Behind the Curtain: Meet the Bloggers!

Shilah Alibakhshi
What has your role been in the Festival?
I shared the role as Blogger with Hadley, I watched many of the films and wrote reviews, interviewed the filmmakers and wrote articles about the festival.
Why did you decide to intern with DC Shorts?
I love films and I wanted to gain some insight into the entire aspect of there creation.
Did you watch any of the films; if so, what was/were your favorite(s)?
I did enjoy Harry Grows Up and Applications. To me it all comes down to storytelling and whether or not a film can bring something unique to me as a viewer.
Where are you from?
I grew up in Rockville, MD but I was born in Tennessee.
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I studied English at the University of Maryland.
What is your favorite movie?
 Hmm… I couldn’t possibly choose between the many that I obsess over and the fact that there are so many I haven’t seen. I would have to say the Evil Dead Trilogy holds a firm spot in my heart. Oldboy is another film that is utterly fantastic. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is also at the top of my list. The french film Love Me If You Dare is another one I adore. I don’t have a favorite genre or category, that’s too restrictive. If it’s a good film, it should be respected regardless.
Do you have a favorite actor, actress, director and/or writer?
Actors I absolutely love are Daniel Day-Lewis, Harvey Keitel, Johnny Depp, Marion Cotillard, and Juliette Lewis. My favorite renaissance man would have to be Charlie Chaplin, his charm and talent are untouchable. There are elements from Tarantino and Scorsese films that I admire.

Behind the Curtain: Meet the Bloggers!

Hadley Fielding

What has your role been in the Festival?  

I was both a film blogger and a photography coordinator for the Festival parties.  I also worked on the social media publicity for the festival via Facebook and Twitter.

Why did you decide to intern with DC Shorts?

I found out about DC Shorts through GW’s Spring 2012 Internship Fair.  I love writing, acting and film, so the opportunity piqued my interest.

Did you watch any of the films; if so, what was your favorite?

I watched about half the films, and I enjoyed so many of them.  I was enthralled by the animation techniques in Dziad i Baba (The Old Man and the Old Woman).  I also loved Friend Request Pending and High Maintenance.

Where are you from?

I’m from Lake Bluff, IL, a northern suburb of Chicago.

Where do you go to school and what are you studying?

I am pursuing an English major and theatre minor at the George Washington University in DC.

What is your favorite movie?

My favorite movie, since I was three years old, is Mrs. Doubtfire.

Do you have a favorite actor, actress, director and/or writer?

I love the work of Meryl Streep, Marion Coutillard and Johnny Depp.

 

Shilah Alibakhshi

What has your role been in the Festival?

I shared the role as Blogger with Hadley, I watched many of the films and wrote reviews, interviewed the filmmakers and wrote articles about the festival.

Why did you decide to intern with DC Shorts?

I love films and I wanted to gain some insight into the entire aspect of there creation.

Did you watch any of the films; if so, what was/were your favorite(s)?

I did enjoy Harry Grows Up and Applications. To me it all comes down to storytelling and whether or not a film can bring something unique to me as a viewer.

Where are you from?

I grew up in Rockville, MD but I was born in Tennessee.

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

I studied English at the University of Maryland.

What is your favorite movie?

 Hmm… I couldn’t possibly choose between the many that I obsess over and the fact that there are so many I haven’t seen. I would have to say the Evil Dead Trilogy holds a firm spot in my heart. Oldboy is another film that is utterly fantastic. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is also at the top of my list. The french film Love Me If You Dare is another one I adore. I don’t have a favorite genre or category, that’s too restrictive. If it’s a good film, it should be respected regardless.

Do you have a favorite actor, actress, director and/or writer?

Actors I absolutely love are Daniel Day-Lewis, Harvey Keitel, Johnny Depp, Marion Cotillard, and Juliette Lewis. My favorite renaissance man would have to be Charlie Chaplin, his charm and talent are untouchable. There are elements from Tarantino and Scorsese films that I admire.

 

DC Shorts Film Festival Winners!

“Best of” Screening Is Almost Here! 

While every film we show is a winner, a few are selected by the jury and our audience as exceptional works. These films represent the next generation of filmmakers — and their incredible visions. The films are divided into two showcases with tickets currently available. Don’t lose the opportunity to experience truly unique cinema, buy your ticket today!

Best of DC Shorts — Showcase A

La Boda is a twelve-minute dramedy from Spain directed by Marina Seresesky. The film follows a maid on her journey to attend her daughters wedding. She’ll lose her job, find a new dress and avoid a raid. The genuine passion behind the story is evident. Viewers will be satisfied with the love that emanates from the screen. It is a genuinely heart-warming film.  AUDIENCE FAVORITE

Harry Grows Up  is a charming film directed by Mark Nickelsburg that follows an adorable 18-month old boy named Harry maneuvering his way around New York City.  In the satirical short, Harry faces heartbreak after the object of his affection, his babysitter, leaves for college.  Luckily a trip to the park leaves him with a new love interest (someone his own age).  Screen actor, Josh Hamilton voices Harry’s absurdly ironic “inner-thoughts.”AUDIENCE FAVORITE

Argentinean director Juan Pablo Zaramella creates a short with both live-action and animated influences in Luminaris.  The film is sweet, original and remarkably creative.  Its ardent protagonist is an innovative thinker and creator just as its director proves to be in this one-of-a-kind short.  AUDIENCE FAVORITE

