FESTIVAL: Tall Treatment For Short Films; Aspen Shortsfest Focuses On Craft, Not Networking
by Patricia Thomson
(indieWIRE/ 04.17.02) -- Imagine being a canapé that suddenly finds itself presented as the main course. All the anticipation, attention, and compliments now swirl around little ol' you, as a flurry of white gloves and silver platters dignify your presence.
This heady transformation is what it's like for countless directors who attend the Aspen Shortsfest, one of the most esteemed and beloved showcases in the U.S. for the art of short film. Spun off from the Aspen Filmfest in 1992, this five-day event, held April 9-13, rolls out the red carpet for shorts from around the world. With its mix of screenings, indoor talk sessions, and outdoor glory in a Rocky Mountain setting, the festival has won quite a few fans."This is my favorite festival," gushes Megan O'Neill of Forefront Films, who has attended regularly for five years. "The films are really strong here, and it's very easy to meet the filmmakers." Initially looking for shorts to distribute, Forefront sold their catalog to Atom Films in 1999, so O'Neill now comes to scout for talent. "In fact, we're currently in the process of developing a feature with an Irish director I met here a couple of years ago," O'Neill attests.
But as an industry guest, O'Neill is in the minority, joined this year only by reps from Atom, Hypnotic, public television station KQED/San Francisco, and festival co-sponsor Kodak. Aspen Shortsfest is decidedly not an industry event -- a conscious decision by the organizers. "This is a festival for filmmakers and film lovers," says Laura Thielen, the affable executive director of Aspen Filmfest and Shortsfest. "We like the networking that happens, but it's not the focus of the festival. The focus is a celebration of the art and craft of film, and to give so many of these people who have day jobs recognition as artists. We have a lot of filmmakers who aren't here this year because they couldn't get off work."
Among the 30 filmmakers who managed to attend was Belgian director Dirk Belien. For this portfolio manager, time is his most precious commodity. "I have no time for features," says the 39-year-old father of four. So Belien vents his creative energy by writing and directing shorts -- three so far and two more in the hopper. "I have a feature in mind, but it can wait." With each short, Belien attempts to learn one more facet of filmmaking