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Virtual Aspen Shortsfest awards announced

Aspen Film announced the award winners for the 2020 Aspen Shortsfest on Monday, tapping an international slate of films for Oscar-qualifying prizes and additional honors.

The festival, in its 29th year, ran March 31 through April 5 in a virtual version online. The in-person festival, held annually at the Wheeler Opera House, was canceled due to public health restrictions during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The private online festival, hosted on the Paris-based Festival Scope platform, preserved the festival’s Oscar-qualifying status in five award categories.

This year’s list of Award winners includes nine films from nine different countries. The Audience Award went to documentarian Alison Klayman’s “Flower Punk,” about Japanese artist Azuma Makoto. Other award highlights include “A Youth,” a Shortsfest world premiere garnering the Best Documentary award, and “Bag,” a film by Colorado-born and New York-based artist and animator Robin Frohardt which was honored with both The Ellen Award, and a Jury Award Special Mention for Animation.

For the third year, Aspen Film presented the Vimeo Staff Pick Award, a prestigious honor from the creator-first platform and a live iteration of Vimeo’s Staff Picks laurel. The Award was given to “Bye Bye, Body” by filmmaker Charlotte Benbeniste which is now available on Vimeo.


Audience Award: “Flower Punk” (Japan), directed by Alison Klayman

Best Comedy: “Postcards From The End Of The World” (Greece), directed by Konstantinos Antonopoulos

“Deadpan humor propels this acidly romantic and wholly original story about a crumbling marriage amidst the end of civilization. Beyond the impending cataclysm, the film’s portrayal of the personal tragedy of lost love and the possibility of rekindling it deftly shows us that once our mundane burdens lose meaning, we can focus on what really matters,” reads the statement from Shortsfest’s competition jury, consisting of critic and journalist Carlos Aguilar; Canal+ acquisitions executive Pascale Faure; and producer Marie Therese Guirgis.

Special Mention for Comedy: “Marcy Learns Something New” (USA), directed by Julia Kennelly

“The film offers us a very unexpected vision of a middle-aged woman who finds her way through the practice of SM,” reads the jury statement. “A skillful script and original characters make this fictional tale a story for consenting adults.”

Best Drama: “Bablinga” (France), directed by Fabien Dao (Not screened in the virtual festival)

Special Mention for Drama: “I’ll End Up In Jail” (Canada), directed by Alexandre Dostie

“It’s rare to discover a truly original filmmaking voice and even rarer to have no idea what’s going to happen from one moment to the next while watching a film,” reads the jury statement. “A delight.”

Best Animation: “And Then The Bear” (France), directed by Agnes Patron (Not screened in the virtual festival)

Special Mention for Animation: “Bag” (USA), directed by Robin Frohardt

“The originality of the technique joins the theme of the film, an animation made with recycled materials that tells us the tragedy of a plastic bag,” reads the jury statement. “The result is a cinematic symbol of a new ecological consciousness.”

Best Documentary: “A Youth” (UK, Italy, Greece), directed by Giorgio Bosisio

“There have been a number of recent documentaries depicting the lives of refugees in Greece and other European countries,” reads the jury statement. “But ‘A Youth’ never ‘others’ nor pities its subjects. We care about them because they are, essentially, so much like us. We respect them because they are braver than we are.”

Special Mention for Documentary: “The Starr Sisters” (USA), directed by Bridey Elliott, Beth Einhorn

“This film captures an unforgettable moment alongside these incredible sisters,” reads the jury statement. “They tell us their stories of life – even the most intimate ones — and give us an inspiring lesson of freedom!”

Best Short Short: “Something To Remember” (Sweden), directed by Niki Lindroth von Bahr

“As melancholic as it is bewildering, this exquisitely achieved stop-motion creation finds profound humanity in its animal protagonists through an eerily soothing song,” reads the jury statement. “It’s a bittersweet, bite-size confection that blew us away.”

Special Mention for Short Short: Asmahan The Diva (France), directed by Chloe Mazlo

“We would have happily watched another hour of this lovely, clever, fascinating, and moving film,” reads the jury statement.

Best Student Short: “Heading South” (China, USA), directed by Yuan Yuan (Not screened in the virtual festival)

Special Mention: “No Crying At The Dinner Table” (Canada), directed by Carol Nguyen

“Formally intelligent and deeply emotionally affecting, this film gives viewers such a strong sense of each character in such a short time and we cared about all of them,” reads the jury statement.

