Film Festival Breakouts

Meet the Winners of the 2017 Palm Springs Shortfest

European directors have won 5 of the 7 major awards at the 2017 Palm Springs Shortfest as they continue to dominate significant American film festivals this season.

Swiss filmmaker and graphics designer Jan-Eric Mack won the Best of the Festival Award and Best Student Live Action Short Over 15 Minutes for his 24-minute drama Facing Mecca. Jan-Eric is a Zurich University of the Arts film graduate who has built up a solid body of work in recent years, such as the short film King (2015) and Alfonso (2013), which won at the Locarno Film Festival in 2013.

The Grand Jury Award went to French director Franck Dion for the animated short The Head Vanishes. Franck shot to industry recognition back in 2013 after his short Edmond was a Donkey earned a lucrative César nomination. The short animated comedy about a man who embraces having donkey ears, delighted festival programmers and audiences that year, winning nods at Aspen, Chicago and Annecy Animated film festivals.

New Machine Magazine profiles the major winners of the 2017 Palm Springs Shortfest.

Palm Springs Shortfest 2017 Winner
Award winning directors clockwise from left, Jan-Eric Mack, Franck Dion, Toma Waszrow, Reed Van Dyk, Sean Meehan, Nicholas Arioli, Mari Bakke Riise

Jan-Eric Mack – Facing Mecca

Country: Switzerland

Awards: Best of the Festival Award and Best Student Live Action Short Over 15 Minutes

Synopsis: Pensioner Roli comes to Fareed’s assistance when the Syrian refugee is faced with the burial of his Muslim wife. Together they stumble into a bewildering forest of Swiss bureaucracy to which Roli finds beautifully simple answer.

About the filmmaker

  • Jan-Eric is a Zurich-based director and graphic designer
  • After acquiring his Bachelor’s degree in Film at the ZhdK (Zürcher Hochschule der Künste) film department in 2013, Jan-Eric co-founded Verein Film Atelier Zürich, a non-profit industry association to support emerging filmmakers
  • In 2017, he completed a master’s program in Feature Film Directing at ZhdK
  • His 2013 short comedy Alfonso (2013) earned a nomination at the 2013 Cork International Film Festival and won the Junior Jury Award Leopards of Tomorrow at the Locarno International Film Festival in 2013
  • His short drama Magnetfelder (2011) won the Taurus Studio for Innovation Award and was nominated for Narcisse Award at Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival in 2012

Follow Jan-Eric on Facebook or see his portfolio on Vimeo.

Franck Dion The Head Vanishes

Country: France/Canada

Award: The Grand Jury Award

Synopsis: Jacqueline has lost her mind a bit, but whatever, for her trip to the seaside, she has decided to take the train by herself, like a big girl!

About the filmmaker

  • Franck Dion was born in Versaille (France) in 1970 and is now based in Paris
  • Franck is largely self-taught after leaving school at an early age and he has worked as an actor, theatre set designer and illustrator
  • The Head Vanishes also won the Short Film Award at the Miami Film Festival in 2017 and the Short Film Competition Award – Special Mention at the Seattle International Film Festival in 2017; in 2016 it the won Best Canadian ShortWork Award at the Whistler Film Festival
  • In 2004, he made his first short animated film, L’Inventaire fantôme which won two awards: CANAL J Award and the Youth Jury Award and it was nominated for The Annecy Cristal prize at Annecy International Animated Film Festival in 2004
  • L’Inventaire fantôme also won Special Mention at the Ottawa International Animation Festival in 2004 and was nominated for Cartoon d’Or prize at the Cartoon Forum in Europe, that same year
  • In 2006, together with a few friends, he founded Papy3D, a production studio based in Paris
  • His short animation Edmond Was a Donkey won the Special Jury Award and was nominated for The Annecy Cristal prize at Annecy International Animated Film Festival in 2012
  • Edmond also won the Gold Plaque prize and was nominated for Gold Hugo prize the same year at Chicago International Film Festival; it won Best Short Film prize at Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia and Best Canadian Short prize at Toronto Worldwide Short Film Festival and was nominated for Short Grand Prix prize at Warsaw International Film Festival, all in 2012; it also the Audience Award and Youth Jury Award, and was nominated for the Golden Horseman prize at Dresden Film Festival in 2013; nominated for Grand Jury Prize at Miami Film Festival in 2013; won Special Jury Award at Aspen Shortsfest and was nominated for Canadian Screen Award at Canadian Screen Awards, CA in 2013
  • Notably, Edmond was nominated for César prize at the César Awards in France in 2013

Follow Franck on Twitter or see his portfolio on Vimeo.

Reed Van Dyk – Dekalb Elementary

Country: USA

Award: Panavision Best North American Short

Synopsis: Inspired by an actual 911 call placed during a school shooting incident in Atlanta, Georgia.

