Recently Palm Springs and Los Angeles each hosted behemoth international short film festivals, presenting a combined total of 993 shorts to sell-out crowds at the Camelot Theatre and ArcLight Hollywood, respectively. With such an overabundance of riches, festival-goers in each city relied heavily on word-of-mouth recommendations to separate the must-sees from the also-rans. Here (in alphabetical order) are ten films that generated massive buzz while playing both the 12th annual Palm Springs Internationl Festival of Short Films (August 24-30, 2006) and the 10th annual Los Angeles International Short Film Festival (September 5-14, 2006). Keep an eye out for them as they continue to cut a wide swath through the festival circuit.
"Chicxulub" (Dir. Malona P. Voigt, USA, 2005, 14 min.)
Malona Voigt's short, based on a short story by T.C. Boyle, is a sophisticated domestic drama that begins with the dreaded "your daughter's been in an accident" phone call. "Chicxulub" (the title refers to a meteor which collided with Earth 65 million years ago and erased 75% of all living species) will next play the Milwaukee Interantional Film Festival and the St. Louis International Film Festival.
"Film Noir" (Dir. Osbert Parker, U.K., 2005, 4 min.)
Extremely popular on the festival circuit, having already screened at Cannes and Telluride, "Film Noir" is an innovative riff on the titular genre using classic images, archive footage, and found objects. This experimental gem can be seen on the big screen in a whole slew of upcoming festivals, including the Chicago International Film Festival, AFI, the St. Louis International Film Festival, and Raindance in the U.K.
"Happiness" (Dir. Sophie Barthes, USA, 2006, 12 min.)
Sophie Barthes' quirky piece is an exploration of a "what if" scenario: what if happiness were literally for sale? This remarkable short has an unusual setting: a condom factory, where a disgruntled worker (played by Polish-American actress Elzbieta Czyzewska) spends her days testing the product for leaks. "Happiness" won the Best Live-Action Under 15 Minutes jury prize at Palm Springs.
"Incomplete" (Dir. Yann Demange, U.K., 2006, 18 min.)
Remember the early '90s novelty song "Detachable Penis"? "Incomplete" is a terrifically funny British variation on that theme. Shot on Super 16, this comedy begins with the hero waking up to discover an essential part of his anatomy has gone missing. No one seems to appreciate the gravity of his situation - except his girlfriend's corresponding private part, which begins talking. "Incomplete" will next screen at the Mecal International Short Film Festival in Barcelona, Spain.
"Man vs. Woman" (Dir. Juan Carlos Vargas, USA, 2006, 13 min.)
It was easy to spot director Juan Carlos Vargas at Palm Springs - he was the one wearing the shirt featuring the four leads of his film: a Mad Max-like hero, a "Tomb Raider"-ish heroine, a "Jurassic Park"-quality velociraptor, and a killer robot. Vargas's fight-to-the-death combat story was a "Programmers' Pick" at Palm Springs. Sci-Fi fans can next catch the flick at the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix, Arizona.
"Moosecock" (Dir. Will Hartman, USA, 2005, 7 min.)
The first minute of "Moosecock," in which two guys sitting in a diner play "guess what word I'm thinking of," is worth the price of admission. If you're planning to attend the upcoming screening at the Hawaii International Film Festival or at the Starz Denver International Film Festival, don't arrive late.
"The Shovel" (Dir. Nick Childs, USA, 2006, 15 min.)
Give it up for David Strathairn, who anchored last year's acclaimed feature "Good Night, and Good Luck" but also took the time to star in an equally impressive short film, "The Shovel." Nick Childs' small-town murder mystery, which questions what it means to be a good neighbor, will be playing at a slew of festivals in such cities as Chicago, Mill Valley, Woodstock, Ojai, Milwaukee, Ft. Lauderdale, Denver, and Annapolis.
"Smitten" (Dir. Nancy Kelly, USA, 2005, 27 min.)
Nancy Kelly's extremely charming documentary shines the spotlight on a totally unique art collector, an eccentric 85-year-old retired businessman who buys contemporary art not as investment but as a source of pure pleasure. PBS viewers, you can catch the doc on the small screen at 10:30 PM on September 20th and again on October 11th (check local listings at www.pbs.org/smitten).
"Super Powers" (Dirs. John Mitchell and Jeremy Kipp Walker, USA, 2005, 6 min.)
Gotta love a six-minute short about a frumpy couple trying to spice up their sex life by dressing up like superheroes. When they get locked out of their apartment while still in costume, mayhem ensues. If you're going to the Hamptons International Film Festival or the Austin Film Festival, wear your own Wonder Woman or Batman outfit to show you're a true "Super Powers" fan.
"Zombie Prom" (Dir. Vince Marcello, USA, 2006, 36 min.)
Imagine if "Grease" were only half an hour long - and included a zombie as the lead and RuPaul as the villain. This full-out comic horror musical, which was mentored by Wes Craven, won an audience award at Palm Springs. Surprisingly, its next playdate is at a kiddie fest: the Chicago International Children's Film Festival. Go kids!
[Kim Adelman is the author of "The Ultimate Filmmaker's Guide to Short Films."]