Over the past two decades, Aspen Shortsfest has hosted an astonishing roster of now-famous filmmakers. For the 20th Annual Aspen Shortsfest, which began April 10 and ends on the 15th, Indiewire spoke to festival artistic director Laura Thielen and program director George Eldred about the delight of discovering diamonds in the rough.
Looking back to the festival’s early years, who were some of the filmmakers that stood out?
Thielen: This morning I went through some of the old catalogues and saw that in 1992, the festival showed about 20 films in two programs. And one of the filmmakers in that list was Nicole Holofcener with a five-minute short called “Angry.” In 1993, we had “Season of the Lifterbees,” a 29-minute film by Eugene Jarecki. Also that year was the first time we showed a short by Trey Parker. In 1994, we had a short called “Ice Cream” by Louis CK.
You see these filmmakers in the nascent stages of their career. Can you remember some that you thought from seeing their short they would probably go on to make great features?
Thielen: Chris Wedge, who made the short “Bunny.” Certainly Fernando Meirelles, who did “Palace II (Golden Gate).”
Eldred: Just a remarkably engaging cinematic style.
Thielen: I have to give a shoutout to some of the Australian filmmakers, like Nash Edgerton. We showed a three-minute short of his called “The Pitch” many years ago. Cary Fukunaga, we showed his short “Victoria Para Chino.” Andrea Arnold with “Wasp.” Interesting independent filmmakers like Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden with “Gowanus, Brooklyn.” Another person is Jean-Marc Vallée, the Canadian filmmaker who went on to do “Young Victoria.”
Eldred: And Sarah Polley, I liked her shorts a lot.
Thielen: And of course Jason Reitman. Another filmmaker that I think is important – and she’s really eclectic, she works in film, television, shorts, and documentary features – is Jessica Yu, who has a new short in this year’s festival. And Kirsten Sheridan, Jim Sheridan’s daughter, we showed her early on. Bahman Ghobadi, we showed his short “Life in Fog” way back.
One of the things I noticed when going through the old catalogues, we made a conscious effort when we came in – the first Shortsfest we did was in 1996 – with our background from the San Francisco International Film Festival, we were very interested in expanding the Shortsfest to be a truly international competition. One of the things that really struck me when going through the catalogues was how international the festival has become, with filmmakers from Thailand, from Iran, from Africa, from all over Europe. In some ways it becomes difficult to say with the international directors what they’re doing now.
Eldred: Sometimes it’s not the filmmakers themselves, but the talent you see in the short. I remember Naomi Watts in a short called “Ellie Parker.” She had already been in features, but not a star yet in America. It’s exciting to see those screen presences before they have been elevated through the star-making machinery.
Thielen: Another one that comes to mind is the short by Griffin Dunne, the Oscar-nominated “The Duke of Groove,” with Tobey Maguire as an adolescent.