Aspen Shortsfest to host Oscar-qualifying film festival online |

Aspen Shortsfest to host Oscar-qualifying film festival online

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times


Access codes can be purchased starting Tuesday, March 24. Individual programs are $10 ($7.50 for Aspen Film members) each, or the full festival pass can be purchased at or calling 970-920-5770. 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.

Each festival program is limited to 500 tickets. More info and Aspen Film memberships available at

The annual Aspen Shortsfest will go on as scheduled, but is moving from the Wheeler Opera House to online because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The festival is expected to make an announcement on Monday. Tickets will go on sale Tuesday through

An Oscar-qualifying short film festival produced by Aspen Film, it will take place March 31 through April 5 through the Paris-based online platform Festival Scope.

Shortsfest, now in its 29th year, had been scheduled to run on those dates at the Wheeler. Tickets for the festival at the Wheeler went on-sale March 12. It was canceled that evening as restrictions on public gatherings tightened due to the coronavirus pandemic. But upon announcing the cancellation, Aspen Film executive director Susan Wrubel said she and her team were already working on a virtual version.

“We knew we wanted to do it, but we weren’t sure we could do it,” Wrubel said Friday.

As festivals worldwide canceled in recent days — including, most recently and prominently, the Cannes Film Festival — presenters have sought ways to host virtually. Wrubel said Aspen Film sought to find a platform, like Festival Scope, that might provide tools for at-home festivals that could preserve festivals’ Oscar-qualifying status while theaters are closed.

The online Aspen Shortsfest will include most of the originally announced lineup of 71 films, with selections overseen by the festival’s new director of programing Jason Anderson.

“We believe these are some of the most compelling, innovative, beautiful, hilarious and emotionally resonant films that our amazingly generous audience in Aspen will experience this year,” Anderson said. “We’re thrilled to showcase such an abundance of emerging and established filmmaking talent from all over the world. That’s why we’re so happy to have this opportunity to present them despite the very challenging circumstances that surround all of us right now.”

Films that win in Shortsfest’s five prize categories will still qualify for Academy Award consideration.

In order to retain the Oscar-qualifying status, Shortsfest had to remain private — i.e. not streaming for the general public or posted on YouTube — and its jury members had to agree to adjudicate Shortsfest’s awards virtually.

“We spoke to the Academy as soon as we were thinking about this,” Wrubel explained. “Their whole thing was as long as there is a private festival and there is a jury, then you’re still Oscar qualifying.”

Shorsfest awards cover animation, documentary and fiction categories and include the Ellen Award, — named in honor of Aspen Film founder Ellen Hunt — and the Vimeo Staff Pick Award, which comes with a $2,500 prize and will make the winning film available for viewing worldwide as a Vimeo Staff Pick on April 6.

Shortsfest will be the first festival that will be presented in its entirety on Festival Scope’s platform, which normally exhibits portions of film festivals for a virtual online audience.

The online Shortsfest will be a “limited-time event,” running only during the festival dates. Viewers will purchase special access codes to screen programs of the selected films, which will be presented in curated programs rather than individually. Access will be limited to viewers in the United States.

Viewers will receive a unique link to each program purchased for a one-time viewing. Chrome is the recommended browser for screening, but Festival Scope is compatible with the latest versions of Firefox, Internet Explorer and others. It is supported on iOS and Android devices.

Though the new format opens up Shortsfest to a potentially huge nationwide online audience of cinephiles and the weary quarantined, ticket sales will still be capped at 500 for each festival and may sell out.

Wrubel said the Aspen Film team wanted to keep the festival to a comparable audience size as the in-person version because they did not want to exploit the filmmakers who are exhibiting through the festival and did not want to risk harming their chances of getting commercial distribution in theaters.

“All of these people are struggling and emerging filmmakers,” Wrubel said. “We don’t want to exploit them and their incredible work.”

Ticket purchasers will also have the option of donating to a filmmaker fund. Wrubel said the initiative is one of the ways Aspen Film will “try to give back a bit more to the filmmaking community.”