The Ellen Award: “Bag” (USA), directed by Robin Frohardt

Youth Jury Award: “The Manchador” (Norway, Germany), directed by Kaveh Therani

 “The relevant themes of the male gaze and women’s autonomy pertain to not only our generation, but the whole world,” reads the citation from a jury consisting of local students Mac Lampe, Riley MacArthur, Haver Muss, Sebastian Pedinielli, Harper Rafelson, Richie Simeone and Tilly Swanson. “While the film focuses on Middle Eastern religious practices, we see the objectification of women in our society and generation today. We appreciate the implementation of comedy and satire around this serious topic. The role reversal, in limiting men’s freedom instead of women, opens the door to a conversation around this issue with a new and creative take. The director’s choices with movement among the actors, the emotional writing, and the powerful cinematography created a fully immersive and comprehensive experience.”

A total of $15,000 in cash prizes were awarded to the Shortsfest Competition and youth jury winners.

At home in Aspen: Nerd out on local history in the Aspen Historical Society online archives

The Wheeler/Stallard Museum has been closed since mid-March due to public health concerns about spreading the novel coronavirus, and the Aspen Historical Society’s program of tours and living history presentations are off the books for the foreseeable future.

But during stay-home orders around here, the Historical Society’s vast online resources are an entertaining and enlightening virtual rabbit hole to go down.

The nonprofit’s online archive includes nearly 30,000 historic images of Aspen and complete scanned issues of local newspapers from the founding of The Aspen Times in 1881 until 1963.

There are also free audio files of oral histories by people present at the creation of modern Aspen, including Elizabeth Paepcke.

Below are some highlights of the free, easy-to-navigate virtual collection. (If the local quarantine extends much beyond April 30, we may even find ourselves digging into the trove of Aspen High School yearbooks that go back to 1909, cemetery records and phone books dating to 1885 HERE).


I wandered around the voluminous Mary Eshbaugh Hayes archive, which includes nearly 7,000 images of her time chronicling the town for the aspen times from the 1950s through the 2010s (she died at 86 in 2015) .Here you’ll find glamorous 1960s ski shots of Sepp Uhl and Stuart Mace to contemporary party photos of folks you may know, from the Food & Wine Classic to World Cup races and the 50th anniversary of The Sundeck in 1997.

The archive also includes currated collections of historic Aspen photos by Dick and Margaret Durrance and Robert M. Chamberlain, along with some 28,000 in the main Aspen Historical Society database.

Click HERE to browse.


Digitized and easily searchable, the local newspapers from the silver mining heyday to the dawn of the ski bum era are here. With simple keyword searches, you can go back and read about the Wild West days, early explanatory journalism on skiing in the 1930s, the postwar moment when Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke first arrived in town and started talking about “the Aspen Idea,” read contemporaneous reports on the exploits of 10th Mountain Division soldiers, you can read new about the 1918 flu pandemic during the town’s “Quiet Years” era, you can skim oddball advertisements for snake oil elixirs from the 19th century and diverting tales of yore, from Doc Holliday’s obituary to Aspen’s cocaine fiends of the Theodore Roosevelt era.

Click HERE to browse.


This trove of recordings from historic Aspen figures is an entertaining introduction to modern Aspen history, and a source of wonderful tidbits for local buffs. I listened to 10th Mountain Division soldier and Aspen architect Fritz Benedict tell the wild story of how he first came to Aspen for a ski race in the winter of 1941-42, riding trains and hitch-hiking (with his skis in tow) from architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter school in Arizona.

“I broke both skis in practice but this town was so great to me those three or four days,” he recalls. “I was an imposter really. So I’ve been trying to get even with the town ever since [by] doing civic things.”

Click HERE to browse.


Theatre Aspen delays start to summer season due to COVID-19 crisis

Theatre Aspen is delaying and modifying the start to its 2020 summer season due to the coronavirus pandemic, staff is set to announce Monday.

The company’s 37th summer season now will begin July 6 with the Tony-nominated musical “Rock of Ages” (runs through Aug. 1), will move the Tony and Drama Desk award-winning musical “Chicago” to August (runs Aug. 6 through Aug. 22), and postpone Neil Simon’s comedy “The Sunshine Boys” to 2021.

Other summer schedule changes include postponing Theatre Aspen Education’s outdoor performance of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to 2021, and moving the Season Sneak Peek to June 28 at the Hurst Theatre.

