Return of in-person Shortsfest includes panels, talks and parties

The Aspen Shortsfest was among the first film festivals, here or anywhere globally, to pivot to virtual experiences in March 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic sent us all inside for its first grim phase of restrictions and social interruptions.

The virtual experience that first year and in 2021 were a salve for film fans and for the Shortsfest faithful, and even included some online social opportunities. But, of course, it wasn’t the same as seeing the fresh and original fare of Shortsfest on the big screen at the Wheeler Opera House where the festival has been since 1991. It couldn’t replicate the packs of emerging filmmakers in town moving from screening to screening, the buzz of Q&As with directors and actors and some established industry insiders.

This year, that’s all back.

“Certainly, the festival experience for young filmmakers is really key to how they develop and how they kind of find their way in the industry and in the world,” said Shortsfest director of programming Jason Anderson. “Having that back is a big deal.”

The 2022 festival includes three panel discussions with film industry professionals as well as 11 question-and-answer sessions with filmmakers (one after each screening). The festival is expected to host more than 60 in-person filmmaker guests. Most are emerging artists and excited to mix with fellow filmmakers, meet viewers and discuss movies – a rare experience in the past two-plus years as the pandemic has scuttled most major in-person film festivals.

Along with these talks, Shortsfest will host nightly Après-Screening drinks after the final film program, hosted at a different bar each night from April 5-9, with the public invited to join.

Here’s what to expect from the three main panels.

‘Our Jury’s Advice to Their Younger Selves’

Thursday, April 7, 2 p.m. | Pitkin County Library

Mimi Polk Gitlin (Courtesy Aspen Film)

This afternoon event includes part-time Aspenite Mimi Polk Glitlin, producer of the classic “Thelma and Louse” as well as the locally produced 2020 documentary “Freak Power: The Ballot or the Bomb,” with producer Michael Fukushima, whose most recent shorts include the Oscar-nominated “Affairs of the Art” and producer Valerie Steinberg, who has made several shorts in recent years including Aspen Shortsfest stand-outs “Hair Wolf” (2018) and “Coffee Shop Names” (2020) and who produced the upcoming Riley Keough-directed feature “Beast.”

All three are on the 2022 Shortsfest jury and will focus on practical tips about navigating the film industry.

“We just realized that this is a really cool opportunity for filmmakers to be able to talk to these people and get some advice,” said Aspen Film executive and artistic director Susan Wrubel.

‘A Conversation with Producer Bill Gerber’

Friday, April 8, 2 p.m. | Isis Theatre

Bill Gerber (Eric Charbonneau)

Gerberr, the former head of production at Warner Bros. and “Star is Born” producer, is an increasingly visible presence in Aspen. A frequent visitor since 1986, when Bruce Willis brought him out from Los Angeles for a ski trip, Gerber has been living in the West End full-time since October 2020 and earlier this winter gave a well-received talk at Colorado Mountain College.

“He’s such a great storyteller,” said Wrubel. “I think it’ll be super-inspirational for a lot of the filmmakers.”

At Warners, Gerber oversaw classics like Clint Eastwood’s Best Picture-winning “Unforgiven” and zeitgeisty dramas like Oliver Stone’s “JFK,” Michael Mann’s “Heat” and Curtis Hanson’s “L.A. Confidential.” From there, he went out on his own as a producer, making films like Eastwood’s “Gran Torino,” Antoine Fuqua’s Muhammad Ali documentary “What’s My Name?” and, in 2018, the acclaimed blockbuster remake “A Star is Born.”

“I find that people view the entertainment industry as if it’s ‘Game of Thrones’ and there’s a wall around it and there’s no way to get in,” Gerber said in a February interview. “I like to tell how I got in and I like to disabuse people of the belief that somehow they can’t do it.”

‘So You’ve Made A Short Film. Now What?’

Saturday, April 9, noon | Pitkin County Library

Opal H. Bennett (Courtesy Aspen Film)

What is a short film for? Is it an art-for-art’s-sake expression, a calling card for an emerging filmmaker, a proof of concept reel for a feature film idea, or something else? Three industry insiders will weigh in at this final panel, talking about shorts and their place in Hollywood and the wider international film film landscape.

Panelists include Opal H. Bennett, co-producer of the PBS documentary series “POV,” Sarah Lash, director of acquisitions for Condé Nast Entertainment and Casey Sutherland, a media finance agent at CAA.

“They will all kind of talk about different aspects of shorts, like, ‘Could you turn it into a series? Could you turn it into a feature?'” said Wrubel. “Or, how do you find funding for your next pitch?'”

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