Everything is Incredible is a documentary short, collaborated by three American filmmakers, Tyler Bastian, Trevor Hill and Tim Skousen.  The filmmakers travelled to Siguatepeque, Honduras to illuminate the life of a local disabled man named Agustin who has been building a helicopter in his home for the past 53 years.  Afflicted with polio as a boy, Agustin is now confined to a wheelchair.  He has faced physical handicap, loneliness and poverty, and despite continuous ridicule, he has not given up on his fanatical dream.  FEST DIRECTOR’S CHOICE (TIE)

If you’ve ever been on a date, and things haven’t really gone that well; you’ll appreciate First Date. What seems like a swell night turns into a shitty one, literally. First-time filmmaker Steven DeGennaro creates a hilarious short that will make you laugh and make you groan from disgust. If you don’t find the film funny, there has to be something wrong with you.  OUTSTANDING FIRST-TIME DIRECTOR

Good Karma $1, directed by Jason Berger and Amy Laslett, is a fourteen-minute documentary making its World Premiere at DC Shorts Film Festival. The film follows Alex Bogusky, advertising guru, who collects signs created by the homeless. It is a compassionate look at the creative art that is involved with the homeless and their ability to appeal to their constantly changing audience. It is a genuinely heartwarming look into the importance of the homeless individual. The signs they make are clever and honest, and the message is very simple; giving does indeed cause change.  AUDIENCE FAVORITE

Gerard Depardieu stars as a mourning widower in the French short, Grenhouille D’hiver (Winter Frog) directed by Slony Sow.  A French winemaker, Depardieu, is in a state of mourning at the recent loss of his wife.  Yet, he begins to find reparation for his heartache when he is visited by young Japanese tourist.  While a solemn film, the story is thoughtful and heartfelt, and also features the beautiful backdrop of the French countryside.  AUDIENCE FAVORITE

Relationships have never been simple; Facebook has only added to the overabundance of issues when it comes to dating and especially to breaking up. In Deleting Emily, the expectations of deleting someone especially close is brought to the screen with hilarity. Director Zak Klein uses experiences from his friends difficult relationships to highlight the difficulties posed by Facebook courtesy. Should you delete an ex after a break up or not at all? The short is fun and doused with relevant humor that any social media devotee or inexperienced Facebooker can enjoy.  AUDIENCE FAVORITE

Best of DC Shorts — Showcase B

Cockatoo, directed by Matthew Jenkin, is an eleven-minute comedy from Australia. A man attempts to cope with the six-month anniversary of a failed relationship by hiring a call girl to pretend to be the fiendishly fickle ex. If only she could get the damn British accent right! And who knew the ex would show up with a bit of surprise for the increasingly irritated man. With humor galore, it’s not hard to sit tight and genuinely enjoy this little treasure. The performances are the added cherry on top of this well-made short.  AUDIENCE FAVORITE

Paraíso (Paradise) is a film about three Hispanic immigrants who are window washers of Chicago’s skyscrapers.  This line of work is not commonly thought about, yet it takes a great deal of courage and fortitude to rappel these 100 story buildings—a job which has cost some their lives.  In the film, these men contemplate the pros and cons of their work, from the light-hearted topic of people watching to the topic of death in a job that puts their lives on the line everyday. AUDIENCE FAVORITE

Tiny Miny Magic, a film by Danielle Lurie, depicts a woman who is seemingly infatuated with her mailman, thus prompting her to pursue a series of exchanges with him via her mailbox.  She grows quite enamored by this mystery man, and as they share personal mementos to one another he reveals himself.  The atmospheric cinematography has a hand-held camcorder feel which helps to underscore the film’s intimacy.  AUDIENCE FAVORITE

Waiting on a Train, a film by David Joyce, immediately emanates an air of uncertainty as a man waits in anxious anticipation at a train station, intermittently smoking cigarettes and checking his antiquated pocket watch as he waits for a train to arrive.  The man’s dress suggests he is from a former time, yet passengers departing the train are attired in contemporary clothing.  There is something peculiar and unearthly about the scene, and in a heart-rending twist the man is beset with the oversights of his past.  OUTSTANDING LOCAL FILM

Angela Wright, directed by Mu Sun, is a thirteen-minute drama attesting to the pressures any high school student can relate to. The film shines light on the realities that teenagers face in choosing their future. There are certain points quite painful to watch. It is an honest portrayal of what one girl is willing to do in order to achieve that future. AUDIENCE FAVORITE

Chris Foggin makes a laugh out loud satire out of the social networking boom with Friend Request Pending.  The film also features one of Britain’s leading ladies, Dame Judi Dench!  With tips on online flirting, the rules of LOL usage and other online jargon told from the points of view of two seniors who sound more like boy-crazy teenage girls, this film will have you chuckling throughout. AUDIENCE FAVORITE

The Capital Buzz is a documentary short that provides insight into the DC beekeeping community.  The film includes interviews with members of DC Honeybees, a non-profit organization whose mission is to develop beehives within the DC area and inform the public on the importance of the honeybee.  We even meet one member with a hive on roof of his Georgetown row house.  The film was created in a collaborative effort by students at the Institute for Documentary Filmmaking at the George Washington University.  WHOLE FOODS MARKET GOLDEN PINEAPPLE AWARD

Guang, directed by Shio Chuan Quek, is a fourteen-minute drama from Malaysia. It has won multiple awards in the prestigious short film competition BMW Shorties 2011. Guang attempts to find a job to appease his brother, but his autism makes it genuinely difficult. The film celebrates the autistic individual by brilliantly capturing a young mans simple desires. One cannot help but celebrate the beauty this film captures.   FEST DIRECTOR’S CHOICE (TIE)

 

Senescent Shorts: Exploring the Motif of Aging in Film

This year, the subject of aging was a particularly prevalent theme in the Festival’s short film selection.  Two films of interest not only extend this motif in their films, but also incorporate specific cultural influence to senescence.