According to Jed Bernstein, producing director, Theatre Aspen started looking at how the company’s summer season would be impacted by the COVID-19 crisis in early March when related closures started happening across the country.

“We started looking at all different scenarios about if and when this lasted this long or that long, whatever it might be, as we knew this was not going to be a 10-day event,” Bernstein said Sunday.

After discussion with Theatre Aspen’s board and executive committee members over the past few weeks, Bernstein said the decision was made to delay the season’s start and implement schedule changes.

When asked how Theatre Aspen decided on postponing “The Sunshine Boys” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” specifically, Bernstein said it was a matter of logistics. Both “Rock of the Ages” and “Chicago” have more in common with each other than with “The Sunshine Boys” in regards to overlapping performers and similar sets, making it more efficient to keep the two musicals and postpone the play, Bernstein said. Casting will be announced soon.

As for “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Theatre Aspen Education’s first-ever student Shakespeare performance, it was going to be rehearsed earliest and there just wasn’t room to put it later in the season unless two student shows ran at the same time, which Bernstein said wasn’t feasible and unfair to students who may want to be in more than one performance.

Other minor schedule alterations to the summer season include running “Rock of Ages” and “Chicago” in sequential order versus rotating repertory style. The season will also feature a new Freedom Flex Pass, giving ticket buyers the greatest options and flexibility for dates and shows with no added fees for changes, along with an expanded Summer Cabaret Series with six evenings of dinners and performances, according to a news release.

While Bernstein said Theatre Aspen is closely monitoring the evolving COVID-19 crisis and will continue to follow the guidance of health and government officials, he feels it is important for Aspen arts organizations to be there for locals and visitors after the pandemic.

“In American history going back at least 150 years to the Civil War, the arts in general and theater in particular was a place people flocked to during crisis and after crisis,” Bernstein said. “We are social animals and we crave shared experience, and I think it will be no different this time,” Bernstein continued.

“With the cancellation of Food & Wine and the (Aspen) Ideas Festival, there’s not only going to be a big economic hit to Aspen but I think an emotional one because those are two such iconic events we all enjoy,” he said.

“That puts extra responsibility on ourselves and the music festival and JAS to try to be as vibrant as we can this summer and to do what we can for people’s psyches as well as for the local economy. … It’s going to be a tricky road, but I think it’s a road we all feel is important to travel down if this community is going to bounce back as quickly as we hope and know it will.”

How the Aspen Music Festival after-school programs went virtual after coronavirus

School buses from two school districts had been scheduled, a stack of pizza ordered, and five months of singing rehearsals had been logged before the scheduled spring concert by the Maroon Bel Canto Choir at Harris Concert Hall. But on March 10, the night before the big annual performance for young Roaring Fork Valley singers, the event was called off due to public health concerns about spreading the novel coronavirus.

It quickly became clear that the choir and the array of the Aspen Music Festival and School’s local after-school education programs wouldn’t be able to safely continue their weekly one-on-one lessons and group sessions.

“We were all in a bit of a funk,” recalled Katie Hone Wiltgen, the Music Festival’s director of education and community programming. “It was a down time as we realized these classes were not going to happen for the next few weeks and — as we now know — long beyond.”

So Wiltgen and her team got to work and built from scratch a plan to continue virtual musical instruction with 34 teachers for the more than 200 local students enrolled in AfterWorks programs. They launched Monday.

Across a patchwork of Zoom, FaceTime, YouTube and Skype, it includes one-on-one lessons and ensemble practice for young people in Afterworks’ Beginning Strings, Lead Guitar and Maroon Bel Canto Choirs programs, keeping kids on track in their progress on violin, viola, cello, classical guitar and voice.

“As soon as we found out we weren’t going to be able to be in-classroom together, we needed to figure out what these communities wanted and needed in these uncertain times,” Wiltgen said of the beginning of the project.

It was evident that parents wanted to continue the programs virtually, for the sake of continuity in kids’ routine and keeping kids’ occupied during this stay-home period, and that teachers wanted to continue teaching.

Keeping the social engagement piece of the programs alive, they found, also was vital — keeping young people connected with the teachers who’ve been mentoring them throughout the school year and with their peers.

“What we know we do really well, on a year-round basis, in the AfterWorks program is getting to know these kids really well and knowing exactly what they need in their music education studies,” Wiltgen said. “So if that’s the piece that we could continue, that’s what we wanted to focus on.”

The initiative to move AfterWorks online came organically from Wiltgen, her team and the AfterWorks teachers, not from the Music Festival brass.

