Short Films

The Show! Delivers Memorable Films and Comedy

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By Sara Grauerholz

Going into The Show! I didn’t exactly know what to expect, but after reading that the evening would be filled with stand-up comedy, sketch comedy and short films, I knew I'd have to check it out.

Austin comedian Ramin Nazer acted as emcee throughout the night, which started with some stand-up comedy, and also introduced sketch team Spirit Desire. Several Spirit Desire video clips played on a large screen, and the group also performed live sketches. The group did some fake advertisements, including a reimagining of the characters from Peanuts in their adult years, living on the streets with Pig-Pen, the local drug dealer. Another bit imagined what it would be like if Ray Romano had a dinosaur for a child. These, of course, were all extremely funny, but let’s get into what we want to know more about: the films.

After all of the comedy that started the show, I assumed the films would be in the same style, but they were surprisingly serious. The first one up was Benny, which was a finalist in the Student Academy Awards this year and screened at a number of fests, including Austin Film Festival. Huay Bing Law shot the film while a student at The University of Texas at Austin.

Experimental Response Cinema: 'Orbit! Films About our Solar System'

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By Zach Endres

Why did we name the planets after Roman gods?

There's probably a simple explanation, but I have my own theory. Like the Roman gods, the planets are larger-than-life empyrean bodies, and like the Roman gods these planets have an intimate relation with the tiny Earthlings who observe them. We at least subconsciously saw in these celestial bodies the tenants of ancient gods, who held a power too vast to be contained on Earth, yet were somehow able to fiddle with our lives on a day-to-day basis. The planet Jupiter doesn't actually come down from its cosmic Mount Olympus to lay with its lovers, but it does flex its influence in more ways than you'd expect.

For example, when I was a child I purchased a book at one of those book fairs that were set up in our elementary-school library. We always looked forward to these rare occasions for the sole reason that we were let out of class early to explore. The book I found was hefty, its cover bordered by a bland beige, but within that border was a picture that depicted a series of orbs, overlapping slightly and placed in a ring-like manner around a massive ball of fire. Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and yes, Pluto, all huddled around Mother Sun in a factually inaccurate but artistically forgivable composition.

After finding this book, I spent many nights gazing at the pictures inside, fantasizing about the wide, star-ridden blackness that hung over my head and all that it contained: the red eye of Jupiter, the receding icy hairline of Mars, the rings of Saturn, the tilt of Uranus ... Although I knew I'd never visit them, I found a means to relate to them via that book as I sprawled in bed with a flashlight. They seemed so far away, but that book brought them closer to me, and they truly became my neighbors. Distant gods found their way into my life, and they weren't so distant anymore.

Just as I found a personal tie to the planets, a handful of experimental filmmakers took those seemingly far-off spheres and connected with them in their own ways. A collection of 12 experimental short films commissioned by Cinemad and Rooftop Films screened under the banner of "Orbit!" at the Fusebox Festival on April 30. If you missed the shorts, many are available to watch online.

Previewing Cine Las Americas 2012: Hecho en Tejas Shorts

Cine Las Americas 2012 posterThe 2012 Cine Las Americas International Film Festival kicked off Tuesday night and runs through the weekend. This year's program includes four short films made in Texas -- in the fest's Hecho en Tejas category, naturally.

Two of the Texas shorts were also part of the City of Austin's "Faces of Austin 2012" project. All four films will show at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar over the weekend.

Sam Lerma's Lilia was produced in San Antonio. The film, which premiered at the 2011 Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, focuses on a family after the father loses his job. How will he care for 5-year-old Lilia? This short screens before Hombre y tierra on Saturday, April 28 at 1:45 pm. Producer Ralph Lopez and actress Lauren Montemayor will be there.

In Open Your Eyes, an 11-year-old goes on a journey of self-reflection. Director Adolfo R. Mora will be in attendance when this short plays on Sunday, April 29 at 11 am (before In the Shadow, another Texas-shot feature).

Through Juan A. Izaguirre's Para Vivir, the viewer is shown a day in the life of Joel, a thirtysomething undocumented immigrant. Joel ended up in Austin because he has cancer and did not have access to medications in Mexico.

Austin Shorts to Air in Ireland on St. Patrick's Day

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Still from The Feast of St. Patrick: Family, Friends and FoodRTÉ, Ireland's national TV broadcaster, will be showing a series of pieces this St. Patrick's Day celebrating Irish diaspora and heritage, called "How to Be Irish." Included in this special will be two shorts by Austinite Jake T. Powell and his production partner Micha L. Crook. The two partners make up Monthly Adventures Productions, based out of Austin and Syracuse, New York -- both are Syracuse University grads.

Their first documentary short from 2008, The Feast of St. Patrick: Family, Friends and Food, focuses on the celebration of family history on St. Patrick's Day. The short first showed at London's Wyllie O Hagan Film Festival that year.

"I'm pretty pumped about this showing because it's the second time one of our shorts has screened internationally," Powell said. "I think that the reason it has appeal to the folks in Ireland is that we take a look at Irish-ness which isn't about silly stereotypes but is still a very American perspective. I like green beer as much as the next guy, but growing up around so many people of Irish descent I know it's a lot more than that, and that's what we want to illustrate."

RTÉ asked them to do a follow-up piece along the same lines to show in tandem with the 2008 short, so the duo filmed Fáilte: Irish Hospitality in Central New York earlier this year. "Fáilte" is Gaelic for "welcome." This second documentary short includes thoughts about the theme of hospitality from some Central New Yorkers with Irish ties.

Monthly Adventures starts principal photography on their first fictional short in the fall of 2012.