The first of these films is Obake (Ghosts), featured in Showcase 4, which avails the ubiquitous burden of death to shape a story that implements both Japanese and Hawaiian influences.  The film’s creator, Christopher Yogi, cites his main source of inspiration for the film to be the death of his grandfather and his “personal experience of death in the family.”  Yogi strived to capture some of his own experience in this film that depicts a dying man’s moments of reflection and vivid recollections of life in his youth.

“Watching someone pass away, that moment when they are both here and not here, dreaming and awake, is such a powerful, profound experience. I wanted to make a film that captured that feeling — sad, haunting and beautiful.”

Yogi references the Japanese phrase mono no aware, “the awareness of the transience of things,” as the film’s “guiding principle.”  The director also wished to pay homage to the Hawaiian people with the production of this film,

“I made this film for the people of Hawaii. And to honor the 2nd generation Japanese Americans, my grandparents’ generation, who really built Hawaii into the place that it is today.”

 

Furet, Innbitt (Ideologies) of Showcase 12, employs perhaps the antithetical tact to depict coping with aging.  The film’s writer and director, Norweigian, Jarl Omestad, took a topic that sparked his own interest, the ideological battle of the Cold War—Liberalism versus Communism—and developed it into his film’s comedic concept.  Omestad explains his inspiration,

“I started to play with the thought of forcing persons filled up with different ideological values together in a public institution, and the nursing home was perfect. But I decided to settle this universe in a Norwegian nursing home.”

The film centers on the imaginative battles of two WWII veterans living in a group nursing home.  The “old and stubborn men fight as if they were 20 years old,” Omestad says, but in the end they realize their eccentric, yet genuine friendship, despite their staunch opposing beliefs.  Of the film’s amusing charm, Omestad says, “It is a story and a situation that perhaps makes people think getting old is not a big deal after all, on the contrary it can be a very playful part of life.”

 

Omestad succeeds in his aim to take “satirical look at the 1900’s and the Cold War,” with the humorous depiction of “two old men play[ing] out warfare in a nursing home corridor.”

These films, in addition to the many others that relay the motif of aging, are sure to be appreciated by audiences young and old for their poignancy and relevance.

 

By:  Hadley Fielding

 

Wonders from Down Under: Australian Films at DC Shorts

As an international film festival, DC Shorts has the pleasure of welcoming film submissions from filmmakers around the globe.  In the 2012 festival, we are featuring the distinguished work of a handful of filmmakers from Down Under.

While filmmaking exists as a universal art form, there are striking differences between the film and arts scene in Australia compared to the United States.  Aussie, Joe Hughes and creator of the short, Devoted Husband, explains, “Most feature films in Australia are at least partly funded by the government.  Because our population is so small, we just can’t compete with the US, so we need government support.”  Jordan Fong, the filmmaker behind Cool Toys, adds, “It seems as though projects are more likely to get funding if your film touches on social issues.”

Fong is a 3rd generation Chinese American and filmed his short while on a one-year collegiate study abroad program in Australia.  Working in Australia has allowed Fong to garner a newfound appreciation for the global filmmaking scene.  Australia also offered its own influence in the social implications of Fong’s film, which depicts two young boys’ play date with an old revolver.  Fong says,

“On a broader scale it [the film] does touch on guns but not very directly.  In Australia gun control is extremely strict and it’s almost impossible for normal citizens to acquire a permit.  If it were up to me I would push for laws closer to those of Australia rather than the ones we have here in the U.S.”

 

 

Cockatoo’s director, Matthew Jenkin, elaborates on the Australian arts scene and the struggle the country faces due to Hollywood’s polarizing influence,

“Australians love film but as a whole, we seem to be a bit impartial to our own films.  Many films struggle to get cinema releases here due to the influx of Hollywood films.  But from time to time we get a ‘Shine’ or ‘Priscilla’ or ‘Animal Kingdom’ that really stands out from the pack.”

Australia also possesses a quirky sense of humor in its films. Cockatoo, for one, is about a man who hires a call girl on the six-month anniversary of his recent break-up to recreate a falsified experience with his ex.  Interestingly, Jenkin derived his influence for the films from actual newspaper ads.  He explains,

“I was reading a newspaper article about a companion service that is offered in Sydney. If you’re lonely and would like someone to join you when you go shopping or to the movies or the museum, you can contact an agency that will match you up with a ‘friend.’ The article also sighted a similar service in Japan where men who are soon to get married could hire a woman to play their future wife in order to prepare them for married life.”

 

 

Jenkin also discloses that the idea for the film “started as a dark drama/thriller.”  However, with the feedback of one of his “mates,” he was inspired to transform the burgeoning story into a comedy.