“I was surprised and delighted when I heard this was happening,” Music Festival president Alan Fletcher said. “This was not some direction given to teachers to figure out an online thing. It came intrinsically from them saying ‘What can we do?’”

Beginning Strings offers instruction in violin, viola and cello for children from second-grade up. Like the in-real-life version, the virtual one includes weekly one-on-one instruction through video chat apps, daily lesson plans for students to practice on their own, along with weekly studio classes split up in groups of no more than five students with a teacher.

“We’ve heard from some parents that they’re grateful their kid is busy and that they have a follow-up plan to practice,” Wiltgen said. “And also they’re thankful to be continuing something that’s normal for these students.”

For Lead Guitar, the Music Fest is putting together a “virtual showcase” to replace the physical one they’d planned for Harris Concert Hall this spring. Students will record themselves performing selected classical guitar pieces, and teachers will combine them for a virtual concert. The program also is launching group classes for beginning and advanced students, while Nick Lenyo, the regional director of the Lead Guitar program and music director at Basalt Middle School, is providing video instruction local students can use to practice with at their own pace.

Maroon Bel Canto has its own virtual showcase in the works and virtual rehearsals starting the week of April 6.

In those first days putting the program together, Wiltgen and her team looked for templates for this kind of virtual music instruction, but nothing fit and most of it was limited to one-sided video instruction or online curricula. They knew their students wanted and needed interaction and individual feedback.

“There was no model that we saw where we could harvest it and make it our own,” Wiltgen said.

But they also were mindful of the onslaught of online programming that’s been coming at parents in the stressful days since schools and public spaces began closing three weeks ago in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“There are an abundance of resources for parents online and those resources are awesome but it’s also overwhelming how many art opportunities there are,” she said. “What we heard off the bat is that they wanted distilled information.”

So they’ve aimed to keep it simple and to keep their students’ needs at the center of their mission.

“We are in this for them,” Wiltgen said. “And it’s exciting to be able to continue this through these scary times.”


Aspen Shortsfest 2020: ‘SNL’ alum Rachel Dratch in ‘Marcy Learns Something New’

Oscar-winning filmmaker Julia Kennelly and “Saturday Night Live” alum Rachel Dratch have made a sweet and surprisingly poignant short film about a schoolteacher-turned-dominatrix.

“Marcy Learns Something New,” starring Dratch as an emotionally flat-lining widow who finds some joy after a suburban BDSM workshop, is making its world premiere in Program Three of the virtual 2020 Aspen Shortsfest, screening online through April 5.

The 16-minute film offers some welcome laughs and features a brilliantly modulated comedic and empathetic turn from Dratch, which has the viewer rooting for Marcy as she wields a whip while quizzing her submissive partner on American history trivia.

“We wanted to cast someone who was known as a comedic performer, so they could nail those scenes and so it might be more approachable,” Kennelly, who wrote and directed the film, explained in a recent phone interview. “Working with Rachel was amazing.”

Kennelly first learned about the existence of BDSM workshops at a live storytelling event a few years ago, which piqued her interest as a filmmaker. She went to some of the classes and was surprised at what she found.

“People think of BDSM as a dark and scary thing,” she said. “But especially in a community setting, it’s lighthearted and fun. It’s like the environment of an improv class.”

The idea of someone like Marcy in the suburbs finding a wholesome joy as a dominatrix is based in the reality that Kennelly found in this subculture.

“It’s amazing seeing the kinds of people who are interested in it,” she said. “It takes a lot of bravery to go into a workshop and say, ‘Sure, I’ll try dominating someone in front of a group of people.’”

Kennelly most recently produced “The Neighbors’ Window,” which won the Oscar for Best Live Action Short in February. Producing an Academy Award-winning short obviously opened a lot of doors for Kennelly, though her career — like all of the film world — is largely paused amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“I had a great month-and-a-half where everybody was reaching out to me and saying, ‘Let’s talk about doing something,’ mostly feature projects, which are all now on hold,” she said. “But it’s great. They will come back to life.”

While Kennelly’s film projects, commercial shoots and work as a television line producer is halted amid the coronavirus shutdown of the film industry, she’s volunteering with a grocery delivery service for the at-risk and quarantined in New York.

“I’m managing our call center, so I’ve been very busy doing that,” she said. “And I may get some writing done, which seems like what everybody thinks they’re supposed to be doing now.”


