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SHORTS COLUMN | Rare and Unseen Short Films Find a Home on the McSweeney’s Wholphin DVD Label

SHORTS COLUMN | Rare and Unseen Short Films Find a Home on the McSweeney's Wholphin DVD Label

Spike Jonze‘s portrait of 1999-era Al Gore, Alexander Payne‘s student film, and a four-minute piece directed by Steven Soderbergh simply titled “Building No. 7,” these are just a few of the shorts to be found on Wholphin, a DVD series created by Brent Hoff and Dave Eggers of McSweeney’s. With the fifth issue scheduled to be released in January 2008, Wholphin programmers are holding the first ever Los Angeles live screening on November 27, 2007. In addition to reviving Chris Waitt‘s “Heavy Metal Jr.” from Issue No. 4 and previewing shorts off the upcoming Issue No. 5, the event promises to be a grand celebration of the McSweeney’s imprint named after the offspring of a whale and a dolphin.

Editor Brent Hoff laughs with delight when asked about the confounding Wholphin moniker. “Yeah, I know. Can’t pronounce it, can’t spell it, and no one knows what it means.” When pressed if the namesake whale-dolphin hybrid actually exists, Hoff deadpans, “I never joke about science.”

To Hoff and co-founder Dave Eggers, the name makes perfect sense. “Dave and I are putting out cinematic wholphins,” declares Hoff. Or as the website officially states, “Wholphin is a new quarterly DVD magazine from McSweeney’s, lovingly encoded with unique and ponderable films designed to make you feel the way we felt when we learned that dolphins and whales sometimes, you know, do it.”

Launched in Winter 2006, the first Wholphin DVD was bundled with McSweeney’s and The Believer. Within a lineup of thirteen short pieces, highlights included Spike Jonze’s never publicly screened “Al Gore Documentary” and a four-minute piece written by Miranda July and directed by Miguel Arteta entitled “Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody?

Issue No. 2 followed in Spring 2006. In addition to showcasing an unaired TV pilot featuring Zach Galifianakis directed by Bob Odenkirk (“The Pity Card“) and Oscar winner Jessica Yu‘s five-minute cult classic “Sour Death Balls,” the DVD also featured what has become a signature element for Wholphin – a foreign sitcom translated by comedy writers. “It all started with a Turkish version of ‘The Jeffersons‘ arriving in the mail,” recalls editor Hoff. A taste of this foreign delight resulted in Wholphin putting the Japanese “Bewitched” reimagined by the Daily Show writers on Issue No. 2 and the Russian “Married…with Children” rescripted with Putin propaganda on No. 4. “We’re trying to get the Brazilian ‘Mork & Mindy‘ for a future issue,” enthuses Hoff.

There are no themes uniting the soon-to-be-five Wholphin DVDs. “We dislike themes,” sneers Hoff. “Themes are about the theme-makers proving they are smart and creative.”

A scene from Taika Waititi’s “Two Cars, One Night.” Image courtesy of Wholphin.

Instead, editor Hoff selects material with the overall mandate of establishing a trust with viewers, who are encouraged to subscribe to the DVD series ($50 for four issues.) “We carefully curate based only on what we think is amazing,” clarifies Hoff. “Trust that there will be something in each issue that will befuddle you, interest you, and make you mad at the same time.”

Hoff delineates a few other topics that regularly show up on the Wholphin rosters. “We always try to find a film that investigates something scientific in an artistic way. You’ll also find on each DVD a weighty documentary about a compelling issue. Our last issue had an excerpt from Lynn Hershman Leeson’s ‘Strange Culture.'” Leeson’s documentary-essay details the government’s case against artist Steve Kurtz, whose artwork led to FBI charges of bioterrorism.

As with all products produced by McSweeney’s, each Wholphin DVD is beautifully designed. Each issue contains a forty-page booklet featuring an introduction from editor Brent Hoff, extensive liner notes, Q & A’s with the filmmakers, and full color photos. The DVDs can be purchased wherever McSweeney’s or The Believer are sold, or via the website.

The Wholphin website also contains information for filmmakers interested in submitting their work for future issues. “We’re always looking for new films,” encourages Hoff. “We love seeing all sort of things.”

The Los Angeles sneak peek of Issue No. 5 will take place Tuesday, November 27, 2007, at 8PM at the Silent Movie Theatre, 611 N. Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles, California.

Among the films to be previewed: “Piece by Piece,” a fifteen minute doc about the Rubik’s Cube resurgence that previously played SXSW in 2007, and a Wholphin original entitled “Drunk Bees.” Additionally, two films from Issue No. 4 will screen: the 2005 Academy Award-nominated “Two Cars, One Night” by New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi and “Heavy Metal Jr.,” Chris Waitt’s delightful documentary also about a Scottish pre-teen metal band struggling to rebel against their overly-supportive parents.

Tickets are still available.

[Kim Adelman is the author of “The Ultimate Filmmaker’s Guide to Short Films.”]

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