David Pyefich’s jocular farce, Showing the Ropes, about a hangman in Old England is also exemplary of the Aussie sense of humor; Pyefinch describes his short as “a whimsical film about a very bleak period in history.”  He elaborates,

“We are all influenced by the different things that our own home countries bring to us. I think Australian’s are great at irony for instance and I think we also excel at offbeat and observational humour; if I can carry that tradition on – well that would make me proud to be Australian!”

 

 

Pyefinch certainly carried that Australian legacy in his film, and cites the eccentric and wry irony of the Coen Brothers as a major artistic influence.

In the words of Joe Hughes, “Australia has an incredible wealth of film making talent and actors.  Our industry is tiny compared to the US, but I think that breeds a greater determination in the film making community. I’m proud to be part of it!”  It is filmmakers such as these that foster and promote the incredible artistic talent that comes from a country under-recognized for its cinematic ingenuity.

 

By:  Hadley Fielding

 

Uncovering Scarce Art Forms: Films about Lost Crafts

The world is becoming increasingly industrialized and mechanized as each year goes by.  Miscellaneous trades, crafts and art forms have become lost with the advent of our technological age.  This topic of lost crafts was of particular concern to three filmmakers who created films that serve to challenge a world of stock imitation.

The first of these films is Look to the Cookie; screening in Showcase 4, this film takes a look at the family owned and century old Glaser’s Bake Shop in Manhattan, NY.  Glaser’s is one of the few scratch bakeries left in the city and a jewel in the crown for that reason.  The astute direction of filmmaker Lindsay Lindenbaum brought the nonfiction narrative to the screen.  In the documentary short, Lindenbaum conducts a personal interview with the now 3rd generation owner, Herb Glaser, and chronicles the baking ace in his workshop/confectionery.  Lindenbaum describes Glaser’s laudable process,

“The way Herb Glaser maneuvers his way around the kitchen, deftly shaping each piece of dough for his Apricot Butter Crunch Squares, and meticulously icing his infamous Black and White cookies is truly an art in itself, and one that I tried to capture on film.”

 

 

Lindenbaum believes that the film’s subject matter is redolent of a bygone way of life, and the film’s “universal themes” are applicable to many.

“While this film takes place in New York, one need not have to be a New Yorker to relate to these themes of feeling lost in such an increasingly modernized world and longing for the past. While businesses that rely on mechanization are essential to our day-to-day lives, I do feel like in many cases, there’s something that gets lost in the process. Even if something takes ten times longer to create by hand, there’s much more of a connection between the consumer and the creator of the product as well as a deep appreciation of the craft. I think we’ll really be missing out if we lose that.”

In Everything is Incredible, included in Showcase 7, three visionary craftsmen, Tyler Bastian, Trevor Hill and Tim Skousen, delineate the true account of an indigent Honduran man named Agustin who has devoted his life to the fanatical dream of building a helicopter.  Agustin has faced a life of ridicule for his steadfast commitment to erecting this personal grail.  Bastian attributes the consistent condemnation to the fact that Agustin’s “success was measured as flying and not persevering.”  Agustin has certainly persevered in keeping his dream alive for the last 53 years.  Bastian cites a “loss of patience and a loss of the ability to keep at tedious tasks” with the plight of an ever-expanding world based on industry and uniform efficiency.

 

 

Accompanying Everything is Incredible in Showcase 7 is Paul Houston’s documentary short, McKenzie, which follows veteran silkscreen artist Jeff McKenzie at work in his small Oklahoma City, based screen-printing business, McKenzie & Company.  McKenzie got his start in screen-printing in the early 1970’s.  In the film, he expressed his amazement at how little the trade has changed in the last 40 years.  And while the art form has been challenged by the development of automated technology, McKenzie has successfully withstood any mechanized competition in order to carry on the cultivation of a personal passion and art form.

 

 

These films extend an appreciation for the artistic wonders still abiding in a world regretfully falling victim to insipid homogeneity.

 

By:  Hadley Fielding

 

 

Starstruck Shorts: Celebrity Films at DC Shorts

This year DC Shorts is thrilled to showcase six films that feature the work of some renowned artists in the film business.  As I watched the films, I was struck with questions surrounding their shared component of celebrity—How do shorts featuring such prominent actors differ from shorts with unknown actors?  Do these films require higher budgets and longer production phases?  Surely I assumed, yes.  Yet, I was surprised and enlightened on the reality of my guesswork after speaking to some of these very gifted filmmakers.

I was fortunate to interview Marc Brener, creator of the Hollywood satire, Say It Ain’t Solo, featured in Showcase 13.  The film depicts the story of a father (Stephen Tobolowsky) and son (Josh Brener—Brener’s younger brother) who attempt to derail the production of a Star Wars remake.  In Brener’s words his inspiration for the film centers on the storyline itself, “Every movie seems like it’s a remake these days.”  Brener’s short featured an ensemble cast of Hollywood entertainers, all of whom he had in mind and were happy to take part in the film.  Hosting a relatively famous cast, Christopher Lloyd, Malin Akerman, Jason Alexander, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Joe Mantegna, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Kunal Nayyar, was not as huge a financial undertaking as one might suspect.  Through the Screen Actor’s Guild Short Film Agreement, Brener was able to negotiate working with these actors affordably, which assisted him in retaining a low budget.  And while the film was shot over the course of a year, there were only “eight or nine shooting days,” according to Brener.  Brener cites his intended audience as, “Star wars fans, overall movie lovers and inside Hollywood.”  Film enthusiasts will certainly appreciate this film, and hopefully the powers that be in Hollywood will recognize the hackneyed and superfluous amount of remakes being produced in their studios today.