Aspen Shortsfest 2020: ‘Flower Punk’ takes bouquets to space and the deep sea

While she was shooting her feature-length documentary about Steve Bannon, the Machiavellian nationalist and Trump campaign architect, filmmaker Alison Klayman was understandably drawn to another film project centered around the timeless beauty of flowers.

Thus her 29-minute “Flower Punk,” a transcendent profile of the Japanese flower artist Azuma Makoto, was made while Klayman was at work on her acclaimed Bannon documentary “The Brink.”

“It served as a counterpoint and, in some ways, a palate cleanser,” Klayman said in a recent phone interview. “It was very much an opportunity to step away from some very intense and disturbing, upsetting situations and think about the beauty of flowers, the meaning of life and death.”

So this gorgeous and transporting new film, which is screening in Program One of the virtual Aspen Shortsfest through April 5, is also ideal quarantine viewing to take a break from the latest bad news about the coronavirus pandemic.

“’Flower Punk’ is definitely one that can exist in a more inspiring, meditative state,” Klayman said.

Shortsfest director of programming Jason Anderson calls Klayman “one of the strongest emerging documentary-makers in the U.S.”

Before “The Brink,” she was best known for films about the art world, which include the 2012 feature “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” and the 2015 short “The 100 Years Show,” a profile of minimalist painter Carmen Herrera.

She first came across Azuma Makoto’s work with flowers in 2014, when she was living in Tokyo and her friend and cinematographer Mark Silver tipped her off on the his work.

Klayman met the artist, spent some time in his studio and knew she wanted to make a film about him.

Funding and time for the film came in 2018, when she was in the midst of shooting the Bannon documentary.

“Flower Punk” captures how Makoto creates impossible-seeming scenes with flowers in places we’ve never imagined them, tracks his unlikely journey from punk rocker to internationally renowned florist.

“I never thought it would be flowers,” Makota admits in the film.

It goes inside Makoto’s studio and flower shop with his ultra-hip floral artist team, into the tactile process of procuring, cutting and arranging the flowers and the high-level conceptual work of his fine art projects. We see time-lapses of his elaborate arrangements blooming and dying, follow a mounted camera on his “Back to Earth” project from 2017, which sent a flower arrangement into space and back, and we join his crew on his deep sea project, which took years of work and sent a bouquet of flowers to the bottom of the ocean with cameras and lights to document its surprisingly resilient experience among sea life.

And the film follows Makoto during his work in the radioactive areas of the 2011 Fukusihima earthquake and nuclear disaster, where he’s planted fields of sunflowers and used his work to mourn and resurrect life since the tragedy.

Klayman has not yet solidified distribution for “Flower Punk,” which made its world premiere at DOC NYC late last year is having its festival run trimmed by COVID-19 cancellations. But Klayman counts herself lucky in one way creatively, as her current documentary projects are mostly archive-based, so she’s able to stay home in Brooklyn and continue to work on them throughout the public health crisis.


What to watch from the couch

CATS (Musical fantasy, PG, 109 m., 2019). Despite the elaborate production design and the earnest efforts of Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen and the rest of the big-name talent — transformed into singing felines with creepy “digital fur technology” — this adaptation of the stage musical is a slick and tedious and weird-looking exercise in self-indulgence. Rating: One and a half stars.

DOLITTLE (Fantasy adventure, PG, 101 m., 2020). Robert Downey Jr.’s eyes seem to glaze over with boredom as he plays the widowed doctor who brings his animal friends on a seafaring quest to find a mysterious curative fruit. By the time the doc operates on a flatulent dragon, “Dolittle” has solidified its standing as a spectacularly terrible multivehicle pileup. Rating: One star.

LITTLE WOMEN (Drama, PG, 135 m., 2019). Through the prism of the blazingly talented writer-director Greta Gerwig, it’s as if we’re meeting the March sisters for the very first time, and we’re immediately swept away in a gorgeously filmed, wickedly funny, deeply moving and, yes, empowering story. This is one of my absolute favorite movies of 2019. Rating: Four stars.

THE CURRENT WAR (Biography, PG-13, 107 minutes). Here’s an overwrought yet curiously flat fictionalization of the late-19th-century battle between Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) over whether alternating current or direct current will light up the country. Rating: Two and a half stars.

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (Fantasy adventure, PG-13, 141 minutes). Action-filled and plot-packed, Episode IX of the space opera saga features a twist and turn and surprise around nearly every corner. It rarely comes close to touching greatness, but it’s a solid, visually dazzling and warm-hearted victory for the Force of quality filmmaking. Rating: Three stars.

