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SHORTS COLUMN | Best in the West: Jackson Hole, CineVegas, and LAFF Offer Thrilling Short Programs

SHORTS COLUMN | Best in the West: Jackson Hole, CineVegas, and LAFF Offer Thrilling Short Programs

In the month of June, Wyoming, Nevada, and California each roll out star-studded film festivals that attract sold-out crowds and extensive press coverage. With all the hoopla surrounding premieres and gala events, it’s easy to overlook the amazing short films unspooling at the Jackson Hole, CineVegas, and Los Angeles Film Festival events. However, festival-goers interested in catching the freshest cinematic offerings know the real hot tickets are the short film programs. Packing in an average of nine shorts per screening and showcasing the best local, student, or international filmmaking to be found, the shorts programs are guaranteed to deliver more thrills, chills, and laughs per minute than any of the more publicized feature films.

Running June 5 – 9, 2008, Wyoming’s Jackson Hole Film Festival was the first of the three Western fests to open its doors this month. Its schedule included three dedicated programs of short films, three slates of student films, and a special Wyoming Film Showcase. At the fest’s closing night award ceremony, director Courtney Moorehead Balaker was floored to discover she won the audience choice award for “Cute Couple.” Balaker’s delightful twelve-minute comedy, which centers on an insufferably adorable couple who lose their identity when an even cuter couple joins their circle of friends, screened twice as part of the festival’s Shorts Program III.

While a comedic short delighted audiences, the Jackson Hole jury chose to honor a trio of very intense dramas. Director Glen Luchford was awarded best short for “Dark Yellow,” a thirty-minute tension-filled tale about two strangers coming together for a one-night stand. USC’s Vineet Dewan took home the festival’s best student voice prize for his much-acclaimed contemporary war story “Clear Cut, Simple.” And Dee Rees was honored for her directing work on her twenty-eight-minute NYU coming-of-age and coming-out tale, “Pariah.”

Just days after Jackson Hole wrapped, the CineVegas Film Festival commenced. Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Sin City festival runs from June 12 – 21, 2008 and operates out of the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. Like Jackson Hole, CineVegas goes out of its way to shine a light on work by local filmmakers. In addition to student films from the College of Southern Nevada and UNLV, the Nevada Filmmaking shorts program gives a satisfying taste of work either shot in the Battle Born state or helmed by natives.

If you only have time to check out one shorts program at CineVegas, your best bet is the intriguingly entitled Shorts Program 1: The Reveille of Reverie (Shorts Program 2 goes by the equally fascinating subtitle Inner Demons/Outer Angles). The Reveille of Reverie lineup tips the scales by including Bobcat Goldthwait‘s “Goldthwait Family Home Movies (Anniversary Edition).” Fans of the comedian/director can easily imagine what’s in store — and they won’t be disappointed. Meanwhile, short doc fans should make the effort to catch Danny Plotnick‘s “Out of Print,” a four-minute ode to counterculture from the recent past, which screens not in a dedicated shorts program but in front of the feature documentary “The End.”

Overlapping with CineVegas by a few days, Film Independent‘s Los Angeles Film Festival opens on June 19 and runs through June 29, 2008. Proudly proclaiming its motto to be “The Audience is King,” the City of Angels fest is expected to draw a diverse audience of nearly 100,000 people, the most discerning of whom can be counted on to check out at least some of the five programs dedicated to short films and the two devoted to music videos. Additionally, the fest’s schedule includes two programs of mini-movies created by high school students from across the country and a special showcase of Scandinavian shorts.

Anyone who didn’t catch Spencer Susser‘s truly excellent “I Love Sarah Jane” at Jackson Hole (or Sundance or Seattle), you’re in luck: the fourteen-minute preteen romance set in a zombie-infested Australian suburb screens as part of Shorts Program 3 at the Los Angeles Film Festival. That same program also includes Carson Mell‘s “Chonto,” the continuing animated adventures of Mell’s unforgettable Bobby Bird character (“Chonto” also screens at CineVegas in front of the feature “Goliath”).

So while other Los Angeles Film Festival attendees may be fighting for opening night gala tickets for “Wanted” or closing night passes to “Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” don’t miss your chance to see the best filmmaking the festival has to offer. Buy a ticket for any of the competition shorts programs. If you end up catching Andrew Okpeaha MacLean‘s captivating Inuit drama “Sikumi,” Ken Wardrop‘s charming smokers minidoc “Farewell Packets of Ten,” or Nash Edgerton‘s gag-gift-gone-wrong comedy “Spider,” you’ll treasure every minute.

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