Aspen Times Weekly: Shortsfest appeals to the kid (in all of us) |

Aspen Times Weekly: Shortsfest appeals to the kid (in all of us)

by Michael McLaughlin
Fusion TIFF File

If there’s one thing the folks at Aspen Film accomplish year after year with the Aspen Shortsfest, it’s that they certainly know how to pick a wide assortment of subject matter to offer audiences.

Variety comes naturally when choosing 70 films from more than 3,000 selections. Because the festival offers such a broad range of topics, a program of shorts was put together for viewers looking for films the entire family can enjoy.

The festival offers a “Family Fun” program (5 p.m. Saturday in Carbondale and 2 p.m. Sunday in Aspen) where the themes of the films offered are lighter and hold appeal to both adults and children.

Laura Thielen, artistic director of Aspen Film, sees the Family Fun program as a great way to introduce younger viewers to films from different countries.

“Kids have elastic minds,” she said. “They also have lots of imagination. This is a great venue for kids of all ages to see situations that maybe they can relate to and will make them think differently about what they experience.”

The family program includes seven animated shorts and two documentaries. The nine films come from seven different countries with a wide range of subject matter.

For example, “Flor de Toloache,” directed by New York-based filmmaker Jenny Schweitzer, is a documentary about a group of women who formed a mariachi band called Flor de Toloache, despite mariachi musicians traditionally being men. Mariachi music is described by one member of Flor de Toloache as, “gypsy, Mexican music passed on from generation to generation.”

The film opens with several of the ladies preparing their outfits and makeup as the viewer watches the subtle transformation into the black and white mariachi costumes. When the music begins, there’s no doubt these women can perform.

They expertly play traditional mariachi instruments like violins, trumpets, guitar, guitarron (which is like a large bass guitar), and vihuela (which is a smaller guitar). The music in the film is crisp, lively and tight. As the director pans around the performance, you can see the different reactions from the New York crowd that range from curiosity to delight to skepticism.

“We’re making a statement,” one of the women says as the group goes beyond breaking the macho stereotypes of mariachi bands and literally introduces a new variation on a traditional art form.

“Flor de Toloache” is making its world premiere in Aspen.

“The Gallant Captain” comes from Australia and is co-directed by Graeme Base and Katrina Mathers. The film centers on a boy whose father was lost at sea. The boy obviously misses his father and decides to go on a sailing adventure of his own, albeit mostly through his vivid imagination. With his cat by his side, the two sailors embark to find treasure, only to encounter a massive pirate ship that the boy somehow has to fight or risk the consequences.

In the end, the boy prevails, but then discovers the real boat he’s in has sprung a leak and is sinking. Like a true captain, he saves his crew and prepares to go down with his ship, much like he believes his father would have.

The story is heartwarming as there’s an obvious connection between the boy and the cat that seems to fill a void left by his missing father. The film ends on a touching, symbolic note that includes a ship in a bottle that the boy’s father gave him. The animation is crisp and colorful with a majestic soundtrack likely to make audience members feel like they’re sailing the high seas.

“The Gallant Captain” was named Best Animated Short Film at the 2014 Omaha International Film Festival.

“Mia” is a delightful animated short directed by Wouter Bongaerts and produced in both Belgium and the Netherlands.

Seven-year-old Mia creates a picture of happier times for her overworked mother, a picture that, even for a quick moment, lifts her mother out of the monotony of the overcrowded metropolis she works in. To Mia, the picture is an important savior capable of making her mother happy.

When the picture is lost temporarily, Mia chases and finds it. The picture then transforms the world Mia knows into two distinct areas: one is the awful two-dimensional metropolis that her mother is stuck in, the other is a three-dimensional world of life, color and beauty, the world Mia wants to be in with her mother.

With the help of a four-legged friend, Mia and her picture are reunited with her mother. The ending will surely leave many audience members smiling with admiration from the determination displayed by Mia.

“Rare Bird” is a French animated short directed by Leslie Pandelakis about Augustin, a man stuck in the doldrums of his solitary life. Fate leads him to a feathered companion that changes his outlook on life.

The soundtrack in “Rare Bird” takes the place of dialogue. In the beginning, the music repeats the same two verses, representing the monotony of Augustin’s day-to-day existence. When the rare bird is introduced, the music changes to an uplifting tune that matches Augustin’s new outlook.

Man and bird bond in friendship, but nature calls Augustin’s friend away.

The moods created by the director are enchanting and the ending is uplifting as Augustin realizes the outcome worked out best for everyone.

“Rare Bird” makes its U.S. premiere at the Shortsfest.

“The Family Fun program is wonderful for kids,” Thielen said. “It’s great to bring in the tradition of the matinee, which has always been part of the movie-going experience. We have a wonderful lineup that has a lot of different appeal with a real international flavor.”

The universal appeal of ‘Mr. Hublot’

With 70 films making up the 2014 Aspen Shortsfest, picking one short as an audience favorite can be challenging — especially considering how each movie is subject to different personal interpretations.

One film has already been singled out as the best animated short in the past year by a fairly reliable source, if you happen to agree with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the group of nearly 6,000 voting members that chose the Academy Awards winners.

“Mr. Hublot” (7 p.m. Tuesday and 2 p.m. Sunday in Aspen; 5 p.m. Saturday in Carbondale) is a 12-minute animated short film by Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares, using character models based from the Belgian sculpture Stephane Halleux. “Mr. Hublot” won the 2014 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

The film was submitted to Shortsfest several months before it was nominated by the academy and it didn’t take winning an Academy Award to convince Aspen Film artistic director Laura Thielen and program director George Eldred that the film was special.

“Some of the films we’re showing this year are a year or so old,” Eldred said. “Some are brand new. ‘Mr. Hublot’ is one of the most remarkable shorts of the year and it was submitted to us last fall.”

“Mr. Hublot” appeals to viewers on many levels. The animation detail and coloring is captivating. The subtle soundtrack of music and sound effects fills in a running dialogue without the use of speech.

The directors use facial expressions and physicality in place of sentences. They tell a story of an obsessive recluse who makes a choice to connect with the outside world in order to accomplish a selfless deed and rescue a helpless creature.

As the film nears its ending, the directors lead the audience to believe Mr. Hublot can only go so far with his new relationship with this creature, but what looks like an insurmountable conflict ends up becoming another sign that Hublot is able to adjust beyond his lonely, compulsive behavior.

“‘Mr. Hublot’ has a universal appeal,” Thielen said. “It’s wordless, yet delivers so much emotion. There’s a kind of courage in mining that emotional landscape that’s one of the things that’s really refreshing about shorts. ‘Mr. Hublot’ is wonderful on so many levels.”

“‘Mr. Hublot’ is an animated short that has a real human element,” Eldred said. “It has pretty much everything we look for in all the movies we chose for the festival. It touches our hearts and our minds in ways we may not have expected.”

Aspen Times Weekly

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