1917 (War action, R, 119 m., 2019). With brilliant, claustrophobically effective directing choices by Sam Mendes and strong, raw performances from young leads Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay, this heart-stopping World War I drama is a unique viewing experience you won’t soon shake off. Rating: Four stars.

A HIDDEN LIFE (Historical drama, PG-13, 180 m., 2019). In 1940s Austria, a farmer is jailed for refusing to sign a loyalty oath to Hitler, as his wife and children suffer without him. This is a Terrence Malick film, so you can count on feeling dazzled by spectacular shots of heaven on Earth, and impatient at the sheer overpowering deliberateness of it all. Rating: Three stars.

RICHARD JEWELL (Historical drama, R, 130 m., 2019). The latest economically filmed, well-crafted gem from Clint Eastwood recalls the cop wannabe who was proven innocent after being named as the prime suspect in the 1996 Olympics bombing in Atlanta. Paul Walter Hauser delivers screen-commanding work as the title character. Rating: Three and a half stars.

Aspen Shortsfest 2020: Inside the making of the mind-blowing ‘Bag’

This is not how Robin Frohardt expected the past few weeks to go.

The Colorado-bred, New York-based artist, puppeteer and filmmaker was due to open a major years-in-the-works public art show in Times Square on March 18 and to toast the world premiere of her short film “Bag” here at Aspen Shortsfest this week.

Like most events in the U.S., the exhibition was canceled along with the film premiere at Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House.

But “Bag” is getting its audience and a digital world premiere. It is screening at the virtual 2020 Aspen Shortsfest through April 5.

This stunning eight-minute labor of love traces the lifespan of a plastic bag in a stop-motion creation where everything you see on the screen was made from cardboard and glue.

The titular single-use plastic bag goes from recycling bin to garbage truck, trash barge to dump, from seagull to sea, to melting glacier and eventually back to a city now submerged by rising oceans and into a barnacle-pocked underwater subway station.

While the message may be grim, the tactile form is a feast for the eyes with a dose of unexpected humor. Through her intricate cardboard handiwork and lo-fi effects, Frohardt creates some miracles. All of it is hand-made art and puppetry, without a second of animation or digital effects, from the garbage truck rolling down the street to the crashing waves, a bear’s claw reaching across the screen and a close-up of a whale’s eye opening and closing.

“The eyeball is as big as a human head,” Frohardt explained of the sculpture she made to get that shot, for which she also sculpted two eyelids and moved them from off-screen with string.

Everything that’s moving on the screen Frohardt is moving physically from off-screen. The uncanny underwater effect is from a physical camera lens.

Frohardt made “Bag” without a crew — making, shooting and editing it herself.

“Occasionally I would drag someone in when I needed an extra pair of hands,” she said.

“Bag” is Frohardt’s second cardboard stop-motion film, following 2013’s “Fitzcardboardaldo,” an all-cardboard homage to Werner Herzog’s epic “Fitzcarraldo.”

“The idea came from taking one of the hardest movies to make and making it all out of cardboard,” Frohardt explained. “I really enjoyed the process.”

The new film is part of a larger and ongoing project about the forever life of plastic bags.

There’s no dialogue in “Bag,” but the mind-blowing visuals are carried along by composer Freddie Price’s original score. It can at once communicate the passage of centuries and the tension of a moment, with a dose of the whimsy to accompany the sometimes playfully rough-hewn cardboard scenery.

“I can just hand him an idea and he just nails it every time,” Frohardt said of Price. “I feel really lucky to work with him.”

Frohardt — who spent her childhood just over Independence Pass in Leadville, later living in Canon City and attending high school in Colorado Springs — made “Bag” without a script or storyboard. Knowing she wanted to tell the long life story of a plastic bag, she moved sequentially, and over the course of more than two years, created each intricate scene beginning with the New York City trashcan. She’d shoot each scene, edit it, and then figure out where the bag would go next and add a bit.

“Sometimes it’ll take a couple weeks to build something for one shot,” she said. “I definitely don’t get any faster, I just get into the details more and more.”

In between, Frohardt was working on a much bigger project: “The Plastic Bag Store,” an immersive puppetry showing which everything — thousands of items from toiletries to sushi rolls — is made of single-use plastic bags. It had been scheduled to open in Times Square, as part of the Times Square Arts program, on March 18. The exhibition has been postponed indefinitely due to the public health restrictions on crowds due to the coronavirus pandemic.