 

 

Another film in the 7th Showcase not only features the acting chops of Hollywood charmer, Adam Brody, known for his break out role in Fox’s The O.C., and roles in films such as In the Land of Women and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but was written by famed director, screenwriter and playwright, Neil LaBute.  I was given the opportunity to speak to LaBute and the film’s director, Nathaniel Krause about what it was like to make the short film, Double or Nothing.

 

 

The short depicts a typical spat between a couple Clark (Brody) and girlfriend Becca (Louisa Krause—LaBute’s sister), which progressively evokes a great deal of uncertainty and surprise in the viewer.  The theme of the unexpected is consistent with LaBute’s inspiration for the film, which he imparts,

“I wanted to do something that went in one direction then surprised the viewer by being about something else–a diversion that I’ve employed a number of times as a writer and very much enjoy as a reader and/or audience member.  In this case what looked like a racial/economic conflict turned out to be something very different.”

LaBute’s script was enough to stimulate Krause’s inspiration as a director.

“As the director, the inspiration came from the script.  What immediately drew me in was the raw nature of the interaction between the three characters; Clark, Becca and the homeless man.  Without giving too much away, I felt there was an underlying truth behind Clark’s ploy—something a lot of people can relate to (at least those who have found themselves in a relationship they would rather not be apart of).  As such, I wanted to tow a line between both despising Clark’s actions and being charmed and oddly familiar with them.”

Both LaBute and Krause agree that it was the collaboration of the filmmaking team, “the people who come together to make it happen,” as Krause says, that made the film a success.  This includes the work of the actors.  Of Brody, Krause said, “Adam was a pleasure to work with.  He is an extremely open and fearless actor willing to take risks and explore all avenues of a character.”  The role of Becca, Clark’s girlfriend, was written for actress, Louisa Krause.  Thanks to producer Andrew Carlberg, they were able to get Brody onboard for the film.

To my surprise the film was not a high-budget short, and it was shot in only 8 hours—the biggest challenge Krause faced when making the film.  However, the film was a success.  Krause, the director, hopes that audiences will leave the theatre with more “questions than answers,” and commends LaBute’s writing with this thoughtful sentiment,

“The beauty of Neil LaBute’s writing is that—as in life—it ultimately poses more questions than answers.  It is simply my intention to give the audience an intimate look at a situation that exposes some of the surprising motives behind an individual’s actions.  It reveals why sometimes those we know best can act in ways we least expect.  In that respect, despite the disrespectful way in which the protagonist behaves, the charm he inherently exhibits is meant to maintain his relatability showing that we may not all be that unalike; what truly separates us is how we deal with our similar thoughts and fears.”

Friend Request Pending of Showcase 3 is a particularly noteworthy film directed by Chris Foggin, and written and produced by Chris Croucher.  The film stars British screen and stage icon Judi Drench, as Mary, a lonely senior citizen navigating the new frontier of social networking in search of love.  The story has an authenticity that is perhaps partly amassed by Croucher’s inspiration for the story, “Put simply, my Mum!”  He elaborates saying,

“She has recently started social networking and watching her learn really fascinated me. This very ‘of now’ story about how older generations deal with what for my generation is an everyday occurrence is funny and heartwarming. The way we all communicate now has changed completely and I am intrigued by the digital revolution and it’s impact on dating. The game has changed.”

 

 

Dench brought that inspiration and Croucher’s idealized character to life.  Croucher commends Dench as a key factor to the film’s success, in addition to its “very real and funny take on a very modern reality; Silver surfer dating.”

Of working with Dench, Croucher gushes, “She is a dream, so funny and just how you imagine she would be in person.”

In terms of getting Dench onboard for the film, Chris Foggin, the film’s director, had developed a working relationship with the actress through previous productions.  Croucher was lucky enough to have Dench as his muse for the script, as Foggin had spoken to her ahead of time about the project.  Croucher recounts these dealings with wistful reminiscence,

“When we started on the short, we showed her [Dench] the script, she said yes and a few months later we said ‘Turnover.’  If only everything in life was that simple.”

The film certainly garnered attention for its star, however this did not determine the film’s expenses, which Croucher quotes as “relatively cheap,” around $8,000.

Scott Schaefer’s film, The Carrier, screening in Showcase 3, features performances by three famed names in the business, Rita Wilson, Chad Michael Murray and Anna Paquin.  The film depicts the posthumous implications of an STD carrier, Thatcher (Murray).  Schaefer reveals “legacy” to be the impetus for the film, “I am always intrigued by legacy.  What items or stories that people leave behind.  I feel that this is the ultimate legacy story.”

 

 

Certainly a mother (Wilson) obliged to deal with the death and subsequent discovery of her son’s HIV infection is burdensome, and carries a degree of weight on the remnants of the past.  The film articulates a significance that lingers even after the credits roll, and with that comes natural contemplation on the film’s subject matter.  Schaeffer hopes the audience will “walk out of the theatre wanting more, involved in discussions about what do you think happened next.”

On working with Wilson, Murray and Paquin, Schaeffer extols the trio.

“It was amazing.  They have all been in the business for quite some time and they are amazing actors who were extremely professional and a blast to work with.  I was truly lucky to have them a part of the production.”

