PARK CITY '99: Shorts Stories
From a record 1730 entries, this year’s festival is screening a total of
60 short films, 48 of which are American films eligible for competition.
As is often the case at feature-oriented film festivals, the shorts are
not categorized; in this way, narrative, documentary, animation and
experimental films are all mixed together, giving the shorts selection a
character of extreme diversity.
Short films that really stand out this year include two twenty-minute
epics, from Shorts Program 1: Michael Burke’s “Fishbelly White,” a
beautifully subtle character-study about an awkward young country boy.
The film is as sensitive and humorous as it is raw and unsettling.
“Jorge” by Joel Hopkins is a lighter, often hilarious “boy meets girl”
story which left the audience cheering.
“Desserts” by Jeff Stark is a brilliant three-minute “short short” with
a punchline so amazing, it would be unfair to give it away. An
ambitiously original film, “Hell for Leather” by Dominik Scherrer, is an
elaborate opera about a gang of bikers in London. And “More” by Mark
Osborne and “Bingo” by Chris Landreth are remarkable animated shorts,
while “Star Trak” by Roy Wood, and “A Pack of Gifts Now” by Sundance
shorts-veteran Corky Quakenbush, are both deliciously irreverent spoofs
on “Star Trek” and “Apocalypse Now” respectively. Among other noteworthy
shorts are: “Ruben” by Grant Barbeito, “Cache” by Carolyn Coal, “Second
Skin” by Amy Talkington, and “Taxidermy: The Art of Imitating Life” by
For short filmmakers, being invited to such a major festival usually
represents an intense first taste of the business side of filmmaking.
Many hope that coming to Sundance will further their careers in some
way; either by garnering interest for feature projects from studios or
production companies, or by getting representation from agents, managers
or lawyers. They hope to sell their films, and get their shorts picked
up by a distribution company.
Organizers advise filmmakers not to succumb to market pressures, citing
personal exchanges with other filmmakers and seeing new films as the
main reason for being here. Unlike feature-length participants however,
short filmmakers must cover all their own costs for travel and
accommodation when they come to Sundance. The film is done, and
hopefully paid for, but suddenly you also need posters, flyers,
postcards, press-kits, etc. For the short filmmaker, the price of coming
to Sundance is very often more than the film cost to make.
“For me,” says Eva Aridjis, “Sundance has been about watching films and
meeting people. But there are also aspects which are like SoHo [NYC] on
a Saturday night. There’s a lot of marketing going on.” As for publicity
materials, Aridjis says, “I made loads of VHS tapes, posters, postcards,
business cards, press-kits with expensive still photos. The only things
I have used are the cards, and I hung some posters. The rest of it, I
don’t know what to do with. The list of the press materials they ask you
to prepare gave me expectations which weren’t fulfilled. They seem
Despite the initiation into the hard reality of the film business, most
short filmmakers still manage to make sure they have a good time. One
director, who prefers to remain anonymous, told me, “The first thing I
did when I arrived was to buy condoms, Excedrin, Gatorade and a spare
battery for my cellphone.”
“I went to five parties last night” says Amy Talkington, whose short
“Second Skin” has already proven itself on the festival circuit, earning
the director her first feature deal. “Before coming I worked putting
together press-kits and finding contact numbers for people I wanted to
meet here. I also bought my first mobile phone.” But business certainly
isn’t everything for Talkington. “I’ve been feeling like a kid. . .
seeing Robert Altman, seeing all these hero filmmakers, hero producers
and hero actors just hanging around.”
“Jorge” director Joel Hopkins told me he was very happy to see that all
the screenings are extremely well attended. Full audiences, it seems,
are usually something too rare at short film festivals.
Ari Gold, returning to Sundance for the second time with “Culture,” his
one-minute, one-shot, self-acted piece, hopes having the film here will
also boost his alternative career as an actor. “Last time I didn’t do
anything to prepare,” he says. “This time I brought posters and t-shirts
to give away. People forget shorts by the time they leave the theater.
Seeing posters helps them to remember.” Gold also said he was perplexed
when he was told that he must buy tickets to his own film if he wants to
Some shorts play in front of features, while others are grouped into
feature-length Shorts Programs. According to Aridjis, “When you play
with a feature, your work is overshadowed. On one hand I really like the
film I am showing with, and I think they were well paired. Most people
come to see features. Maybe more ‘influential people’ will see your
short if you screen with a good feature, but short films are not on
their agenda. When you are in a shorts program, you know everyone came
wanting to see short films.”
While several filmmakers expressed similar concerns, all agreed that it
is good for a festival to have shorts before the features. One suggested
solution was to follow the very successful and shorts-friendly example
of the Panorama section at the Berlin Film Festival, where short films
are paired with a feature for three screenings, AND also screened twice
as part of a shorts program. In this way, all the short films are given
the same opportunity to reach both kinds of audience.
[Rolf Gibbs is a filmmaker whose new short film “The Last Guy to Let You
Down” is screening in competition. Gibbs also had a short in last year’s
festival: the multi-award winning “Whacked!“.]