She also has a narrative play about a person from the future discovering a plastic bag and wildly misinterpreting its significance to the people of the 21st century.

“In that work and this film, I want people to understand the context of some of the things that we use and the disposability of thing and how there is no ‘away,’” Frohardt daid. “The red plastic straw that you stirred your coffee with in 2003 is still somewhere right now, it doesn’t go anywhere.”

Narrative art, theater and film, Frohardt believes, have a unique ability to effectively make the case for more sustainable lifestyles.

“I want to find visually engaging ways to talk about these kinds of environmental issues that can feel overwhelming and depressing,” she explained. “An image of sea life choking on plastic bags can be really distressing — you want to look away and swipe past if it comes up in your feed. But If you come up with something visually rich and engaging, it might sink in more.”

Canceling the opening of her big Times Square exhibition was “heartbreaking,” Frohardt said. But she is proud to share “Bag” through the virtual Shortsfest. Frohardt is riding out the COVID-19 quarantine period in upstate New York with the tools of her trade.

“I brought my camera and a bunch of cardboard and hot glue,” she said. “So I think maybe I’ll start a new one.”


Food Matters: Best food shows streaming right now

When food first comes to the main character in the austere, abstract film “The Platform” — No. 5 on the Netflix Top Ten as of this writing — his appetite is MIA. And that might be partly the point of this Spanish riddle in which prisoners wait, Godot-style, in a cold, vertical prison for a picked-over smorgasbord to arrive from the floors above.

“It’s a miracle no one touched the snails,” our protagonist wonders aloud to his cellmate later, hungry at last. Eerie violin music punctuated by harsh metallic sounds sets the score.

While “The Platform” isn’t exactly what I envisioned while researching “new food movies,” it certainly intrigues the eye and twists the mind with strange feast montages and a heavy social message. Since we’re all sheltering in place during the coronavirus crisis until at least mid-April, what better time to snack upon streaming food media both freakish and fanciful?

Here are a few more — and far more pleasant, and educational — picks:

“Ugly Delicious” + “Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner”

Both hosted by David Chang, who brought us Momofuku, Lucky Peach magazine (RIP), and the first season of “The Mind of a Chef” in 2012, these shows feature his signature snappy style. While “Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner” (2019) is a cool escape, in which our intrepid guide samples food around the globe with celeb friends in tow, “Ugly Delicious” (2018, 2020) delves into the slightly more serious sociocultural aspects of specific foods. Ever curious, Chang intersperses field trips and expert interviews with mealtime discussions over beloved foods like barbecue, pizza, curry, and tacos. The first series, at just four parts, is easily inhaled. For the latter, begin with Season One Episode 7, “Fried Rice,” a comprehensive yet concise history on Chinese food in America. Netflix.com

“Sam the Cooking Guy”

Super accessible for a dude who boasts 1.62 million YouTube subscribers, “Sam the Cooking Guy” is a one-stop shop for folks who might be a bit freaked out about the prospect of feeding oneself all day, everyday, at home. Find concise how-to videos, including plenty that recreate fast-food favorites, and Q&A sessions that solve universal home-cooking quandaries. His latest videos focus on comfort food, as evidenced by the five-part (and counting) “Quarantine (Lockdown) Munchies.” YouTube.com

“The Chef Show”

Lively banter. Chef-personality guest stars. Stop-motion animation sequences that literally deconstruct each dish prepared. That’s the delicious comibation in this two-season Netflix docuseries by actor-director Jon Favreau and chef buddy Roy Choi, founder of L.A.-based Kogi empire and a Food & Wine Best New Chef. Together the duo sets out to make connections, cook food, and have fun—a combo the pair commenced while working on “Chef,” the 2014 feature film in which Favreau starred and directed and Choi advised. Netflix.com

“Gourmet Makes”

Watch this video on The Scene.