With the encouragement of Paquin, who Schaeffer was working with on another project, the film got its start.  And thanks to a casting agent, “everyone else fell into place,” Schaeffer recollects.

While Schaeffer faced challenges with the film’s costs, which amounted to a medium to high budget short, it only took a mere three and half days to shoot.

In terms of what differentiates shorts with celebrities from shorts with unknown actors, all of these filmmakers divulged in some capacity that while prominent actors certainly create more exposure for films, that does not necessarily designate a finer film.  Jonah Ansell, the creator of the animated short Cadaver, featuring the voices of Christopher Lloyd and Kathy Bates, so eloquently extends his viewpoint,

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t.  Movies are about stories.  Successful movies are about finding the right actors to help tell that story.  Great actors (regardless of their fame) are potent partners in helping you create a compelling emotional journey for your audience.  I have such a respect for actors and the talents/nuances they bring to storytelling.”

These are undeniably a superb set of filmmakers who were admittedly fortunate enough to work with experienced performers.  But it was the collaboration of the expert casts, great storylines, conscientious crews, combined with the passion and conviction of the filmmakers that made each of these films a success.

 

By:  Hadley Fielding

 

Behind the Scenes: A Look at the DC Shorts Parties

It’s only a week until the festival!  And the films aren’t the only things to be excited about; DC Shorts is also hosting three amazing parties!  You’ll have the opportunity to meet the filmmakers and fellow DC film lovers alike.  Each party will feature ambrosial cocktails and beverages concocted by mixologist, Gina Chersevani as part of our open bar (all guests must be 21 years or older to attend), and will feature a palatable menu catered by some of our alimentary partners.  Party tickets are $25 plus a $2 service fee, and when purchases with a film ticket, $20 plus a $2 service fee.  Let’s take a look at each upcoming bash.

 

First, we have the City View Party to kick off Opening Weekend!  We’ll be celebrating under the stars on the roof deck of the Carroll Square Gallery.  Thanks to the Pink Line Project for making this event possible and to Matchbox for their catering services.  The party will take place Friday, September 7th from 9:00pm-11:00pm (address listed below).

Carroll Square Gallery

975 F Street NW

Washington, DC

Next comes the Grand Bash!  On Saturday, September 8th join us from 9:00pm-midnight at the US Navy Memorial for a fabulous party with dancing, drinks and a delectable spread of dishes inspired by the films and prepared by Whole Foods Market P Street.  Enjoy breathtaking night views of the Archives and the Capitol.  Many thanks to Brightest Young Things for bringing this party to life!

US Navy Memorial

701 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC

 

Last, but not least, we’re having a blow out bash to commemorate what we know will be a fantastic festival.  Our Closing Party will be happening from 9:00pm-11:00pm on Saturday, September 15th at the Atlas Performing Arts Center.  It’s sad to think it will all be over in a few short weeks, but there is nothing like a celebration to look back on a job well done.  Our finale soiree will feature music, dancing and clips from the 140 spectacular films in this year’s festival.  Kerrygold will be serving an assortment of divine Irish cheeses, and much appreciation to Scoutmob for putting on our last act.

Atlas Performing Arts Center

1333 H Street NE

Washington, DC

 

Purchase now @ dcshorts.com/tickets

By:  Hadley Fielding

Behind the Animation: Spirited Storytellers at DC Shorts

This year we welcome over a dozen extraordinary animators to the festival selection.  The 14 animated shorts come from directors around the world, who each offer unique animation styles and various influences from their respective backgrounds and cultures.  I was amazed at the differing animation styles and techniques of each of the films.

One animator of particular interest, Grant Orchard, used not one, but three distinct animation styles in his short, A Morning Stroll, featured in the 5th showcase.  The film took a full two years to produce.  In Orchard’s own words, “Basically it [the film] is a love story between a man and a chicken, a love story that spans 100 years.”

 

 

Orchard elaborates on the animation styles saying, “We tried to use different aesthetic and animation styles for each section. The film is divided into 3 sections that are based in 3 different time periods. So we wanted each section’s style to represent the period it was set in. For example, the first part is set in 1959, so the animation has a certain Max Fleisher, traditional 2D feel. While the 2009 section was made using a lower polygon count; a bit like those Second Life avatars.  That was there to reflect the use of mobile technology and content that features quite heavily in that part.  The third section was just meant to look as real as possible, even though it’s the section that has the least bearing on reality.”

He cites “Flash, After Effects, Photoshop, Softimage” amongst the many programs used to make the film.

I was still wondering, though, why the chicken?  Orchard said that his inspiration for the film came from an extract of a book called True Tales of American Life, edited by Paul Auster.  A Morning Stroll is not an adaptation of Auster’s work, but rather provided Orchard with a thought that became the genesis for the animated short.

“It’s a paragraph story; really really short. And there’s one line in it that got me thinking – which is ‘a chicken walks down a busy city street.’ It’s a bit like the old joke – ‘why did the chicken cross the road?’  The thought of a chicken walking down a city street like Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy made me smile, and got me thinking about the blanks either side of that. Why is a chicken walking down a city street? Where is it going? Where has it been?”

Orchard also references a book by Raymond Queneau called Exercises in Style, as an equally influential source of inspiration and attributes it specifically to how he harnessed the idea of filming the short in three segments.

“It [Exercises in Style] retells the fairly ordinary story of a man on a bus 99 times in 99 different styles.  So, I thought telling this fairly ordinary story of a chicken walking down a city street 3 times, in 3 different time periods, in 3 different styles would be an interesting experiment.”

