Park City 98: Sundance Shorts
by Elizabeth Schub
Power networking, party crashing and generating hype for their films are among the activities that directors of short films at the Sundance Film Festival can be seen doing at any time of day. As a filmmaker with a short film at Sundance this year, I took to the streets, screening rooms and festivities to chat with fellow filmmakers about their experiences this week in Park City.
David Grotell whose hilarious, impeccably crafted, wry gender-bender “Melvyn Schmatzman Freudian Dentist”, one of my favorite films at the festival, had the following to say: “Of course we feel like second class citizens here; we were only given six complementary tickets to films, I had to buy tickets and I spend all day waiting on line.” Other filmmakers seem to be happy just by virtue of being a part of the festival. Bill Platt, director of “Bleach” screening in the Midnight Shorts Program said: “You can’t expect to have the same exposure as Gwyneth Paltrow. I’m just happy to have a film at Sundance — the name carries a lot of weight.” Karl Nussbaum, whose Peter Greenaway/Joel Peter Witkin-esque tableau “Raw Images from the Optic Cross” says: ”It’s a lot less pressure having a short film here, I don’t have to worry about making deals; I can just have fun. But I did rent a cell phone just in case.”
As one of the shorts crowd, I admit I’ve been to more parties than films and that life here resembles the permanent-frat-party that I so avoided during college, but it’s actually been overwhelmingly fun this time around and certainly more productive. My daily life resembles any episode from “The Real World” in my condo that I share with 7 guys, including my publicist who sleeps on a lawn chair in the coat closet; I do feel a bit like Wendy in the land of the lost boys. We all return from the official Sundance parties with pockets full of food, so there is always plenty of cheese cubes to eat the next day. Cheese is after all, the official food of the Sundance short filmmakers. Never a dull moment, never a lack of cheese.
In spite of the frustrations of some filmmakers and the chaos of life in general, filmgoers are turning out in full force to the short film programs which have been playing to sold-out audiences. For good reason: I can’t remember ever seeing such a strong body of short films at a film festival before (and lord only knows I’ve seen my fair share). The films represent a range of styles from straight-forward narratives to quirky documentaries to films that resist genres all together. Among the strongest in the short film programs is the metaphysical/scatological “I Remember,” a visually stunning portrait of an awkward young man via a litany of memories, co-directed by Avi Zev Weider and David Chartier, Craig Marsden’s beautifully directed film about a French tutor’s thwarted attempts to romance his pupil “La Leçon”, Josh Sternfeld’s painfully ironic family portrait “Balloons, Streamers” and Jona Frank’s funny and frank documentary “Catholic School” that taps into the thoughtful imagination of a group of second grade students at a Catholic school somewhere in Middle America.
There seems to be a strong appreciation for the short film form at Sundance evidenced by the size and enthusiasm of the audiences. Some come for the love of shorts, others to scout talent. A producer explained to me that he and many other producers come to Sundance to view shorts and connect with promising directors early in their careers. And many short film directors are banking on just that. Jeremy Boxer, the director of “The Last Supper” said, “Making a short film is a great preparation for making a feature; people can see my work here and know what I’m capable of. I’m ready to pitch a feature, I’m hoping to set some more meetings set up”.
Whether in a short film program or preceding a feature in competition (as in the case of my film), audiences are warm and receptive and come armed with business cards and the promise of deals deals deals. Maybe next year you’ll see any one of us here with a feature; you’ll see us entering the front door of parties rather than scamming entre through the rear and leaving with a pocket full of cheese.
[Elizabeth Schub’s film “Cuba 15” won the Audience Award for Best Short Film at The Hamptons International Film Festival and will next screen at The Berlin Film Festival.]