International flavor dominates Shortsfest |

International flavor dominates Shortsfest

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times
Mr. Hublot, filmmaker Laurent Witz, France/Luxembourg. Mr. Hublot won the 2014 Academy Award for "Best Animated Short Film".
Courtesy of Aspen Film |

If you go...

General admission: $15

Students: $10

Family Fun Program: $7

Aspen Film REEL People Members: $12

Screenwriting Panel: $10

Advance tickets for all shows can be purchased at the Weeler Opera House box office in Aspen. Advance tickets for the Carbondale shows only can be purchased at The Blend Coffee Company in Carbondale.

For any filmmaker, premiering their work to the public for the first time is the epitome of personal exposure. The thrill of a stranger reacting to their art for the first time is a defining moment and can legitimize so much work and passion that went into the making of their film.

This year, Aspen Film’s 23rd annual Aspen Shortsfest will showcase 70 short films, with 11 making their world premiere, five making their international premiere, four making their North American premiere and four making their U.S. premiere.

That translates into nearly one-third of the films being shown this year making a premiere of some sort here in Aspen.

“I like having that sense of complete discovery when you see a film and have no idea what you’re going to experience,” said George Eldred, Aspen Film’s program director. “You have no idea how it’s going to tell its story or how it’s going to use the art form. That discovery is fun and moves us in many different ways.”

Laura Thielen, the artistic director of Aspen Film, compared attending Shortsfest to a series of mysterious, short experiences that can transport an individual someplace surprising and exciting and then bring them back to prepare for the next short experience.

“There is something really special about the short form where you can be transported into a world and then come right back out,” she said. “Every session we program is an opportunity for us to take people on a journey.”

Aspen Shortsfest 2014 opens Tuesday and runs through April 13. This year, the festival features 70 films and 18 programs set to show at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen and the Crystal Theatre in Carbondale. Workshops are scheduled in Aspen at the Red Onion restaurant and Limelight Hotel.

The excitement that both Thielen and Eldred carry for the festival is contagious. Both have a strong sense of what to expect when audiences see the programs they’ve put together, and both obviously can’t wait to experience the audience reaction to the 2014 lineups.

“Aspen’s enthusiasm for the work that they’ll see is consistent,” Thielen said. “That honoring of young artists, which is a tradition of Aspen, is something that is super-important to us. Here, the emerging voices in film can see for themselves how much their films touch someone.”

Shortsfest is an international showcase, with entrants coming from more than 90 countries. There’s been a conscious decision by Thielen and Eldred to include a global feel to the film selections, with all seven continents represented in this year’s program.

For example, “Mr. Hublot” is a French animated short about a reclusive, obsessive man who makes a difficult choice to aid a helpless creature. “Lambing Season” is set in Ireland and tells a tale about a woman reaching out to meet her birth father and the complexities involved in forming a new relationship. “Samnang” is a story about a Cambodian widower set in his ways after his wife died and a woman who manages to work her way into his life. “Maasai” is a compelling drama that comes from a Greek director who focuses on the tension between two brothers as they await word on their mother, who is in surgery.

“Mr. Hublot” (7 p.m. Tuesday and 2 p.m. April 13 in Aspen, 5 p.m. in Carbondale) is sure to be a popular selection, as it won the 2014 Academy Award for Best Short Film — Animated. It’s a moving tale of compassion and caring that evolves from an unlikely source. Even as a new relationship faces what appears to be an insurmountable challenge, Mr. Hublot finds a way to make things work.

“Mr. Hublot is one of the most remarkable shorts of the year,” Eldred said. “It’s touching and surprising as the obstacles faced are resolved.”

“Lambing Season” (5:30 p.m. Wednesday in Aspen and 5 p.m. April 13 in Carbondale) is a student film that presents several layers of obstacles as a woman attempts to connect with her birth father. Despite efforts to keep his true identity a secret from his daughter, the father ends up sharing a touching moment with her at the height of the lambing season.

“Samnang” (5:30 p.m. Thursday in Aspen) uses subtitles, as the story is based in a doughnut shop in the Cambodian district of Long Beach, Calif. Samnang has a routine he developed after his wife died and doesn’t waver from it until he’s forced to deal with a situation that could be a threat to his job. The director allows the audience to watch the transformation of Samnang as he sees the threat actually become a new opportunity to move his life forward.

“Maasai” (7 p.m. Tuesday in Aspen) may be one of the more intriguing films at Shortsfest this season. Director Harry Lagoussis uses a static scene between two brothers who have very different ways to cope with the unknown condition of their mother, who is in surgery as the film takes place. The younger brother’s girlfriend is also involved and learns several clues as to why both of the men have such opposite reactions to the potential tragedy at hand. Lagoussis ends the film with a scene that’s sure to have audience members talking afterward.

“‘Maasai’ is completely smart in its direction,” Thielen said. “The acting is so fine that you really zero in on these characters. We don’t see a lot of production out of Greece, and it seemed like such a universal story that people can relate to and scratch their heads together afterwards.”

Lagoussis said the film’s ending is meant to mean different things to different people, which in many ways is what “Maasai” is all about.

“We all have different perspectives, and sometimes, instead of seeing what’s in front of us, we see what we want or need to see,” he said. “I don’t like explaining things away; I feel it’s more important for a scene or a shot to work on an emotional level rather than an analytical one.”

Delivering a wide variety of animation, drama, documentary and comedy is critical to Thielen and Eldred, as Shortsfest has the most diverse audience of any event Aspen Film presents. There’s a strong effort this year to bring the festival to younger audiences, as Aspen Film will take some of the visiting filmmakers to several local schools between Aspen and Rifle.

There’s also a group of students from Austin, Texas, coming to the festival as well as students from the Denver School of the Arts.

“It seems like the shorts have a special appeal to our younger audiences,” Thielen said. “They seem to be very adept at being able to shift with whatever comes up on the screen.”

There is a thriving worldwide set of venues for short films, and Aspen ranks high on the list. When Eldred visited the Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival in France last month and filmmakers learned he was from Aspen, Eldred was barraged with requests to screen movies for Shortsfest.

“It’s a great honor to have ‘Maasai’ premiere at Aspen Shortsfest,” Lagoussis said. “It’s no secret that the festival is considered one of the best short-film festivals in the world, with very high standards. The mere fact that our film has been selected among so many to screen is a reward for all the hard work everyone put into making this film. We’re all excited about this, and I personally am looking forward to a week full of watching films, talking films and thinking films when I get there.”