During these dog days of summer, air-conditioned movie theaters function as an oasis for those eager to escape the sweltering heat. Viewers of short films, however, aren't restricted to the multiplex when they want to enjoy a cool cinematic treat. They can chill out anywhere, thanks to SXSWclick and IFC.com/Rooftop Films. These two online summer shortfests offer up a combined total of 115 shorts accessible via cell phone or laptop. So if you're looking to avoid the summertime blues, skip the overcrowded cinema and watch shorts on your iPhone at the venue of your choosing. Pinkberry, anyone?
At http://sxswclick.com/watch, the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Conference & Festival provides free downloads of fifteen shorts as part of the 2007 SXSWclick Festival. "The online video culture has changed dramatically in the four years we've been doing SXSWclick," reports festival producer Matt Dentler. "Next year, I imagine we'll begin exploring even newer ways to get short content to audiences, either through changing technology or media."
Three shorts are capturing the lion's share of this year's SXSWclick's traffic now that the voting public and the jury (Kal Penn, Bob Odenkirk, Doug Pray, and others) have selected the festival winners.
Will Elliott's "Peterson's Savings and Loan" won the viewer's choice award (with 1,000 online votes cast) and the jury prize in the 'Old School Shorts' category. The nine-minute comedy features a highly relatable situation in which a hapless everyman spends countless hours on the phone providing increasingly personal information to pass his bank's security verification procedure.
SxSWclick's other bi-award winner, Danger Brown's seven-minute "Pierre," snagged both the grand jury laurel and the 'Animate-It' category prize. The very accomplished film stars a mouse with excessive savoir-faire who is positive he will be irresistible to his new hot female roommate. Taking two years to complete, the 35 MM "Pierre" previously world-premiered at the 2007 Seattle International Film Festival, where it won the audience award.
The 'Really Real Shorts' category prizewinner, David Serota's "Ubuntu," is a heartfelt three-minute documentary about an amazing arts program called Soweto Kliptown Youth Organization (SKY) located in an impoverished area of Johannesburg, South Africa. Let's just say this film is right up Oprah's alley.
"SXSWclick reflects the indie-minded and envelope-pushing philosophies that make SXSW in Austin such a great festival each year," sums up programmer Matt Dentler.
Whereas SXSW's offline headquarters is Austin, Texas, Rooftop Films calls New York City its home. Claiming to offer "the most beautiful, breathtaking, honest, sublime and personal film and video work being made in short form," Rooftop's physical-world summer series consists of 38 events, with upcoming screenings scheduled to take place on the roof of Museo del Barrio in East Harlem on Friday, August 17, and a Saturday August 18 screening of home movie-themed shorts on the lawn along the canal at The Yard at 400 Carroll Street.
Thanks to a partnership with the Independent Film Channel (IFC), Rooftop is also putting the summer screening series online, streaming for free on IFC.com. The online showcase began on June 8, and it will continue posting one new short every day throughout the summer until all 100 shorts are online. After September 22, the 100 films will continue to be archived on the website through the end of the year at http://www.ifc.com/films?aId=20130.
A sampling of the Rooftop Films debuting online this week gives a fairly accurate taste of the fare offered by this ambitious series. On August 11, Susan Youssef's "Marjoun and the Flying Headscarf" was the official film-of-the-day. A ten-minute drama made in 2005, this story of a lustful teenage Arab-American with an intolerable home situation is chockfull of strong visual imagery.
On August 12: a black-and-white, static camera piece, Joe Nanashe's "Shoot." In this two-and-a-half-minute 2004 short, the filmmaker plays target practice with the camera. Less than halfway through the film, after missing four times, he hits a bull's eye. When he discovers the camera's still running, he mutters, "Hell, let's see if I can do it again."
On August 13: "Game Modding for the '80s," another black-and-white, static-camera short. Directed by Jon Sasaki of Toronto, this eight-minute long piece plays it straight, as if it really were a Community Access Television show circa 1979 (as the end title graphic claims). The very intense young host demonstrates in great detail how he is modifying a pinball machine to make it more personalized. An ideal film for the G4/E3 crowd.
What does Rooftop Films have in store for the rest of August? Visit the website anytime anywhere to find out.
Enjoy your summer. And don't forget to wear sunscreen if you're watching shorts poolside.
[Kim Adelman is the author of "The Ultimate Filmmaker's Guide to Short Films"]