19Th Annual Palm Springs International Short Film Festival begins Six Day Run

Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic

Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic

The 19th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival (SHORT FEST) is expected to flood the world-class tourist destination city with more than 135,000 movie and short film aficionados beginning Tuesday, June 18 through June 24, 2013.

ShortFest, as it is known in the movie industry, is the largest short film festival in North America.  It’s a must stop for filmmakers, movie producers, directors, writers, and film distributors looking for short movies to represent.  Those distributors that do attend, will have a veritable feast of films and deals from which to select what they hope will go on to attract worldwide audiences.  Forty-nine countries are represented with film submissions at this year’s festival.

The festival, which runs through June 24th, screens all films at The Camelot Theatres, in Palm Springs, CA. and will present 330 short films of varying lengths in a variety of package selections.   Themes such as black comedies, coming-of-age stories, gay/lesbian content, films of Jewish interest and animation, and an offbeat drama or two, with plenty of comedies, rounds out the program.  Films will compete in six competitive categories for 19 cash or film production prizes worth a total of $110,000 with First Place winners in four categories eligible for Oscar nominations.

The Opening program is a package of comedies that include “Do I Have To Take Care of Everything?” about a Finnish family that oversleeps on their wedding day, and a guy whose longtime friend becomes obsessed with killing his dog.  ShortFest features 70 World, 55 North American, and14 US premieres, at this year’s festival.

According to Darryl Macdonald, festival director, “A wealth of newly emerging talent and new storytelling trends are the big news from this year’s ShortFest lineup.  While the U.S., Australia, the U.K., France and Spain remain at the forefront of the international short film renaissance, we’re seeing a well-spring of exciting new talents emerge from Scandinavia, Latin America, the Benelux countries, and Africa”.

“The work itself is more adventuresome, too, eschewing standard genre-based filmmaking in favor of character-driven stories and gender-bending formats” adding,

“It makes for a much richer cinema”.  In the past 18 years, the festival has presented 95 films that have gone on to receive Academy Award nominations.    Out of 300 films in the six-day program, I only had a chance to sample some twenty short films.  Here are my thoughts on a few of those films.  Some were a couple of minutes in length to upwards of 40 to 55 minutes long.  The program packages are curated to run about 90 minutes in length.

First, let me say that all of the films entered are technically proficient and well made or they wouldn’t be in the festival in the first place.  That having been said, any disappointment or failure of a film to exceed its potential then must reside with the story content and/or in the personal vision of the filmmaker.  Films, in most cases, are a reflection of society and the time frames in which they are set.  If this is the case, it might explain the plethora of films and themes that revolve around dark and violent content.  Much of what we see on our TV and movie screens these days is grounded in cop and robber shows, lawyer procedurals, and gritty collateral damage filled action films.  Most are violence-driven plots, all bulging with characters packing heavy heat along with an uncontrollable urge to use it.  There’s no doubt about it.  America is a violent country and morally bankrupt when viewed through the lenses of TV and filmmakers. Is there any truth to this conundrum?

But I’m happy to say the opening night film program labeled “Laughing Matters” dished up a mixture of heavy subject matter films along with everyone’s favorite film genre… the love story.  Titles like: “Blessing in Disguise” from the USA, faces the age-old question, how soon is too soon to share when the man of your dreams shows up?  “Chopper” from the Netherlands, hilariously explains how the food chain works – all in two minutes.  In the U.K.’s “Crush 472”, Tim thinks he might just have found the girl of his dreams…again!

Finland’s entry “Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?” is a comedy homage and a love  Valentine  to women who actually have to do most everything in a marriage, especially when things go goofily wrong.

In “Killing Vivian” from the USA, this funny short film asks the question what do you do when your best friend becomes obsessed with killing your dog, Vivian?  “OMG”, from Canada takes a peek at how three generations of women – a gothic princess, complete with nose rings and rainbow-colored hair, and a dedicated texting fanatic, her mother, and her grandmother, learn an amusing lesson about tolerance.

“The Pledge for Mr. Bunny”, from Australia, is a cautionary tale about continually asking for something.  Scotty is a young boy obsessed with car washes.  Discouraged by his father, he resorts to telling a series of lies involving a terminally ill plush toy, a black-market kidney industry, and bunnies sold into sexual slavery, in order to achieve his goal of experiencing a car wash first hand.  One needs to be careful about what one asks for…

“The Pick Up” from the USA is about a guy on the make, who “hits” on the wrong woman when he tries a novel approach to picking up a girl in a Laundromat.  The result is not what one expects, but is amusing none-the-less.

In  “Penny Dreadful”, a USA short, a hopeless loser gets talked into a kidnapping-for-hire scheme, in hopes of making a big payday as a way of helping his wife’s pregnancy concerns.  But, as is the norm in the short film format, events go haywire very quickly.  This short film won the Audience prize at the 2013 Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival.

Comedy is a relative term.  However, child abduction, murder, manslaughter, and worse, are not “fine option” topics for comedy, whether they are award-winning films or not.  What it does say, however, speaks volumes about today’s society.

I’ll do a Festival Wrap next week with the list of Short Fest winners, who then become  nomination-eligible for the 2014 Oscars.

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