Independent Lens has finished tabulating the viewer votes for its second annual "festival at your fingertips." While the curators of Independent Lens and the Online Shorts Festival jury both decided to honor short documentaries with their grand prizes, the audience award went to a narrative film, "L.A. Noir," Conrad Jackson's mystery starring Jennifer Lopez's ex-husband, Cris Judd. The shortsfest distributed a total of thirteen thousand dollars in cash prizes to an eclectic collection of eleven independent documentary, live action, and animated shorts, with a $2,500 grand prize going to Deb Wallwork & Mike Hazard's portrait of a Minnesota regional artist, "C. Beck," and a $1,500 grand jury prize going to May Lin Au Yong's look at a California neighborhood under siege, "Bullet Proof Vest."
At ten-and-a-half minutes, audience winner "L.A. Noir" is the longest of the eleven shorts available for viewing or downloading from the PBS-hosted website. Shot at classic Los Angeles locations including the iconic Bradbury Building, this modern day film noir about a poet's encounter with a femme fatale is chock full of cool images. The strong visual look is not surprising given director Conrad Jackson's background in television and commercials. A Loyola Marymount University alum, Jackson is already helming his first feature, "Condemned."
The film noir genre is also toyed with in "The Furniture," a two-and-a-half minute exercise in paranoia helmed by Tyler Measom. As the lead character desperately calls his shrink for reassurance that his furniture is not out to kill him, the savvy viewer suspects that the titular inanimate objects might indeed harbor murderous intentions. Director Measom also comes from a commercial background, although he is currently producing and directing a feature-length documentary called "Forsaken Sons."
Murderous intentions are also bubbling beneath the surface in "Dry Clean Only," a six-and-a-half minute comedy that begins with a blood-spattered couple slapping a used meat cleaver down on the counter of a late-night dry cleaning establishment. Shot at Ace French Dry Cleaning in Brooklyn, this film was written, directed, and produced by J.P. Chan, a filmmaker who impressively boasts a Master of Urban Planning degree from NYU and holds down a day job as transit planner in New York City.
The fourth narrative piece is the second longest film in the festival. "The Metamorphosis," Ari Mark's ten-minute surreal drama, centers on a tormented man who ultimately finds his place among the Holocaust survivor community. Mark made the film in 2006 as a MFA thesis project at San Francisco State.
Two of the eleven films in the festival are animated. Clocking in slightly less than four minutes, "Pin Point" is a delightfully malicious voodoo story by Cal Arts student James Kim. Sheila M. Sofian and Harryette Mullen collaborate on the hypnotic "Waving the Flag," a digitally-animated spoken word meditation on patriotism read by Mullen. The piece was commissioned as part of NewTown's "Speak/See" program.
As was the case with last year's inaugural festival, the standout films are clearly the short documentaries. This year, a theme emerges: almost all the docs center around communities. University of Texas at Austin MFA student Amy Bench's eight-minute "House of Elegance" is set in an urban beauty shop that has been operating for over 40 years and has such a devoted clientele that women will drive from out-of-state to get their hair done there. Philip Eastman's "We Are Made as One" centers on the choir at the New Directions Veteran Rehab Center, while Rachel Ferro and Rocco Michaluk aim their camera on a pool of transgendered people in "Translate." And Stanford student May Lin Au Yong's jury-winning film, "Bullet Proof Vest," focuses on mothers and children living in tent cities erected in Richmond, California's most dangerous parks as part of a stop-the-violence movement.
The grand prize winning film, selected by the curators of Independent Lens, stands out because it is a portrait of an individual. "C. Beck" spotlights Minnesota artist Charles Beck, who specializes in finding beauty in overlooked situations. As the camera shows the artist at work, Beck shares his theories about making art, theories that apply just as well to documentary filmmaking: "You have to have a pretty good idea what you're going to do and have it pretty well planned. On the other hand, you got to be open to some of the accidents that happen and take advantage of them. Because they might be better than what you had planned on doing." The co-directors, Deb Wallwork and Mike Hazard, are both artists themselves. "C.Beck" was shown on PBS in November 2007.
The jurors for Independent Lens Online Shorts Festival II are Nashville Film Festival's artistic director Brian Gordon, digital media professor Cyndi Greening, single-moniker actor Leon, filmmaker Billy Luther, Current TV's Kiyash Monsef, and former Pixar short maven Osnat Shurer.