Cut Short: The 25th Annual Aspen Shortsfest

March 31, 2016

Cut Short: The 25th Annual Aspen Shortsfest

By Andrew Travers, The Aspen Times

Introducing the nominees for best documentary short at the Academy Awards in February, comedian Louis C.K. offered a brief, hilarious tribute to the short form and the artists who practice it. He called the Oscars for shorts “the one award that has the opportunity to change a life,” and bluntly characterized the humble circumstances from which most short films are born: “This Oscar’s going home in a Honda Civic.”

The short films that have played here annually for 25 years at the Oscar-qualifying Aspen Shortsfest are a bastion of quality cinema – often bolder and better than most multiplex fare.

They’re made, for the most part, without hope for great commercial success or fame – emerging out of the simple need to tell a story, to share a voice, to entertain and to inform. As Louis C.K. pointed out, these documentaries, narratives and animated films are made with just about the purest artistic motivations you’ll find, living short creative lives with lucky festival audiences like those at Shortsfest. Some shorts, of course, do get bought by broadcasters (the 40-minute “Brillo Box,” playing Saturday, April 9, is slated for HBO and “The Shining Star of Losers Everywhere,” playing April 5, is headed for ESPN), and a few attract the international spotlight of the Academy Awards (last year’s Shortsfest entries “We Can’t Live Without Cosmos” and “Shok” were nominated and “Bear Story” won). And oftentimes, a night at Shortsfest gives audiences an early look at work from the next generation of great feature filmmakers – the likes of Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”) and Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”) showed some of their first shorts here.

This year’s 25th anniversary Shortsfest lineup also includes some established directors (“Tangerine” director Sean Baker’s “Snowbird” plays Saturday, April 9) and some familiar faces (Mary Elizabeth Ellis and Artemis Pebdani in “Step 9,” for example) alongside film students and emerging writers, directors, actors and producers making movies running 2 and 40 minutes.

Local filmmaker Gayle Embrey’s “God Willing,” a documentary about Palestinian artist Mais Rosol, will screen during the 5:30 p.m. program on Wednesday, April 6.

We’ve here selected some high points to look forward to at Shortsfest – you can also pick up the Aspen Times for daily coverage of more films and filmmakers throughout the festival.


‘The Shining Star of Losers Everywhere’

April 5, 7:30 p.m. program, Wheeler Opera House

April 9, 5:15 p.m. program, Crystal Theatre

A failing racetrack and the people of Japan found an unlikely hero during the economic collapse of “the last decade” in 2003: a horse in a pink Hello Kitty mask who raced more than 100 times without a win.

This fast-paced film – mixing Japanime animation, interviews and race footage – tracks how Haru Urara drew massive crowds and international attention as the people of Japan rallied around a horse that wouldn’t give up.

“Haru Urara must have been a star of hope for the losers,” her trainer Dai Muneishi says in the film.

Directed by Mickey Duzyi, this heartwarming “Rocky” of the racetrack has been picked up by ESPN Films for broadcast.


‘The Evictor’

April 5, 7:30 p.m. program, Wheeler Opera House

A hard-bitten gangster from the Korean underworld meets a cute, video game-playing kid in this complex drama by South Korean filmmaker Bumsue Chun, making its world premiere at Shortsfest.

The evictor and his henchmen rough up residents to get them out of their homes. But when they meet a child alone in a Busan apartment, with cups of soup and video games and no parents, things get complicated.


‘Mondo Cane’

April 7, 5:30 p.m. program, Wheeler Opera House

April 9, 5:15 program, Crystal Theatre

The great American photographer Thomas Roma takes a trip (well, many trips) to the dog park in this sweet 12-minute documentary that will hit animal lovers and photographers right in the feels.

Roma fashions a proto-selfie-stick from an eight-foot-long pole and shoots the diverse denizens of a Brooklyn dog park from above – capturing lively animals and the stark shadows they cast.

“After spending my whole life trying to get it right, allowing things to go wrong is kind of intoxicating,” he says of immersing himself in the chaos of dog society.

“Mondo Cane” is directed by Michael Almereyda, whose feature film “Experimenter” played Aspen Filmfest in the fall.


‘Across the Sea’

April 7, 8:30 p.m. program, Wheeler Opera House

April 9, 5:15 program, Crystal Theatre

This quiet, beautiful U.K. drama by writer-director Kelly Robinson follows a new mother and the thief who takes her phone as they embark on crisscrossing journeys over the course of 11 minutes. After their initial encounter on a city bus, the pair circle one another unpredictably toward a second meeting.


‘For a Good Time’

April 7, 8:30 p.m. program, Wheeler Opera House

Mourning her mother’s death, Jane sees “for a good time call” and a phone number scrawled on a bathroom stall wall, dials it, and sets off on a journey of self-discovery in Chicago that you won’t see coming.

This quirky and heartwarming 20-minute comedy by writer-director Aemilia Scott, making its world premiere in Aspen, follows Jane as she’s delivered some harsh, blunt, often hilarious truths from the guru she didn’t expect to find on the other end of the line. After this crystalline short film, you may walk out of the theater seeing the world with new eyes.



April 8, 8:30 p.m. program, Wheeler Opera House

This surreal comedy is set among the surprisingly cutthroat ranks of guards in an Israeli contemporary art museum. The film opens as Iris receives an unexpected promotion, but an accident sends her and her team of guards into fierce bureaucratic battle with one another.

The debut of Israeli film student Omer Tobi, “hounds” is having its international premiere at Shortsfest.


Family Fun Program

April 10, 12:30 p.m., Wheeler Opera House

April 10, 3 p.m., Crystal Theatre

$10 for adults, free for kids

Shortsfest is celebrating the 40th anniversary of Aardman Animations with a 90-minute retrospective of family-friendly animated films. Aardman is the Shortsfest alum and creative powerhouse behind the beloved “Wallace and Gromit,” “Shaun the Sheep” and “Chicken Run,” with 10 Oscar nominations and four wins to the studio’s credit.

The Aspen program will be preceded by a free Breakfast at the Fest at 11:30 a.m. and followed by a milk and cookies reception at 2 p.m.


If You Go …

What: Aspen Shortsfest

Where: Wheeler Opera House, Aspen; Crystal Theatre, Carbondale

When: April 5-10

How much: $15 per program; $12 for Aspen Film members

More info:

Tickets: Wheeler Opera House box office;

Etc: Aspen Film will host an opening reception at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 5. And Wednesday through Saturday, the Wheeler will house the Shortfest Café before and between the 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. programs. The J-Bar will host nightly post-screening gatherings April 5-7 and 10, with festivities moving to the Rec Room on April 8 and Eric’s Bar on April 9. The Red Onion is the venue for filmmaker conversations on April 6 and 8 at noon. The crowd-funding platform Seed&Spark will host a talk in the Gonzo at noon on April 7. Chair 9 at the Little Nell will host a conversation with director Sean Baker and producer Darren Dean (“Tangerine,” “Snowbird”) at noon on April 9.


Working to Enlighten, Enrich, Educate, and Entertain Through Film