SXSW 2012 Shorts Preview: Extra! Don't Forget Texas!

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Hellion

I've already covered selected shorts from SXSW's program -- see Part One and Part Two of my preview -- but there are still two opportunities to see the Texas Shorts program, with films that are set in Texas, made in Texas, or made by Texas and Austin filmmakers.

Catch the Texas Shorts program today -- Tuesday, March 13 -- at 3:30 pm at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar, or on Friday, March 16, at 5 pm at Alamo Slaughter. (Aside: If you watch anything at Slaughter, say "Hi" to Miss Hallie Hughes-Hawkins, @halliehh on Twitter, who has been very lonely for familiar faces since moving to the new location from South Lamar.)

In addition to the Texas shorts I previously reviewed, Tumbleweed! and Knife, the selections also include Hellion, made in Austin by director Kat Candler. This brilliant short shows what happens when Dad gets home to find his three demonic sons have terrorized the babysitter. As the father, Jonny Mars has a smoldering intensity that reminded me of Gary Sinise. The twist ending left me chuckling.

Also, Russell Oliver Bush directed an entirely Austin cast and crew in conjunction with the MFA Film Production program at The University of Texas to create Magpie. Phillip (Daniel Hershberger) visits his daughter Maggie (Ashley Spillers), who has just become engaged to Aaron (Paul Boukadakis). Estranged since he walked out on Maggie and her mother, Phillip finds himself exploring her house, trying to reconnect while she is away at work. What he finds unlocks the door to his guilt and leads to a surprising confrontation in this moody, even creepy drama.

SXSW 2012: Shorts Preview, Part Two

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Glazin

This second part of my SXSW shorts coverage takes a marked musical turn, including a number of music videos, a short with no dialogue, and an adaptation starring Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew. In case you missed it, you can go back and read Part One.

Christeene: African Mayonnaise (Music Videos)
If you're not familiar with Christeene Vale, this latest music video from the outrageous Texan drag queen is a great introduction.  Performing first in the mall, she is chased out by a mall cop on a Segway and then moves on to other recognizable Austin locations. This is the most in-your-face drag queen you're likely to find, and I only hope I'm fortunate enough to witness a live performance at some point. Directed by Austin filmmaker and cinematographer PJ Raval.

Knife (Texas Shorts)
Rich, immersive sound mixing is integral to this short, which tells a story without the use of dialogue. An unsettling tone is enhanced with a beautiful original score. Written and directed by Fort Worth filmmaker James M. Johnston. Edited by DFW-area filmmaker David Lowery, whose SXSW 2011 short Pioneer was produced by Johnston.

SXSW 2012: Shorts Preview, Part One

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Tumbleweed!SXSW starts tomorrow, and one of the best parts of the festival is the shorts program, a perennial favorite. I've pre-screened a number of this year's excellent entries, and here is part one of my pre-fest short film coverage.

Tumbleweed! (Texas Shorts)
Wow! Offbeat, whimsical, and completely delightful. Tumbleweed! is an inspirational story of a tumbleweed that refuses to tumble. This seven-minute short is the kind of little nugget that makes the shorts program a must-see. Very loosely set in Texas.

Heimkommen (Narrative Shorts)
A poignant and touching look at sibling tensions in the wake of a tragic accident, Heimkommen (Come Home) tells a story that is simple yet deep. Director Micah Magee is a San Antonio native and UT Austin grad, and she's also a former Cinematexas co-director.

In the Pines (Narrative Shorts)
In nine minutes, In the Pines managed to re-create the mood I felt after two hours watching Tree of Life. Meditative, hopeful, and brilliant, it features stunning macrophotography shots interspersed between grand natural vistas. I could watch hours of this.

Liar (Narrative Shorts)
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, except maybe for her girlfriends. Liar relates a tense confrontation after a breakup gone bad. Left me wanting to see more.

Brute Force (Documentary Shorts)
Brute Force is the stage name of musician Stephen Friedland, who performed with The Tokens and wrote for Peggy March, Del Shannon, and The Chiffons among others. This is important to know, as he's such a character the 15-minute documentary about him would almost seem a mockumentary. By the time it reached his song "The King of Fuh," I was convinced it couldn't be real. But this is a man who indeed is real and was admired by (and performed with) The Beatles. Directed by Austin filmmaker Ben Steinbauer, who brought us another fascinating real-life character in Winnebago Man. Read Jenn's interview with Steinbauer.

AFS Announces SXSW 2012 ShortCase Winners

Photo Still from Mijo (My Son)

This year's SXSW Community Screening: Austin Film Society ShortCase will be held Saturday, March 10 at 11 am in the Canon Screening Room (aka Rollins) at the Long Center, and will feature short films by Central Texas filmmakers ranging from Richard Garriott to Bob Ray.

I was pleased to be invited to curate the ShortCase -- I've said for years that I'd love to help host a short-film festival. The response from AFS filmmakers was overwhelming, with over 100 short films submitted in a two-week timeframe. I cried, laughed, and screamed -- and even hit the Rewind button a few times to savor certain scenes. AFS Interim Artist Services Manager Austin Culp, intern Reid Connell and I worked together to select the 10 best films to fill the 90-minute screening time. It was a daunting task with so much wonderful content representing the talent of AFS filmmakers, but we somehow agreed on the final slate. 

For filmmakers who didn't make the cut, we hope that you'll submit films for future ShortCase events -- I'm already formulating a cunning plan to get some of the content into a screening later this year. Feedback will be provided to filmmakers who requested it, and we encourage everyone to take advantage of the programs available to the AFS filmmaker members.

Without further ado, here are this year's SXSW ShortCase films.

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