Monday, June 17, 2013

Reverend's Preview: Palm Springs ShortFest

It is said that good things can come in small packages, and that is the case with many of the mini-movies that will be screened during the 19th annual Palm Springs International ShortFest & Film Market. Running at the Camelot Theatres in downtown Palm Springs from June 18th-24th, more than 300 short films from around the world will be screened. A good ten percent of them feature GLBT storylines.

According to Darryl Macdonald, Festival Director for the last ten years, the fest "is now the largest and most prestigious short film festival in North America and the only official short film market in North America." It is also officially sanctioned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, meaning short films in four of the festival's award categories are automatically eligible for Oscar submission. "In the course of the last 18 years," Macdonald said, "we've had 95 ShortFest films go on to receive Oscar nominations in the short film categories."

Alaska is a Drag

More than 3,000 submissions are received by festival programmers each year, which can make determining the final lineup of films very challenging. "Storytelling excellence is really our overriding criteria," Macdonald noted, "which boils down to whether a short film is telling its story in an original and entertaining way. Is it inventive, either in form or content?" He indicated neither length nor technical quality are so much an issue "as long as the filmmaker evinces a strong voice and vision." The films to be shown this year run anywhere from 30 seconds to 40 minutes. At least 400 short filmmakers from around the world make the trek to Palm Springs to participate in the weeklong event.

I asked Macdonald, who previously served as Director of Programming for the Seattle International Film Festival, whether festival programmers use any unique criteria when it comes to deciding which GLBT-themed films are selected. "Our criteria for GLBT films are no different than our overall criteria," he replied, "though our programmers who are GLB or T have first say in what gets selected for our GLBT and other general interest programs from among the GLBT-themed films." 31 community-oriented shorts will be shown this June, several of them World, North American or US premieres.

I'm Not Gay

Macdonald continued: "Palm Springs has a huge GLBT populace — roughly 50 % by some counts — so virtually all of our GLBT short film programs sell out at our largest theater (540 seats), but the GLBT community is among our largest support group for all film programming at ShortFest."

While he asserts the festival has received "nothing but praise and support from the community and GLBT media," Macdonald also admitted that "there will always be viewers who want nothing but crowd-pleasing films, happy endings and lots of sex. You can't please everyone all of the time; hell, you can't even please yourself all of the time."

A full schedule of ShortFest films and pass/ticket sales are available online at the Palm Springs International Film Festival website.

A World for Raúl

Having had the opportunity to preview a number of the GLBT-interest films included in this year's ShortFest, I highly recommend the following:

Alaska is a Drag (USA): Although it ends up feeling more like a teaser for a feature film than a fully-realized story, this tale of a new employee in an Alaska cannery who befriends his out, bullied co-worker is a gem. The two lead performances are excellent.

The Blue Dress (France/Spain): An Almodóvar-esque study of a lonely supermarket cashier in Madrid who pines for a son of her own. A chance stop in a local drag queen's clothing store leads to a surprising revelation and opportunity.

I'm Not Gay (USA): A hilarious music video in which a closeted rapper sings a bit too enthusiastically about his secret yearnings for his hot, seemingly straight friends. Cute actor Jesse Pepe, who also appears in the bisexual ShortFest entry Toeing the Line, is one to watch.

On Suffocation

On Suffocation (Sweden): Hard to watch but very powerful. Two gay lovers are sentenced to death by hanging in an unnamed, authoritarian state. There is no dialogue in this moving, 7-minute film by Jenifer Malmqvist. Have Kleenex handy.

The Pride of Palm Springs (USA): A home-grown documentary about the Palm Springs High School marching band's controversial fight to perform in the annual PS Pride parade. It overreaches a bit by incorporating references to DOMA, DADT and California's Prop 8 but the kids are absolutely inspiring.

The Swimming Trunks (France): Speaking of courageous kids, this short focuses on a precocious boy at a seaside campground with his family who becomes obsessed with the hunky father of a fellow camper. The title object becomes the boy's passport to sexual awakening.

A World for Raúl (Mexico/Switzerland): An intense depiction of both sexual and class distinctions in rural Mexico. Raul is the teenaged son of a poor farmer who makes a fateful visit to their landowner's estate, where the landowner's own son lies in wait. The experience ultimately proves empowering for Raul.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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