by Bears Fonte | 03.13.2013
Festival season is upon us. As soon as Sundance kicks off the year in all things Indie and Studio-posing as Indie, it seems like avid film goers have their pick of vacations to see great films. February brings arthouse connoisseurs the Berlin International Film Festival (and its Gold Bear award, maybe the coolest trophy one can win after ours) and brings genre-junkies the Boston Science-Fiction Film Festival and Marathon (a 24-hour endurance event) which just celebrated its 38th year. Of course March brings a rather large Music/Interactive/Film festival to our neighborhood here in Austin, but before I got drawn into that maelstrom of creativity I had the opportunity to attend not one but two festivals that opened on the same weekend.
Omaha Film Festival is young, by festival years, but has proven itself an excellent arbiter of taste with a varied slate of features and shorts each year. In addition to two of my AFF favorites from last year (Doc Jury Award Winner INFORMANT and Dark Matters Audience Award SATURDAY MORNING MASSACRE), the festival featured a few films I loved from screening but hadn’t been able to program such as QWERTY and THE MOST FUN I’VE HAD WITH MY PANTS ON. Of course, the shorts programming was particular impressive with BLACK METAL, DEATH OF A SHADOW, RECORD/PLAY, and AFF Student Short Jury Award Winner HATCH. Big congratulations go out to Omaha’s Festival Director Jeremy Decker and Program Director Marc Longbrake. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it up to Omaha this year but I hope to next year.
By now you probably realize I am an avid supporter of the short, so a trip to the 6th annual Taos Shortz Film Fest was a great excuse to escape the hordes of hipsters that descend upon Austin and fill all our restaurants and parking spaces. Festival Director Anna Cosentine has done a good job building a program that balances local New Mexico artists, Student Filmmakers, and films from all over the world. I could only be there for the first half of the fest, but saw a number of standout films, including an uplifting film from the Russian province of Bashkortostan, AMBITIOUS, about a boy’s quest to find two eggs to trade for a movie ticket. I also really enjoyed the highly-stylicized ZOLTAN: THE HUNGARIAN GANGSTER OF LOVE, a remarkable comedy with a phenomenal soundtrack and a dance-off. Another great comedy was COCKATOO, about a man who hires a woman to impersonate his ex-girlfriend and insult him. The cutest comedy was likely FRIEND REQUEST PENDING, featuring an adorable Judi Dench cyber-stalking her new crush (note to self: find way to get Judi Dench in my next short). Of course, I have to make mention of AFF Jury and Audience Award Winning and Oscar nominated ASAD, which I’ve probably seen near 8 times now and still affects me.
For Doc Shorts, I loved seeing AFF hit UNRAVEL again and unfortunately AFF Audience Award Winner GOOD KARMA $1 played the day after I left. Another fantastic doc short was the cringe-inducing but still unshakeable BUG PEOPLE, a film that forced the director to face his phobia by meeting with people who interact with insects on a daily basis (including a chef who specializes in Entomophagy – that’s right, eating bugs). One of my favorites of the whole weekend was an experimental piece SOLO PIANO NYC, a series of still images chronicling the use and abuse of an abandoned piano on a busy New York street.
Shorts festivals really give audience an experience they rarely have in normal viewing, and Taos Shortz is joining the ranks of some of the best (I might point out DC Shorts and Palm Springs as being unquestionably awesome). Here at Austin Film Festival, we program a lot of shorts. With 13 programs last year, each short playing twice over the festival, I like to think we have a shorts festival inside the whole festival. Furthermore, this year all our prizes have increased in size and we award Jury and Audience Awards in four categories (Doc, Narrative, Narrative Student, and Animated). The Animated and Narrative Shorts winner are Academy-eligible and the last two years in a row have both ended up on either the Nominations or the Shortlist. The earlybird deadline is fast approaching (May 1st) so get your short (or feature) in before the price goes up. For more information and for an entry fee discount, check out our website.
– Bears Fonte
AFF Director of Programming