene of the first episode, when April (Amber Brooke Wallace) finds out she is going through pre-menopause at the age of 29, the journey begins to find a partner to help her conceive before it’s too late. Her roommates, Jess (Kimberly Gikas) and Toni (Dani Woodson) add exactly the right amount of energy and laughter, with their bad advice. Amber Brooke Wallace is a multitalented artist, who was born to create comedy stuff - don’t miss her series, now on YouTube!"
7 Storeys Down
The Australian filmmaker Phoenix Raei ("7 Storeys Down") was awarded Best Indie Filmmaker by Jean Vincentelli, who stated: "A great maturity and professionalism in the writing, the realization and the interpretation for this very ambitious movie. A Special Mention for the duo of Actors composed of Kate Lister and Phoenix Raei (writer too)."
Vincentelli selected Vesely Marek as Best Young Filmmaker, for his work on Formation: "Great achievement and very clever interpretation for this film-observation of our society subject to the dictates of Technology. A Special Mention for Manuel Dragan as "Moderator."
Daun Kim's Don't Croak won Best Animation of the year. The team described Don't Croak as "the most entertaining animated short we've seen this year! Daun Kim and her team pay attention to the smallest details, making a hilarious film about a frog who escapes a frenzied determined 12 years old girl. Be ready for 2 minutes of total madness, in the best sense of the word. Simply amazing!"
Under the Waterfall
Sebastian Caudron's Under the Waterfall (by The Avener) won two awards: Best Music Video and Best Visual Effects. Juror Anup Kulkarni stated: "This entire music video was a visual treat! The richness of water simulation and minute detailing of Live-Action with CG elements that have been accomplished to all aspects of the music video is possible only when a good VFX team works together. The seamless 3D effects blend nicely with the narration part of the storyline. The VFX and Special Effects teams’ collaboration was excellent!"
Juror Nami Melumad, added: "Buildings turning into real waterfalls - how brilliant is that? The cinematography is absolutely spectacular, and the contemporary choreography feels exciting and fresh. The clip is Fun, driving, and energetic- you could totally feel the passion between the dancers (Janina Sarantshina and Patrick Kuo). Add the magic of Paris into the mix, and this music video is literally perfect for the song. Congratulations to director Sebastien Caudron and SOLDATS Films."
Melumad, who is the composer of over 130 films and TV series, selected Terra Nostra (Christophe Chagnard) as Best Score of the year: "In this unique and ambitious project, composer-director Christophe Chagnard and producers Susan and Jeff Lubetkin take us on a powerful symphonic journey to explore Terra Nostra ("Our World"- in Latin) through different periods of time and place. Chagnard's fantastic composition, along with its brilliant use of melody, texture, and orchestration, provides a whole new meaning to the visuals. Add some great visual effects to the mix, and the result is an incredibly thought-provoking experience for the viewer."