While it may seem like the film yields some abstruse message, Orchard says earnestly, “There’s no direct message. It’s honestly just an attempt to create something unique and surprising. It might or might not have achieved that, but that was the ambition.”  Orchard hopes simply that the film will “surprise people and make them laugh.”  The film is sure to do just that.

As part of the 8th showcase, another animator, Mike Liu, brings an Asian ninja to life in his short, Shinobi Blueswith computer animation analogous to that of a Pixar film  Amazingly, Liu created nearly the entire short on his own.  This exhaustive list of tasks comprises concept, story, design, modeling, animation, texturing, rigging, compositing, lighting and direction.  Liu elucidated on his filmmaking process and how he achieved such a feat, saying that he received “good advice” from senior filmmakers and had “great assistance” from a friend, Jeeah Huh, with the textures of the film.  This advice and assistance helped to “motivate” him to stick with the film and finish an impressive final product.  In fact, he didn’t even expect the film to garner any big audiences as the film was made in part for his Master’s Program in computer arts.

 

 

It did take more time to make without assistance, however.  Liu reported that he worked on the film for “nine to ten months.”  He elaborated on the film’s concept saying, “After getting a BFA in traditional animation from the School of Visual Arts in ’08, it was a rough time in the economy to find a job in animation.”  Liu’s storyline of a ninja struggling to find work in his chosen field is metaphor for Liu’s own experience.  In his own words of advice to aspiring filmmakers, “Don’t give up.  If you’re really passionate, keep going for it;” words Liu certainly emulates.

Another film is not only animated but it features the voiceover work of two major celebrities, Christopher Lloyd and Kathy Bates.  This is Jonah Ansell’s short, Cadaver, featured in Showcase 4, about a cadaver man, voiced by Lloyd, who comes back to life after a medical student, voiced by acting newcomer and fashion blogger, Tavi Gevinson, cuts him open.  Ansell’s younger sister, a med student at Northwestern University, served as the inspiration for the film, and he explains how his idea for Cadaver was prompted by a call from his sister:

“Two years ago, on the day before my little sister cut open her first cadaver, I received a frantic email. They were making the med students do some sort of creative assignment, like, ‘tell us what you think this cadaver’s life must’ve been like, write a haiku, or draw a picture,’ I think it was intended to get the kids to realize that the body that they were going to spend the next semester dissecting was once a living, breathing human and that they needed to treat it with respect. So, I wrote this little poem, a love story in fact, about a cadaver who wakes up and begs the med student to help him say a last goodbye to his wife — who he didn’t get to say farewell to, before he died. I didn’t think anything of it. I went on with my day. In fact, I think a whole year went by. But something in the story kept drawing me back to it.”  (See Ansell and his sister inset).

 

 

Cadaver also bears a comic book like animation style and remarkably the film was “entirely hand-drawn with Sharpie markers,” according to Ansell.  The hand-drawings were then animated “using Adobe’s After Effects.”  Ansell acknowledges Carina Simmons for Cadaver’s character design, and Eric Vennemeyer as the art direction lead and illustrator for “all of the non-character assets in the film.”  Of Simmons, Ansell says, “She has a lush, dark and gritty sensibility.  She was integral in creating the film’s emotional tone.  She visually ignited the voices to life.”  Ansell credits Vennemeyer for helping to “visually layer the work to give it an ancient, timeless nature.”

 

 

Finally, I spoke with Joaquin Baldwin, the creator of the short, The Windmill Farmer, shown in Showcase 13.  Baldwin brings an animation style he amusingly calls, “whimsical overly-textured silhouette,” then he quips, “That’s it, I think…” In truth, Baldwin’s animation style is in a class of its own; as a viewer it feels like a storybook come to life on screen, with textured drawing-like animation.  The film is about a windmill farmer, and its fictional absurdity mirrors the storybook feel of the film.  In the film, the farmer struggles to tend to his windmill farm after harsh weather patterns destroy his “crop.”  Thus, the film obviously lends itself to a “pro-renewable energy message” in Baldwin’s own words.

All the same, Baldwin especially hopes the audience will gain “the simple satisfaction of experiencing the story of the farmer, and to reflect on the cyclical nature of nature. It’s entertainment, plus hope, plus eye candy, plus inspiration for other filmmakers, but I don’t think that watching a film like this will change your mind about what you should be doing to now screw up the planet.”

 

 

Baldwin also elaborated on his image of the film’s storyline: “I wanted to convey the cycles of nature, of life and death, of farming, or water, or the spinning of the windmills, and how these cycles continue and even if we are powerless to stop them, we know that in the end things will return to a balance once more.”

In terms of the animation style used in the film, Baldwin solely used a Mac laptop, which allowed him to access a plethora of animation programs.

“The animation was done in Toon Boom, exported as vector SWFs files, and brought into After Effects, where I added the textures and colors. The backgrounds I painted in Photoshop (in reality I just painted textures, and used them to color vector shapes inside After Effects). I also used Maya to animate the destruction of the windmills, using a basic simulation and rendering as a flat vector SWF.”