About the filmmaker

  • Reed Van Dyk is a Los Angeles-based writer/director
  • He got his start as a kid actor in New York doing Broadway and off-Broadway theatre
  • He has an arts degree from Cornell University and a masters in film directing from UCLA
  • His first short film The Conservatory won the 1st Place Student Emmy Award for Best Comedy
  • Dekalb Elementary also won the Jury Prize at Annapolis Film Festival in 2017, Grand Prix prize at Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival in 2017; Festival Prize at Regard: Festival International Du Court Métrage Au Saguenay in 2017; Special Jury Award at SXSW Film Festival in 2017 and was nominated for SXSW Grand Jury Award at SXSW Film Festival in 2017

Follow Reed on Twitter or Facebook.


Toma Waszarow – The Red Light

Country: Bulgaria/Croatia

Award: Audience Award for Best Live Action Short

Synopsis: In a small provincial town, the only traffic light is stuck on red. An intercity bus driver refuses to continue until the light turns green. This provokes a series of misunderstandings with the nervous passengers and the local law enforcement, in a world where following the rules is a misunderstanding in itself.

About the filmmaker

  • Toma Waszarow is Bulgarian film director and editor
  • In 2005 he received an MA in Film and TV Directing MA from the SW University, Bulgaria
  • He participated in several European-based film workshops such as the Berlinale Talent Campus, TOSMI and How to Say It
  • Founded the production company Revo Films
  • For The Red Light, real people from everyday life inspire all the characters
  • The film was shot over 5-days and all the characters are played by non-professional actors
  • The Red Light also won Jameson Short Film Award and Audience Award: ‘Silver Sea-Gull’ at Sofia International Film Festival 2016
  • Toma Waszarow is know for telling stories that use humor as a coping mechanism, particularly when dealing with sadder aspects of human life
  • When discussing the success of The Red Light, Toma said: ‘I thought I made a very, very local Balkan style film that most probably nobody will understand besides the East Europeans. I was terribly wrong…’

Follow Toma on Facebook

Nicholas Arioli Coin Operated

Country: USA

Award: Best Animated Short

Synopsis: Becoming a space explorer takes time.

About the filmmaker

  • Nicholas was born in New York City and now lives in San Francisco
  • He is an engineer by training but considers himself an artist at heart
  • Nicholas is a first-time filmmaker, who spent his early years in the technology industry before making the jump to filmmaking
  • He is inspired by music like synesthesia and is red-green colorblind

Follow Nicholas on Facebook.

Mari Bakke Riise – Kayayo

Country: Norway

Award: Best Documentary Short

Synopsis: 8-year-old girl Bamunu works as a porter known as ‘Kayayo’ in Ghana to support her family. She hasn’t seen them for two years since she was sent away from home. The story follows Bamunu dealing with work struggles at such a young age and eventually, her journey back home to see what awaits.

About the filmmaker

  • Mari Bakke Riise studied documentary at the NISS and has worked in film and TV for over 10 years, directing numerous television documentaries along the way
  • A Norwegian friend who works for an NGO in Ghana with a program to help the Kayayo girls told Mari about the situation, which then decided to be the focus on a documentary
  • The project was party funded by the Film Fonds organization in Norway

Follow Mari on Facebook.

Sean Meehan – Lost Face

Country: Australia/Canada

Award: Shortfest Online Audience Award

Synopsis: Based on the Jack London short story: In the mid 1800’s a fur thief must think fast to escape the terrible, protracted torture that awaits him at the hands of the native tribe he had helped enslave.

About the filmmaker

  • Sean is Australian but now based in Los Angeles
  • Sean Meehan went to film school in Western Australia
  • He spent a decade in the camera department, working his way from 2nd assistant camera to cinematographer on commercials, tv series and feature films before becoming a commercial director
  • He still shoots his own TVC work
  • Sean has been directing commercials for 15 years. He is co-owner of a TVC production company in Australia
  • Lost Face is his first film. In addition to the Palm Springs award Lost Face won Social Shorts Open Category at AACTA Awards in 2016 ; it was nominated for AMPIA Award at AMPIA Awards in 2017; won Alberta Spirit Award at Calgary International Film Festival in 2016 : Festival Prize at Canberra Short Film Festival in 2016; The BOBBY (Ridell) Award and Grand Jury Award at Edmonton International Film Festival in 2016; Global Shorts Statuette prize at Global Shorts, Los Angeles in 2016; Festival Director’s Choice Award and The Juan Ruiz Anchia Award nomination and IIFC Award for Best Director-Short prize, Best Foreign Short prize, Best Short Film prize at Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema in 2017; won NewFilmmakers Los Angeles Best of 2017 Awards and NewFilmmakers Los Angeles Best of 2017 Awards nomination at NewFilmmakers Los Angeles in 2017.