Shorts Spotlight: Unveiling the Magic of Aspen Film’s Oscar-Qualifying Festival

March 19, 2024

Shorts Spotlight: Unveiling the Magic of Aspen Film’s Oscar-Qualifying Festival

The annual Aspen Film Shortsfest—which returns on April 1-7—invites viewers to revel in the glory of 70 expertly crafted short films from across the globe.

Short films hold an important role in the world of cinema; not only as an inexpensive way for beginner filmmakers to get their feet on the ground, but also as a way for established filmmakers to hone their craft, unencumbered by the hitches that come with feature-length filmmaking. There is a certain rhythm to the short film in which big ideas, social issues and heady concepts can be distinctively explored. It’s why established filmmakers such as Wes Anderson, Pedro Almodovar and Christopher Nolan keep returning to the format: shorts are the novella or poem to a full-length film.

Aspen Film’s Shortsfest, one of the leading short-film festivals in North America, will return in April for its 33rd year. The festival will showcase an eclectic variety of films from directors around the world, debuting them over the week along with panels, talks and other film-focused events. This year’s Shortsfest is bringing the best of the best–from over 3,100 submissions, only 70 have been chosen. “That’s still only a fraction of even the very, very good films that we see,” according to Aspen Film Programming Director Jason Anderson.

Shortsfest has grown acclaim and industry-recognition for hosting numerous Oscar-Qualifying short films, and has become a proving ground for many now critically-acclaimed filmmakers. Reinaldo Marcus Green (King Richard), Destin Daniel Cretton (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Short Term 12), Damien Chazelle (La La Land, Babylon), Jason Reitman (Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Up in the Air), Sarah Polley (Women Talking) and the late Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club) are among the notable alumni whose short films first screened at Shortsfest before they became household names.

Anderson is excited for this year’s Shortsfest because it will shine a light on films from locations that—in a world saturated by affluent nations such the United States and France—are often left out of the conversation. “We’ve got stuff from the Dominican Republic and one from Sierra Leone. We’ve got great work from the Philippines, and like always, from all over South America and Latin America,” shares Anderson. “I think it’s really exciting to have that kind of variety and diversity of work by filmmakers who are dealing with very different circumstances than might be common here.”

Attendees can look forward to a variety of genres, including documentaries featuring a musical subject—one about the first woman in the New York Philharmonic—and another incredible story about fighting for the rights of an undeservedly neglected musician from the disco era. A number of terrific coming-of-age stories will be screened, which is a trend in shorts that Anderson attributes to the quantity of younger filmmakers who may be drawn to big stories and big feelings. As a perfect compliment to these dramas, Anderson shares, “we’re thrilled this year to also have a real abundance of comedies, especially from the US, that are really fresh and very funny and very sharp.”

In a world where attention spans are decreasing, and social media such as TikTok and Instagram have been training the common mind to digest bite-sized pieces of information faster and faster, might a parallel be drawn to the rise of short films? On streaming giants such as Netflix and HBO there has been a recent rise in the quantity of shorts being put out, and that has certainly raised the popularity of this film format—but movie theaters still haven’t recovered from the hit they took during peak pandemic. Could shorts and festivals like Shortsfest be an unassuming savior to the community-building nature that cinema was founded upon? Anderson certainly believes that they play an important role. “I think for viewers to commit to a 10- to 20-minute movie is not a big ask. One thing I really hope is that people can get more chances to see them on a big screen, because like any movie, to see it big and loud and with other people is the best way to experience it.”

By Tinder Kiely

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