Movie Reviews: Short Films at Aspen Shortsfest 2010
April 6th –As ground blizzards raged around the mostly packed Wheeler Opera House in Aspen, Colorado, Laura Thielen, executive director of aspenFILM, introduced what she called “a new generation of big-screen storytellers.”
In its 19th year Aspen Shortsfest drew 2500 submissions from 80 countries and screened over 100 short films, ranging in length from the 27-second Is This Your Limb? (see video below) based on a Craigslist ad, to the 28-minute Born Sweet, a tale of Cambodian karaoke dreams. Of those films, 86 from 29 countries were in contention for festival awards and prizes, cash awards totaling $14,500, as well as for Oscar nominations. Thirty plus film people (directors, producers, writers, actors) were expected., including Meg Ryan and Sarah Siegel as part of the Jury.
The makers of the films presented opening night, Tuesday, included two film school students, Maya Tiberman from Tel Aviv and Gregg Helvey from USC; Liz Tuccillo, a New York playwright and Sex and the City writer; Australian filmmakers Tim Dean and Chris Corbett, hoping to generate interest in a feature-length project, and Ruben Ostlund, a Swedish feature filmmaker playing with technique (a single camera without a single cut, 12 minutes).
As Dean and Corbett described from the Wheelers stage, they made Fences (above), a 7-minute drama about a childs loss of innocence when his cop father takes him to a late night crime scene “to show the world from a childs point of view. ” Written quickly, in three or four days, from an idea that had been “percolating” in the back of Deans mind for years, and shot at Deans house, (where he quips he is still peeling black gaffer tape from his floor), Fences was wrapped up entirely in about six weeks, to meet a deadline for Tropfest, where it won multiple prizes, including Best Cinematography, Best Screenplay, and Best Editing. What he and his producing partner Corbett like about shorts, Dean told the Aspen audience, is that “You can do things really quickly,” and for very little money – in this case for $600 Australian, or about $550 U.S. (Which mostly paid for food, Dean said.) Although the cinematography is lush, the colors dark and saturated, and the images memorable, Dean said the storyboards were driven by the point of view of the film and the emotion of the film, not just “cool-looking shots.”
Gregg Helveys USC thesis film, Kavi,(above) a 19-minute richly colored drama shot in India, mostly in a brick yard, tells the story of a young Indian boy, who is a contemporary slave. With his parents, he works, sleeps and eats in a brickyard to pay off an unexplained debt that his parents owe. The brickyard owner is predictably cruel, the boy drawn to the cricket-playing boys outside the brickyard walls, the parents seemingly powerless to change their fate. The film is saturated with the deep browns and textures of mud, the rusts of their clothing, the strains of the sitar, the tabla, the flute.
Tibermans film, Ramlod, is a 10-minute fictional narrative of a young woman who runs out of gas in a deserted part of town, and her encounter with a group of street kids. The light is flat and fading, the young womans red hair shines brilliantly, and the boy who directs his troupe has at first surprising desires, which open up into a drama touching on the problem of trust and the detente that is play and sharing. (Ramlod comes up on a search for “coexistence” in Hebrew. )
Surprise is one of the elements that filmmaker Daniel Junge, winner of the Shortsfest audience award for 2008 for his short documentary Come Back To Sudan, (and nominated for an Oscar for his new film, The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner), and a member of this years jury, says what hell be looking for in films:
“The wonderful thing about shorts is that its easier to take risks. I expect to see things that are out of the box. Features are too costly to diverge from set expectations, and they have to have certain parameters to appeal to audiences. Shorts can, and some say should, defy those expectations with a lower level of risk to the filmmaker…. Aspen is known worldwide as one of the premiere shorts festivals in the country. The breadth and quality of the work are unparalleled.”
There were other films that played the 6th deserving mention: Nicos Challenge, (above) a 15-minute documentary of a one-legged boys climb of Kilimanjaro. Home, a 6-minute animation portrait of filmmaker Matt Fausts childhood home as devastated by Hurricane Katrina, as well as beautifully made animations from Croatia and South Korea, including Jung Yumis Dust Kid (top), in which the dust (dust kids”) simply cannot be cleaned up.