‘In the Woods’ Takes Top Honors at San Sebastian’s Nest Short Film Program

In The Woods
Courtesy of San Sebastian Festival

This year’s San Sebastian Nest competition for international student short films honored Sara Grgurić’s Croatian relationship drama “In the Woods” with this year’s Nest Award and its accompanying €10,000 ($11,800) cash prize.

“Because of its complexity and its precision, because with little it tells something enormous and because since we saw it, it has stayed with us, we give the award to ‘In the Woods,’” said the jury as they made the announcement.

Spanish production “Pont de Pedra” was also recognized with a Nest Special Mention, “for the respect with which its protagonist is portrayed and because there is magic in every frame.”

Below, Variety breaks down this year’s clutch of shorts found in San Sebastian’s Nest.

2021 San Sebastian NEST Short Films

“In the Woods” (Sara Grgurić, Croatia) – NEST Award

Sun-glazed and summer skin visuals rub dissonant against the quiet inner death of a despondent young woman on vacation with her boyfriend in this short, written and directed by Sara Grgurić. Saša and Filip play out the last gasp of their relationship with the acquiescence signature of a love gone sepia. Heartbreaking in its realness, “In the Woods” shows how far apart two people can be together in a moment of hope unfolded.

“Pont de pedra” (Artur-Pol Camprubí, Spain) – Special Mention

Cinema and Audiovisual School of Catalonia alum Camprubí has a wealth of feature film experience working in various departments and is currently working on a post-grad degree at San Sebastian’s prestigious Elías Querejeta Zine Eskola. In his debut short, the filmmaker follows Angelica, a Romanian woman living in the Spanish province of Aragon, who is shaken after witnessing the birth of a foal.

“À La Recherche d’Aline” (Rokhaya Marieme Balde, Switzerland)

Director Rokhaya Marieme Balde pays homage to Aline Sitoé Diatta, heroine of the Senegalese resistance during French colonisation, in this fact-or-fiction return to Dakar. The short employs documentary style interviews to provide context to Diatta, then juxtaposes using abstract scenes of supersaturated re-enactments. A touchstone of remembrance filled with singing and vibrant emotion.

“After a Room” (Naomi Pacifique, Switzerland)

Writer-director Naomi Pacifique brings forth a kaleidoscopic meditation on self-discovery in “After a Room.” Set amidst a messy bedroom, the film has Naomi and Ram contemplating the passing of time, childhood, life, and ego with a mood of post-coital tristesse. Warm tones and young skin set the stage while ambling guitar provides backdrop. Pacifique plays with intimacy in this reticent relationship.

“Algo así como la noche” (Alván Prado, Spain)

Descending a wooded mountain trail on a cool autumn morning, friends Marcos and Iván wrestle with the guilt of a deed they’ve just committed, and whether to cover up, or come clean about their involvement. Little more than a conversation between two shaken men, a constantly moving camera and the unfriendly surroundings give an almost-thriller energy to the tension of the brief scene. The latest short from Chilean trained and educated but worldly experienced Prado.

“Crashing Waves” (Lucy Kerr, U.S.A.)

In this short from American filmmaker Lucy Kerr, stories from stunt professionals working in mainstream Hollywood are shared, narrated by Kerr herself, and behind-the-scenes footage from “The Exorcist” TV show are displayed, combining to paint a far different picture than the one presented in a clean and polished finished film. A strong statement is made on behalf of the multitudes of workers who give their time, energy and risk their safety for a few seconds of on-screen thrills experienced by the audience.

“The Hole” (Christoffer Ansel, Denmark)

Christoffer Ansel co-wrote and directed this allegorical story of Frank and Elias, father and son, and their monotonous life of endlessly filling the giant hole in their living room floor. When Elias begins to question the purpose, their relationship unravels with contemplative consequences. Overtones of Freud are underscored by dry strings. Ansel delivers a dark, yet pastoral parable of Sisyphean proportions.

“Little Swallow” (Nikita Merlini, Switzerland)

Nikita Merlini writes and directs this twist on a coming-of-age story: Sofia and her mother Carla must live together at The Little Swallow Hotel in the wake of their house burning down. When Sofia has a chance to go to Zurich for University, Carla wrestles with losing something once again. Merlini captures the feeling of promise which accompanies the short years on the launchpad of adulthood and does so using subtle scenes of hope and compassion.

“Neon Phantom” (Leonardo Martinelli, Brazil)

The Golden Pardino winner for best short at this year’s Locarno Festival, “Neon Phantom” is a brightly-colored look at the work lives of Rio’s bike messengers, focusing on João who dreams of buying a motorcycle. A student at Brazil’s PUC-Rio, Martinelli blends drama and documentary in his often experimental work, and several of his shorts have played at prestigious festivals around the world including Locarno, Chicago and Toulouse.

“A Nocturnal Roam” (Feng Yi, China)

Yi studied at the China Film Art Research Center and has already put out several well-received shorts. In “A Nocturnal Roam,” escort Muduo takes a late-night walk with writer Mianshan through the People’s Park in Shanghai. Mianshan talks about a post-apocalyptic novel he wrote and dedicated to his fiancée, and as he explains the story the park seems to become more isolated from the real world. Mianshan must look to his own stories for clues to get back to reality.

“Ob Scena” (Paloma Orlandini Castro, Argentina)

One of this year’s most experimental shorts, “Ob Scena” uses decades-old psychiatry texts written on the subject of sexuality to reflect on modern sensibilities around pornography. Questions are discretely raised about how public representations of sex are controlled and filtered. A Buenos Aires native, Orlandini has studied and worked not only in film but as an ad honorem professor of ethics and deontology.

“Rheum” (Kateřina Hroníková, Slovakia)

Kateřina Hroníková writes and directs this textural tone poem about pensioners Libuse and Jaromir, who decide to shake things up with a lifestyle subscription service called The Sun. Bespoke daily rituals and vague mantras serve to upend their already uncomfortable routine, and both are forced to face their frustrations in an unforgiving meditation on aging together, and alone. Tactile, human, colorful – Taťjana Medvecká and Jiří Wohanka give strong performances in this crisp close-up.

“Summer Planning” (Alexandru Mironescu, Romania)

Written and directed by Alexandru Mironescu, this desaturated vignette offers a glimpse into a pivotal pre-summer of young Andrei and his divorcing parents. Plans to go to summer camp are derailed when his father spends his camp fee, and Andrei is forced to choose. A color-washed slingshot, “Planuri de Vacanta” is repeatedly charged with emotional violence, then drained in silence. DP Adrian Hasu-Dragan shows finesse with a meaningful mise en scene.

“Yearlings” (Mélanie Akoka, France)

Sorbonne and NYU Tisch School-educated filmmaker Mélanie Akoka wrote and directed this story of a young girl, neglected by her mother, approaching the end of her adolescence who must wrestle alone with new feelings of desire towards a charismatic young handyman who visits the family to repair an old stone wall. A low-hanging afternoon sun, earth tones and heavy sweaters match the film’s autumnal aesthetic to the end of a season in the young girl’s life.