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Shorts International Film Festival

Shorts International Film Festival

Shorts International Film Festival

by Amy Veltman

The Shorts International Film Festival was held last week at The Sony
Theatres Lincoln Square in Manhattan. Taking place over a Wednesday and
Thursday, the numerous programs were divided by genre: Animation, Comedy,
Drama, Documentary, and Student. On Tuesday, November 4th, to kick off the
two day event, an awards ceremony and party were held along with a
screening of the special program, “A Short History of Shorts.”

The numerous reservations about this festival were all dispelled by the
time it was over. My first gripe about this event was that, looking at the
program, I saw a good number of the films selected had already shown at
numerous other festivals and that, to someone who is abreast of what goes
on in the world of shorts, there wouldn’t be much new on the menu. However,
I learned that this festival’s mission was not to cater to the jaded,
spoiled connoisseur of the short film or industry regulars. Rather, its
purpose was to bring short films to a more mainstream audience that
ordinarily did not know where to look, if they even thought to look, for
the ever-elusive program of short films, hence justifying screenings of
already-“popular” work.

To that end, my second beef with the festival was addressed. Why, I
wondered, would a short film festival take place in the corporate arms of
what may be the most expensive movie theater in the country, at $9.00 a
pop? The answer was two-fold: Sony was extremely generous to donate the
space for the festival’s use, giving something back to the film community.
Also, the theatre’s central location and high profile would serve the
festival’s goal of luring people in to watch a program of shorts who might
not ordinarily go “all the way” downtown where such rare events normally

During the festival, another perk of this venue became clear; the
projection facilities were excellent, allowing audiences to view films with
clear sound and on big screens. My third reservation was the fear that
Jeremiah Newton, co-founder of the festival, was becoming a one-man short
film Mafia, having had his fingers in the pot as a co-founder of the
Student Awards at the Hamptons Fest, as the liaison to the film industry
for NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and as a pre-judge for the Student
Academy Awards. When I found out that he was to coordinate the festival, I
immediately regretted that I hadn’t spent more hours while I was at NYU
loitering outside his office doing some campaigning for my own work. These
efforts, it turns out, would have come to naught, anyway; Newton was aware
of the possibility that people would see his involvement in the festival as
having an agenda, so both he and Lisa Walborsky, the other founder of the
festival, removed themselves from all judging of the work, delegating the
task instead to a 21 person selection committee.

Each of the 700 films submitted was watched by three different people, and
then the favorites among those went to a jury of 12 who spent an entire
weekend selecting the 51 films that would be shown as part of the festival.
Newton’s experience in the festival world and in the short filmmaking
community seemed to effect the festival only insofar as he knew how to
avoid trouble; this festival didn’t have as many kinks as a start-up
festival easily could.

Most of my suspicions having proved unfounded, the intentions of the
festival seeming worthy and good, the only thing remaining to do was watch
the films.

The documentary category was especially strong. Jessica Yu’s “Breathing Lessons: The Life & Work Of Mark O’Brien“, which took the festival’s award
for best documentary, showed itself deserving of all the acclaim it’s
received from the Academy as well as other festivals. “The Tao Of The Dumpster” is a bittersweet and humorous look at a grown son’s relationship
to a father who decided 20 years ago to remove himself from the work place,
his wife and the needs of money to be “free” and spend his life
dumpster-diving for his food and worldly possessions. It’s reminiscent of a
short, California version of “Nobody’s Business“. Not as strong were “Memories Do Not Burn” and the highly acclaimed “Two Or Three Things But Nothing For Sure“. While both of these films treated important and interesting subjects,
the former looking at a summer camp for orphans and refugee children from
the former Yugoslavia, and the latter looking at the life of author,
Dorothy Allison, they were most eloquent when they were quiet, which was
not quite often enough.

The student category showed an interesting cross section of work. There was
a sampling of films that had an excessive feeling of “student-ness” to
them, indulging in either tell-tale fat editing or overly obvious themes,
but much of the work in this category felt accomplished and subtle. Josef
Hamersky’s “Breadman“, “Flux” by Patrick Stettner, “Get That Number” by Stephen
Leeds (the winner in the student category), “Little Man” by Amyn Kadereli (a
winner of the Tourneau Breakthrough Award announced at the festival) and
Surprise“, a German entry by Veit Helmer all exhibited intelligent
filmmaking with a sureness of hand that freed them from the pejorative
associations that sometimes fall upon student work.

The animation category, for which Michael Sporn’s “Champagne” was chosen as
the winner, also presented a good cross section of films. Animation’s
capacity to transform worlds and characters was utilized in different ways
in a number of films to explore questions of identity — Tyron Montgomery’s
Quest“, Eileen O’ Meara’s “That Strange Person”, and Roslyn Schwartz’s “I’m Your Man“. “Chronic“, by Jennifer Reeves, which took top honors in the
experimental category, was a moving, dark story of an adolescent girl’s
descent into mental illness that was beautifully rendered.

Christophe Van Rompaey of Belgium made “Grijs” (Grey), the film that took top
honors in the drama category. After watching only two films from this
category (both of which shall remain nameless), I could take no more,
remembering how long 7 or 15 or 23 minutes can seem when a film is
repetitious, or all style without substance. Hopefully, I was just
unfortunate in my luck of the draw. Rounding out the festival was the
comedy category in which John Curran’s “Down Rusty Down” took top honors.

The festival was extremely successful in its mission to bring a quality
batch of short films to an accessible venue so that mainstream and
non-industry audiences might have a chance to see them. Newton and
Walborsky both are committed to making the festival an annual event, hoping
to add days to its short schedule and move more of the programming to the
evening so that even more people will have a chance to attend.

[Amy Veltman is a filmmaker whose short film “Daisy Feldman’s New York” was a
finalist at Austin’s Heart of Film Festival and played at the New York
Comedy Film Festival.

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