2007 has been a very good year for short film viewers. Not only did the festival circuit deliver another amazing crop of winning films, every exhibition format offered up something remarkable to watch. Two hundred movie theaters nationwide unspooled Paris-themed shorts directed by the Coen Brothers and other A-list directors. Network television debuted a short filmmaking competition during prime time. iTunes allowed almost half a million people to download a Wes Anderson mini-movie for free. And 35 million viewers clicked on Funnyordie.com to see Will Ferrell get upstaged by a two-year old. For those who may have missed these shorts the first time around, here is a round up of the superstars of the past twelve months.
On the Festival Circuit
“Everything Will Be Ok” – Animator Don Hertzfeldt is officially working at the top of his game. His previous Academy Award nomination for “Rejected” (2000) served notice that Hertzfeldt was a force to reckon with. Then his latest 17-minute opus was given the grand jury award for best short film at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. Those who haven’t had the privilege to see Hertzeldt’s amazing animated saga of one man’s questionable health and welfare can order the DVD from the filmmaker’s website, www.bitterfilms.com.
“Freeheld” – The fact that Cynthia Wade‘s short is 38 minutes long and yet still managed to get such festival play in 2007 is a testament to how gripping a documentary about love, death, and a grassroots fight for justice can be. This look at a plainspoken New Jersey policewoman dying of cancer who wants her same-sex partner to receive her pension benefits is captivating from first moment to last. Having racked up prizes all along the festival circuit, the doc is currently on the short list for Academy Award consideration. Let’s hope we see Ms. Wade in 2008 accepting a trophy on Oscar night.
“Tanghi Argentini” – This Belgium delight from director Guido Thys continues to win praise from both juries and audiences at festivals worldwide. Having first called attention to itself at Clermont-Ferrand with a one-two punch of Audience Award and Best Comedy, the story of a mild-mannered office worker who wants to learn how to dance dominated shortfests all year long. Many will be shocked if “Tanghi Argentini” isn’t one of the names read when the Academy reveals its live action short nominations next month.
In Commercial Theaters
“Paris, Je T’aime” – While all-star short films anthologies aren’t a new concept (remember 1989’s “New York Stories,” which marked Sofia Coppola‘s screenwriting debut?), this feature released in 200 theaters across America this past summer boasts so many big name helmers that audiences flocked to see if the final result was worthy of their talents. With each director tackling a specific location, this valentine to the City of Love showcases the talent of Gurinder Chadha (“Quais de Seine”), the Coen Brothers (“Tuileries”), Wes Craven (“Pere-Lachaise”), Alfonso Cuaron (“Parc Monceau”), Christopher Doyle (“Porte de Choisy”), Alexander Payne (“14th arrondissement”), Tom Tykwer (“Faubourg Saint-Denis”), and Gus Van Sant (“Le Marais”). Arguably, Payne’s and Tykwer’s pieces shine the brightest. “Paris, Je T’aime” is now available on DVD.
“Hotel Chevalier” – A prequel to “The Darjeeling Limited,” this 13 minute short staring Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman debuted in late September as a free download on iTunes. Over 400,000 fans took advantage of the limited-time opportunity to own an original Wes Anderson short. Fox Searchlight then added the buzz-generating short to the feature during its domestic theatrical run.
“On the Lot” – What singing is to “American Idol,” short filmmaking was to “On the Lot.” Executive produced by Mark Burnett and Steven Spielberg, this competition reality series debuted in May on FOX. 12,000 people submitted films for consideration, but Will Bigham walked away the winner, earning a million-dollar movie deal with Dreamworks. While the mainstream press focused on the series’ dismal ratings, the fact that short filmmaking was given prime time exposure is nothing short of a miracle.
“Pixar Short Films Collection” – Released in November, this collection of Pixar’s greatest hits is a must-have. Containing 13 shorts including popular and Academy favorites such as “Luxo Jr.,” “Geri’s Game,” “For the Birds,” and “Lifted,” the fact that this DVD is labeled “Volume 1” raises high expectations for what “Volume 2” will contain.
On the Internet
“The Landlord” – If you haven’t heard of this Internet sensation, you must be living under a rock. This confrontation between a crazy-haired Will Ferrell and his 2 year-old “landlady” Pearl (daughter of Adam McKay and niece of Jeremy Piven) has been featured in such mainstream publications as People Magazine. Ferrell and McKay launched their Funny or Die website in April, and its signature film remains unstoppably popular to this day.
Looking Ahead to 2008
Who will the superstars of next year be? It’s always a mistake to make predictions too early in the game. But smart money’s on “Welcome” to make the list next year. The latest offering of Glamour Magazine’s highly successful Reel Moment short film program, this Kirsten Dunst-directed short stars Winona Ryder and is scheduled to make its festival debut at Sundance next month.
[Kim Adelman is the author of “The Ultimate Filmmakers Guide to Short Films”]