Aspen Times Weekly: Ones to Watch at Shortsfest 2017

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If You Go …

What: Aspen Shortsfest

Where: Wheeler Opera House & Paepcke Auditorium, Aspen; Crystal Theatre, Carbondale

When: April 4-9

How much: $20 per program; $15 for Aspen Film members

Tickets: Wheeler Opera House box office;

More info: Aspen Film will host receptions, après-screening cocktail hours, and panel discussions around Aspen throughout the festival. The Shortsfest Awards Dinner will be held on Sunday, April 9 at 6:30 p.m. at The Aspen Kitchen;

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the March 30 edition of the Aspen Times Weekly, on newsstands now.

The world is coming to the mountains on the big screen in 64 films from 31 countries at Aspen Shortsfest, now in its 26th year.

As cinephiles have come to expect, the festival — running April 4 to 9 in Aspen and Carbondale — includes a diverse constellation of stories and styles, from drama and comedy to kid-friendly animation and otherworldly experimental films and revelatory documentaries. These movies, all less than 40 minutes, are the best that the short form has to offer.

“There’s something freeing about having these restrictions placed on you with the format, because you really can just get to the story,” says Shortsfest director of programming Kathleen McInnis. “The filmmakers in the short form can embrace the restrictions as an advantage and use that to tell the story.”

“There’s something freeing about having these restrictions placed on you with the format, because you really can just get to the story.” –Kathleen McInnis, Shortsfest

The legion of Shortsfest alumni who’ve sprung from here to the heights of Hollywood include this year’s Oscar winner for best director Damien Chazelle and leading auteurs like Jason Reitman, Jean-Marc Vallee and Sarah Polley.

The emerging filmmakers whose films have been selected from the 4,000 submissions for Shortsfest 2017 are the next generation of great cinematic storytellers. Bringing those artists and their work together with industry leaders and audiences in Aspen, McInnis said, is the Shortsfest mission.

“There are three parts of the puzzle that are equally important: the artist, in this case the filmmaker; the industry, because that’s the vehicle by which the art gets to the world; and the audience,” McInnis says. “All three of those are equally important and valuable.”

These are some of the standout films to watch for at the festival. The Aspen Times will have daily coverage of additional films and filmmakers throughout Shortsfest:


Tuesday, April 4, 8:15 p.m. Paepcke Auditorium

Sunday, April 9, 1 p.m. Wheeler Opera House; 7:30 p.m. Crystal Theatre

The latest animated delight from Pixar gives us a toy-stealing bully, a lost-and-found box and a crowd-pleasing seven minutes.

After its premiere at SXSW in March, the film earned raves and even some very, very early Oscar buzz (Vanity Fair’s “Little Gold Men” podcast singled it out as an early pick for next year’s Animated Short prize). “Lou” will be released in theaters in June, playing before “Cars 3” around the world.


Wednesday, April 5, 5:30 p.m. Wheeler Opera House

Saturday, April 8, 5 p.m. Crystal Theatre

An elegiac portrait of the rodeo riding tradition, “After the Smoke” is set in Australia but may as well be about Colorado or Texas.

It’s shot in a lush black-and-white that captures the bucking broncos, the crowds and carnival atmosphere of the rodeo, along with the rural decay and the paramedics carrying stretchers. Its meditative narrator talks about riding with an aching regret over the deadly risks and rich culture of the sport.

The nine-minute film is getting its North American premiere in Aspen.


Wednesday, April 5, 8:30 p.m. Wheeler Opera House

Saturday, April 8, 7:30 p.m. Crystal Theatre

This smart and sweet love letter to music nerd-dom follows a pair of young stoners as they talk about the art of making a “mixtape” CD.

“I can’t say things with words,” one of the boys confesses as he attempts to make the perfect mixtape for a girl he likes. “All I can do is outsource my feelings with pop music and Swans songs.”

Anybody who has ever made a tape or CD or playlist for somebody they care about will fall for this film, which runs 17 minutes and includes a killer six-song soundtrack. It’s making its world premiere at Shortsfest.


Thursday, April 6, 5:30 p.m. Wheeler Opera House

Everybody reads Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener” in high school. And just about everybody who goes on to work in an office is haunted by it later. Co-directors Laura Naylor and Kristen Kee have re-imagined the classic short story for the 21st century in an inspired stop-motion animation adaptation.

Here, Bartleby, the office drone who “prefers not to,” stages his resistance amid a world of street protests, smartphones and dating apps on contemporary Wall Street. Thursday night’s screening is its world premiere.


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

A bittersweet triptych of bad romance, this brilliantly written Norwegian short follows a hip young couple — he’s a musician, she’s an actress — over the course of three New Year’s Eves.

Annually as the fireworks go off and the Champagne pops, they break up and make up and break up again. They grow and they regress, they fight and they fall in — but never quite out of — love over the course of 23 roller-coaster minutes.


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

A weird, wise and hilarious high-concept comedy that, in its 29 minutes, touches on birth, death, parenthood, sibling rivalry and love, “All Exchanges Final” also boasts a gem of a cameo from Thomas Lennon (Lt. Dangle from “Reno 911!”).

Dom (played by Ava Cash of “You’re the Worst”) goes to visit her comatose sister in the hospital, with her newborn in tow, only to discover the strange bureaucracy of the Office of Soul Exchange, which might be able to bring her sister back. This odd and poignant short is having its world premiere at Shortsfest.


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

Both of these gripping films take place in worlds almost entirely without adults, ruled by the often-skewed logic and harsh social terms of childhood. “Schoolyard Blues,” from Sweden, follows a boy on his first day of school, before which his outcast older brother attempts to toughen him up and prepare him for the schoolyard. In “Into the Blue,” a Croatian-Slovenian-Swedish production, a 13-year-old girl is caught in a tense power struggle among friends as they hang out on seaside cliffs at Lokrum on a hot, seemingly harmless summer afternoon.


Saturday, April 8, 2:30 p.m. Wheeler Opera House

Sunday, April 9, 5 p.m. Crystal Theatre

The latest of several short documentaries to offer deep insight into the Syrian civil war and refugee crisis, following stand-outs like “The White Helmets,” “4.1 Miles” and “Watani: My Homeland.” The 28-minute “Eyes of Exodus” focuses its sensitive lens on the idyllic Greek island Kastellorizo as hundreds of Syrians arrive daily, fleeing the war. The film offers a moving portrait of the refugees, along with the stark contrast between those who welcome them and those who shun them.

‘(le) REBOUND’

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

Astoundingly clever and refreshingly bold, “(le) Rebound” is 19 minutes of cinematic genius. It gives us Claudia, a heartbroken American woman on the rebound. She meets a hipster boy, Milos, in a bookstore and heads to France with him for a hedonistic stay at an artists’ retreat. With an arch narrator guiding us along the way, Claudia falls into an X-rated comedy of errors with a French lothario, his wild photographer consort and the ever-disappointing Milos. Saturday is the film’s world premiere.


Sunday, April 9, 1 p.m. Wheeler Opera House

When little girl Ingeborg enters a fishing contest in her seaside town, her catch doesn’t win the trophy for being the biggest or the smallest. But, it is the “middlest,” which makes Ingeborg and her fish international media sensations in this charming and whimsical animated short from Norway. “The World’s Middlest Fish” is one of six films in Sunday afternoon’s family-friendly program.

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