Junk food fans who appreciate a DIY ethos will devour these bite-size videos filmed in the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen by food editor Claire Saffitz. Each childhood favorite is broken down step-by-step, and made with whole ingredients instead of unpronounceable fillers and preservatives. Pick your fix—Twix, Doritos, Twinkies, Gushers, Cheetos, Kit Kats, Skittles, Oreos, Twizzlers, Pringles, Cheez-Its, Girl Scout Cookies—and fall blissfully down a fudge-lined rabbit hole without the sugar crash. Bonappetit.com/video

“Explained: Why Diets Fail” (Season One) and “The Future of Meat” (Season Two)

This Netflix original series lives up to its name, showing viewers the whys and hows of topics most prevalent in modern society. While every 20-minute installment succeeds in debunking misconceptions and illustrating facts clearly, these two (of 30 total) are dedicated to eating. Bonus: “The Next Pandemic,” narrated by Bill Gates and released in November before coronavirus hit mainstream consciousness, is a must-watch PSA. Netflix.com

“Neat: The Story of Bourbon”

America’s only indigenous spirit enjoys a smooth-sipping documentary (2018) chronicling the history, people, and process of a wholly patriotic product. Undiluted, aged corn whiskey wasn’t always elegant, either. As the intro promises, “This is the story of grains, water, and wood. Of immigrants, farmers, businessmen, and criminals. Cold winters and hot summers. It’s the story of time.” Savor it. Hulu.com

“Restaurants on the Edge”

A fluffy combination of Kitchen Nightmares (sans brutal Gordon Ramsey badgering) and HGTV home makeover, this new Netflix reality transformation series visits the most frustrating of eateries: Those with a killer view paired with lackluster food and ambiance. En route to reviving these restaurants in peril and reigniting lost passion among owners, the chef-designer-restaurateur host trio unveil a universal recipe for success: authentic cultural tribute, comforting design, and local flavor, and offer nuts-and-bolts tips on how to, say, keep food costs down and drum up press. Admittedly, the genre can veer into cheeseball territory, but chapters here always wrap with a satisfying feel-good reveal. Netflix.com

“The Game Changers”

Fans of staying fit and athletes looking to gain a competitive edge will do well to watch this 2018 award-winning documentary produced by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, and James Cameron, showcasing a tidy history of how veganism has risen to the top of the sporting food chain. Narrated by a former professional mixed martial artist and champion fighter who shares his personal journey, the film presents a mountain of evidence in support of a plant-based lifestyle. Netflix.com

“Top Chef”

Bravo’s long-running reality cooking competition is an oldie but goodie, in case you still haven’t explored it. All sixteen seasons (2006-2019) of the James Beard Award-winning “Top Chef” franchise are available on Hulu (free, during a 30-day trial). If you already miss the canceled 2020 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, head straight to Season 15, Episode 13, “A Little Place Called Aspen,” filmed outdoors on a bluebird June afternoon at T-Lazy-7 Ranch during the 2018 Classic. I’m there in the background! Hulu.com

“The Food That Built America”

Those who enjoy educational origin stories via easily digestible visuals will dig The History Channel’s “The Food that Built America,” available soon on Hulu (free with trial) or for purchase on Amazon Prime Video. Similar to the fascinating 2014 miniseries “The Men Who Built America,” this three-episode follow-up focuses on the innovations of food industry magnates boasting recognizable last names including Heinz, Hershey, Post, Kellogg, McDonald — “those who used brains, muscle, blood, sweat and tears to get to America’s heart through its stomach.” Rivalries — and delicious drama — ensue. The History Channel, Hulu.com, Amazon Prime

At home in Aspen: Steve Zahn pitches for 2020 Aspen Shortsfest

Actor Steve Zahn made a pitch for the 2020 Aspen Shortsfest with a short video this week, outlining how to purchase access codes for the annual short film festival (while poking some fun at his ridiculous quarantine hairdo). Shortsfest moved online after the in-person festival at the Wheeler Opera House was canceled due to public health restrictions imposed to stop the spread of the novel caronavirus.

“Figure it out,” Zahn says in the video, “Check out a bunch of great films. I am. I mean, what the hell else are you gonna do.”

Zahn, a star of “Reality Bites” and “Treme,” plays a fireworks photographer in the silly and sweet “I’m No Holiday,” which is included in Program One of the virtual Shortsfest. The virtual festival runs through Sunday.

Aspen Shortsfest digital access codes can be purchased at aspenshowtix.com and 970-920-5770.

Individual programs are $10 ($7.50 for Aspen Film members) each, or the full nine-program festival pass for $75. There will also be a limited number of student tickets available at $5 per program or $45 for the full festival, with a special code available to schools.

Viewers will receive a unique link via email to each program purchased for a one-time viewing on the Festival Scope platform.

Viewing will be open until 11:59 p.m. on April 5.

Each festival program is limited to 500 tickets. Full lineup, more info and Aspen Film memberships available at aspenfilm.org.