Film & TV's very own editors Alex Brian and Syna Majumder at the Watersprite awards ceremonyWatersprite Film Festival with permission for Varsity

The last thing you would expect to see at an awards ceremony is a 21-metre-long skeleton of a fin whale. Yet that is exactly what greeted attendees of the fifteenth Watersprite Film Festival. Held at Cambridge’s Zoology Museum (hence the whale), the ceremony was just one of numerous events organised between 1st-3rd March, including free screenings of the nominated films and “hubs” with industry professionals designed to assist aspiring filmmakers.

“Watersprite is now the world’s largest international student film festival”

Launched in 2009 by a group of Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin students, Watersprite is now the world’s largest international student film festival, receiving 1,758 submissions from 93 countries in 2024. Despite this, the festival continues to be centred in Cambridge and run by students. However, attendees can also join online and Watersprite recruits ambassadors at other universities.

The Watersprite Awards Ceremony was held at Cambridge's Zoology Museum of all placesAlex Brian with permission for Varsity

Nevertheless, Saturday’s ceremony was certainly worth attending in-person. With its red carpet, atmospheric lighting and famous faces (including Harry Potter director David Yates!), you’d be forgiven for forgetting that the whole thing was student-run. Indeed, as host Olisa Odele (Big Boys, Dead Hot) noted, where else could he be accompanied by a live jazz band?

The ceremony was one of the few events closed to the public. Among the audience were the creatives behind the 46 shortlisted films (flown in from around the world with the help of Watersprite’s sponsors) and the hardworking members of the student committee. Thanks to them, the event went incredibly smoothly – apart from the odd mistake on the slideshow and the tedium of hearing about each of Watersprite’s innumerable sponsors. Such is inevitable, however, during these kinds of events. And besides, Odele’s energetic hosting ensured that no-one drifted off, even as seventeen awards were announced.

“The night’s big winner was Kiarash Dadgar’s The Steak

The night’s big winner was Kiarash Dadgar’s The Steak, which received praise from both the public (Kingdom Creative Audience Award) and the jurors (Seven.One Studios Fiction Award; Neil Gaiman Film of the Year Award). A collaboration between French, German and Italian creatives, the 8-minute short bears the ominous synopsis: “A birthday ceremony preparation gets upside down as something horrible takes place.” It was heartwarming to witness Dadgar become increasingly overwhelmed each time he rose to accept a new award (and heartbreaking to learn that Neil Gaiman would only be joining us via video).

Cambridge jazz band Temor soundtracked the proceedingsAlex Brian with permission for Varsity

Near Light – the story of a convicted murderer who enters the top Italian university of economics – won best documentary. Best experimental film went to UK-based Lullaby for the Lost: “A sleeping man’s fading memory of his late Mother unravels through a recurring, hypermnesic dream that reverberates and transforms throughout this life”. The winner of best animation, Shuqin Li, couldn’t attend the ceremony but sent a beautiful animation of a smiling face instead.

It was heartbreaking to learn that Neil Gaiman would only be joining us via videoWatersprite Film Festival with permission for Varsity

And Li wasn’t the only winner to attend virtually. Ridiculously cool German cinematographer Giulia Schelhas whizzed off on a motorbike after accepting her award for The Birthday Party via videoclip. This 17-minute tale of a boy’s birthday party in an isolated farmhouse during Y2K dominated the technical awards, winning best production design, salon editing and cinematography. It was reassuring to see such a diverse array of skills being celebrated. However, in the interests of time, I shall move onto the special prizes.


Mountain View

Meet the students behind Best Experimental Film finalist Beresheith

A new award – the Script Compass Development Prize – went to Norwegian drama Nøkkelbarn, which follows a twelve-year-old boy who is forced to choose which parent to live with during an ugly divorce. The screenplay development company will now work with the filmmakers to convert their short into a full-length movie. The look on their faces when they realised what a daunting yet irrefusable project they would be embarking on was priceless.

Ciara Kerr received the social impact award for her animated musical Homemaker, which centres around a controlling relationship. Meanwhile, German-born animator Viola Baldwin (nominated in 2014 for Wedding Cake) won the alumni prize for her work on Minions, The Sea Beast and others. It was this award more than anything that highlighted the amazing work we can expect to see from the nominees in the future, and the vital work that Watersprite does in giving them a kick-start.