For this year’s edition of Nespresso Talents, a competition that celebrates emerging filmmakers and innovative forms of storytelling, organizers faced an obvious challenge as the coronavirus pandemic swept across the globe, disrupting lives and rattling the global film industry.

But the competition, designed for short films shot in vertical format, can claim its most successful edition to date, with organizers receiving more than 740 videos from 47 countries — double the number of submissions from last year. It’s the sort of outcome Nespresso envisioned when it partnered with Cannes Critics’ Week to launch the competition four years ago.

“Nespresso believes in fostering creative talent and supporting people who think differently,” says the company’s chief brand officer, Anna Lundstrom.

“And that’s also why we decided to create the Nespresso Talents vertical short film contest in 2016, which celebrates and nurtures next generation film talent, bringing their art to the discerning film lovers everywhere. This program is a unique opportunity to engage a younger audience, showcasing innovation and a more disruptive spirit.”

The partnership with Cannes Critics’ Week is one of 10 that Nespresso has forged with film festivals around the world, as part of the company’s efforts to collaborate with like-minded festival partners in support of emerging talent.

“Our sponsorship of Critics’ Week is a great example: they focus on discovering new talents and celebrate first and second feature films,” Lundstrom says. “The purpose of this prestigious parallel section of the Cannes Film Festival naturally fits with our brand philosophy.”

For the Nespresso Talents competition, entries can be up to three minutes long and must be shot in 9:16 format. Submissions are evaluated based on various criteria, including the overall production value; the innovation of the storytelling approach; the degree to which the film incorporates the competition’s annual theme; and how well the vertical format is integrated into the concept, script, framing, editing and other aspects of the film.

“It was important for us to differentiate this competition by making it socially relevant and rooted in current culture,” Lundstrom says. She cites studies that more than 70% of videos are watched on mobile platforms, and that mobile phones are held vertically 94% of the time.

“Nespresso Talents delivers a new angle to an old format, challenging filmmakers to produce vertical film for mobile consumption. … We wanted to celebrate this rapidly emerging medium and to help talented filmmakers reach a wider audience.”

Each edition of the competition is organized around a specific theme, which filmmakers are asked to address in a creative way. Past editions have focused on the different meanings that food has for each filmmaker; the stories of strong and visionary women; the power of filmmaking; and the idea of the extraordinary in everyday life.

The theme of the fifth edition is Virtuous Circles, which Lundstrom says is in keeping with Nespresso’s core belief in “circularity.” “We are constantly striving to create virtuous circles in everything we do in the pursuit of exceptional coffee. Whether that’s reviving endangered coffee growing regions, developing long-term relationships with farmers that cross generations, enhancing the resilience of communities and the environment to climate change for decades to come, helping inspirational women coffee farmers to flourish and female agronomists pass on their knowledge to others or even re-cycling capsules into bicycles.”

“The virtuous circle is a beautiful theme that needs to be emphasized more,” says international jury member Mike Horn. “Nature takes care of itself, man does not. This theme has helped to show in some cases the difference we must make to preserve this virtuous circle.”

Horn was part of a four-member international jury that included Cannes Critics’ Week program manager Rémi Bonhomme; photographer Rena Effendi; and film and TV actor Mark Chao. The long-time explorer and adventurer was impressed by the range of the submissions he viewed.

“I really liked the creativity that some of the films showed,” Horn says. “They all had a different approach to the theme and it was very inspiring to discover them.”

With the winners traditionally feted at an awards ceremony during the Cannes Film Festival, this year’s presentation became yet another casualty of the coronavirus pandemic after the festival’s cancellation.

But the disruption proved to be a minor setback for a competition that champions innovation. This year’s ceremony will be broadcast on the Nespresso website July 10 and relayed by Variety, while the physical premiere of the award-winning films will take place at the San Sebastian Film Festival. They will then be broadcast worldwide on Festival Scope in October.

The digital pivot is in keeping with the spirit of adaptation that has become a hallmark of the industry-wide response to an unprecedented crisis. “The fact that an event like the Cannes Film Market was fully organized in a digital way is a great example of adaptation needed when going through extraordinary situations like the one we are living at the moment,” Lundstrom says.

Nespresso will invite the winners to next year’s edition of Cannes, offering them an opportunity to receive mentoring sessions from industry experts and take part in the Marché du Film.

Daria Kashcheeva was just a second-year student of animation when her short film, “To Accept,” won the Nespresso Talents competition in 2017. It was her first time shooting in vertical format, something she characterizes as a “new way of thinking” about film.

“It forced me to think more about composition of the frame, and I realized that [it made me] think more creatively,” she says. “It affected the storytelling as well, because I tried to find interesting objects or spaces which fit into the vertical format, and it influenced the story in this way.”

Taking home the top prize was a fateful moment for the Prague-based animator, who was in the process of developing an idea that would turn into her graduation film, “Daughter,” a stop-motion animated short that earlier this year was nominated for an Academy Award.

“For sure winning Nespresso Talents influenced the beginning of my career,” she says. “As I was quite new in the film world, I didn’t feel confident.”

The boost she got from the competition emboldened her to approach the Czech animation house Maur Film, which would go on to co-produce “Daughter.”

“Winning [Nespresso Talents], and the trip to the Cannes Film Festival, really gave me energy and a feeling that everything is possible.”

For young filmmakers taking part in future editions of Nespresso Talents, she suggests they “be brave and work hard.”

“I would recommend [they] experiment with film language, with storytelling, with structure, with visual design, combine genres, techniques, look for inspiration everywhere,” she says.

Lundstrom cites Kashcheeva’s success as an example of why the competition was created in the first place.

“A platform like Nespresso Talents gives visibility, supports and encourages the young generation to pursue their dream,” she says. “We always feel very happy and proud to see our former finalists or winners evolve and get recognized for their talent.”