Three years ago, a group of filmmakers in New York City decided to create a Big Apple-based short film festival, which they nicknamed NYC Shorts. This year, the 3rd annual installment of the New York City Short Film Festival takes place October 24 - 27 with 17 of the scheduled 31 shorts slated as NYC premieres. Coincidentally, earlier this month on October 9th, a group of Los Angeles-based filmmakers held the third incarnation of a short film showcase they founded called Direct from the Mailroom. These two opposite-coast events share a common mandate: they're organized by short filmmakers, for the benefit of short filmmakers.
"James Pellerito, Jennifer Pellerito, and I all attended Columbia for our MFAs in Film and had a variety of experiences with our short films on the festival circuit," explains NYC Shorts co-founder David Barba. "We based NYC Shorts on those experiences."
Barba goes on to add, "We found that not only are there not enough New York venues for short films, but in order to elevate the short film to the level of an art form, we have to screen the very best films to show what is possible in the short form."
Among the highlights of this year's NYC Shorts screening are current festival circuit award-winners: Simon Ellis's "Soft," Guido Thys's "Tanghi Argentini," and Michael Dreher's "Fair Trade."
Four other shorts on the NYC roster that should not be missed are:
"I Met the Walrus" (dir. Josh Raskin), a charming five-minute illustrated short based on an actual interview with John Lennon circa 1969.
"Madame Tutli-Putli" (dirs. Chris Lavis & Maciek Szczerbowski), an eighteen-minute, multi-award-winning animated drama from Canada.
"The Tribe" (dir. Tiffany Shlain), a highly entertaining eighteen-minute documentary about the Jewish experience, as symbolized by the Barbie doll.
"Vartan LLP" (dir. Myles Price), an eighteen-minute drama about corporate betrayal that evokes real emotional reactions from viewers. Newsweek's acclaimed film reviewer David Ansen has gone on record praising this short as "beautifully shot, nicely acted."
As for the inspiration for the LA event, Direct from the Mailroom co-founder Peter Siesennop remembers, "I had an idea of an assistants social/screening event -- a reaction to the fact that there was no real place for assistants to screen their work for one another in town."
Siesennop, who works on the television show "Shark" as James Woods' assistant, fleshed out the concept with his peers David Appelbaum and Kim Rome. Going the microcinema route, the trio proceeded to gather submissions, find a venue that would be conducive to networking, and launched Direct from the Mailroom. The first two incarnations captured industry interest, resulting in coverage in both the Hollywood Reporter and the LA Weekly.
"For the October 9 screening, we sent out an open request for submissions to all the other assistants we know around town, asking them to forward it to their co-workers and friends," reports Siesennop. "Charging no fee to submit, we put together about an hour's worth of films to show."
This third edition of Direct from the Mailroom took place at a Beverly Hills bar/microcinema called The Joint. With networking time scheduled before and after, the screening consisted of a trailer for director Tao Ruspoli's feature "The Fix," a webisode, and five shorts.
The webisode, "Beverly Hills Bert," is a personality showcase cooked up by Endeavor Talent Agency assistants Randall Bass and Bert Sperling, who spend their off-hours shooting this extremely insider internet series, which can be viewed online at http://beverlyhillsbert.com/. "Beverly Hills Bert" has also been featured on Will Ferrell's insanely popular Funny or Die website.
The only female assistant whose work was showcased at the October 9th event is Cruise/Wagner employee Sarah Baker, who produced the six-minute, no-dialogue holiday charmer "'Tis the Season" (Dir. Bob Giovanelli) in between "MI:3" production assignments.
Organizer Peter Siesennop's own short, the 14-minute slick suburban teenage drug dealer flick "Imperial Violet," was the only film hampered by technical difficulties, as the Joint's DVD projector kept freezing, imbibing the crime drama with additional unintentional dramatic tension.
Other films screened included Max Leavitt's 12-minute battling brothers action/comedy "Fred and Ted" and Jeff Appelbaum's 14-minute college-based murder mystery "The Mascot Murders."
The program concluded with a USC production written and directed by David Greenspan, currently an assistant editor on "Grey's Anatomy." "Bean Cake" is black-and-white film about a rural boy's difficult first day at a strict Japanese school. Made back in 2001, the twelve-minute film won the Palm d'Or at the 54th Cannes Film Festival. To be put on the mailing list for the next Direct for the Mailroom event, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For those interested in attending the October 24 - 27 NYC Shorts screenings at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater at Peter Norton Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway @ 95th Street, tickets are available online at www.symphonyspace.org or in person at the box office.
[Kim Adelman is the author of "The Ultimate Filmmaker's Guide to Short Films."]