Baldwin, also admits the animation itself to be a point of difficulty,

“One main challenge was to keep the film visually interesting, while working with silhouettes. I couldn’t have strange camera moves or change my compositions too much, so I went with a super stylized texturing and subtle glowing effects to make the images more interesting to look at in every frame. It was tricky, it was hard to settle between a point to pure simplicity and a jumble of non-sensical texturing, it took me a long time to figure out what the final look would be like. It was also quite complicated to find ways to show emotions in silhouettes, it taught me a lot about clear posing and depending on body posture for emotion.”

Baldwin certainly seems to have trounced those complications head on with his thoughtful, heartfelt and lively film.

Each of these four films brings its own variations in style and animation, and affords different connotations and implications.  The inspirations for these films commonly stem from a seemingly trivial impetus that then, upon further reflection, engenders greater meaning.  Films in animation, even short films, take an ample amount of time and are certainly more challenging than meets the eye, in my mind.  My hat goes off to these incredibly talented, resilient and resolute filmmakers.

 

By:  Hadley Fielding

 

Seeking A Bond For the End of the World: British Films at DC Shorts

The Brits hosted the Olympics, now they’re invading the DC Shorts Film Festival with ten films of various voices and genres. Among them are several films emphasizing the influence and important of social interactions. First-time filmmaker Chris Foggins’ short Friend Request Pending pays homage to the influence of social media. Regardless of age, Facebook has become a dominating presence for anyone who owns a computer. Dame Judi Dench’s character becomes frustrated with the restraints of her Facebook messenger and does the unthinkable; she calls a prospective romantic partner. No amount of avoidance can hinder the fact that we are social creatures forever struggling to find a connection that matters.

Zak Klein’s comedy Deleting Emily is the second place winner of the Peoples Choice award at the British Shorts festival in Berlin. Andrew, the protagonist, wants to end his relationship with Emily so he can travel the world free of any restraints. The question is whether or not he should delete her from his Facebook once their relationship is over. If only ending a relationship could be so simple. With the added burden of Facebook, the complexities of relationships are amplified. You can either have the privilege or the power of breaking it off with someone, but you can never have both. The dialogue is heavy, at times, but all the more real in its execution. Real-life plans never go as expected and the film exposes such preparations in all their triviality.

“The humor was always going to appeal to younger people. But, I tried to establish the rules in a way that full-blown adults and non-Facebook users could appreciate,” said Klein, who hopes the film will heighten viewers appreciation for the maddening dynamics of modern dating.

A curveball is thrown at Andrew after assuming he is the one who will utilize his power to break it off with Emily. The story itself, inspired by friends of Klein whose relationships were marred by Facebook, mocks the ridiculousness of many aspects of social networking. The importance placed upon certain elements of networking has a tendency of overshadowing the importance of actual relationships.

Doing what most directors strive to capture in a 90-minute feature within only two minutes attests to the skill of director Carlo Ortu. His short The Last Man On Earth is the epitome of a sharp piece of cinema. After an unknown event destroys mankind, a sole survivor decides to end his life after weeks of failing to discover another human being. He admits that he cannot continue living without being able to interact with someone else. He formulates a poison to ensure a painless death and without hesitation shoots it back like a much-needed shot of whiskey. Like Andrew in Deleting Emily, this man has a surprise coming for him. A bit of patience would have been beneficial. The shock and humor achieved by the end of the film is without equal.

“Jerry Lewis said that ‘comedy is a man in trouble’ and it sums up the film really,” said Ortu, “What do you do if you’re the only guy left? Do you give up? I wanted to make people laugh and I realized if I got it right then I could do that with this story.”

Shooting on the streets of London was a major challenge during the making of The Last Man On Earth. Even at 4 a.m. the sleepless city was host to late-night pub crawlers and early workers, making it all the more difficult to shoot a film about a deserted city. Such problems were handled by an experienced filmmaker who knows that what can go wrong most certainly will; it’s all a matter of pulling through the difficulties.

“When you tell people you make films in the UK they usually look at you as though you’re either trying to steal their wallet or if you’ve done something really inappropriate like grabbed your crotch and stuck your tongue out,” said Ortu, who believes the difficulties of making film in the UK are extensive in comparison to the unrelenting and well-established film industry in the United States. It is an uphill struggle he is willing to make.

Another film portraying the yearning for human connection is about an agoraphobic man named Darrel, who just happens to be a hopeless romantic. He desperately wants to date his lovely neighbor Josephine. You’ve got your conflict and love interest, but how do you make it work? Director James Hickey answers that question effortlessly with some clever imagination within his film Thinking Inside the Box. It is this type of creativity that could arguably be lacking from a majority of UK Films.

“I am fairly vocal to people over here about my general criticisms of UK Filmmaking,” said Hickey, “Most major UK films that see any kind of success are Hollywood funded, and I have noticed that funding bodies here tend to pick extremely obscure films to finance, for reasons I cannot comprehend.”

Being obscure for the sole purpose of being different doesn’t ensure a well-crafted story within a film. There has to be an element of humanity for it to linger in the mind of the audience. Like Klein, Hickey takes influence from his own experience of a failed relationship to create a film that is both visually appealing and unconventional.

“ I tried to write something that might cheer me up and prove to people that I do have a softer side to my personality,” said Hickey, “Even though I tend to lean towards darker, Coen-esque ideas, I quite enjoy a quirky story.”

Although Hickey set out to make the film for himself, he hopes his audience will leave the cinema with a lingering dose of optimism. Such positivity can be deduced from these excellent British films that emphasize the absolute necessity for human connection. It is a source of conflict that never ceases in importance.

By: Shilah Alibakhshi