The legion of Shortsfest alumni who’ve sprung from Shortsfest to the heights of Hollywood include “Just Mercy” director Destin Daniel Cretton, “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle and leading auteurs like Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”), Jean-Marc Vallee (“Dallas Buyers Club”) and Sarah Polley (“Stories We Tell”).

Recent Shortsfest Oscar nominees and winners include “Brotherhood” (2019, Best Live Action Short Film); “NEFTA Football Club” (2019, Best Live Action Short Film); “Life Overtakes Me” (2019, Best Documentary Short Subject); “Sister” (2019, Best Animated Short Film); “Fauve” (2018, Best Live Action Short Film); “Weekends” (2018, Best Animated Short Film); and “Bear Story” (2016, Best Animated Short Film).

“As a presenting arts organization, our mission is to enrich, enlighten, educate and entertain through cinema,” Wrubel said. “We believe that culture is essential, and we are hoping to be able to offer something new in this crazy time, while allowing folks the comfort of remaining inside.”


A Youth

Peyman and his friends are a group of Afghan teenagers on the cusp of adulthood, who find themselves stuck in Athens. In limbo but armed with a new-found freedom, they kill time by aimlessly strolling around the city, sharing jokes, rap battles, stories of the past, and dreams of the future. As Peyman waits for news that could shake his false state of harmony, he looks for answers amongst his friends and family, trying to make sense of the world around him through his music and poetry. (Giorgio Bosisio, UK, Italy, Greece, 40 MIN)

All Cats Are Grey in the Dark

He calls himself “Catman”. Christian lives with his two cats Marmelade and Katjuscha. They are inseparable. As he is yearning to become a father, he decides to fertilize his beloved cat Marmelade by an exquisite tomcat from abroad. ALL CATS ARE GREY IN THE DARK is a melodrama that portrays an unconventional relationship between animal and human. (Lasse Linder, Switzerland, 18 MIN)

Asmahan the Diva

Asmahan, diva and Druze princess had a short life, but what a life! Weddings, glory, spying, lovers, alcohol, poker, suicides, murders, scandals… This oriental Marilyn marked the great era of Egyptian musicals. Even today, her voice still echoes throughout the Middle East and her mysterious death in the waters of the Nile continues to fuel the wildest rumors… (Chloé Mazlo, France, 6 MIN)

Awaiting Death

A son arrives at the hospital to watch his father’s death bed. When the son wants a last nice moment, his father would rather find out what to do with the two opened cans of mustard. (Lars Vega, Isabelle Björklund, Sweden, 12 MIN)


Using only cardboard, hot glue and lo-fi special effects, BAG follows the journey of a plastic bag unchanged by time as it travels from the streets of New York City, to the dump, to the sea, and into the distant future. As the climate changes, the seas rise and civilizations fall, the bag remains the same. BAG is an ode to the foreverness of plastic and the permanence of the disposable. (Robin Frohardt, USA, 8 MIN)

Broken Bird

Birdie, a biracial girl raised by her Jewish mom in a New Jersey suburb, spends a rare visitation day with her father while preparing for her Bat Mitzvah. They share a meal, she overcomes her doubts, and decides to risk inviting him back into her life. Birdie confronts what independence means as she steps into adulthood on her own terms. (Rachel Harrison Gordon, USA, 10 MIN)


Another Sunday in April. A kibbutz in the North of Israel. A natural phenomenon. A family on an impromptu ride, maybe the last one… (Yona Rozenkier, Israel, France, 8 MIN)

Bye Bye, Body

Nina is quite literally working her ass off at fat camp. She’s determined to drop the weight and live the life she’s always dreamt of. But in her final weigh in, she fails to meet her goal, and despite the protestation of her best friend Paloma, Nina turns to fat-camp bad girl, and weight loss leading scorer Kay for her secret to success. But Kay’s secret has a lot more in store for Nina than she expected. (Charlotte Benbeniste, USA, 10 MIN)

Cat Lake City

Percy Cat is looking forward to a relaxing day in CAT LAKE CITY – the cats’ vacation paradise. But the place turns out not to be exactly what he expected. Not even the spot on the towel is as safe as he thought. (Antje Heyn, Germany, 7 MIN)


Actor Mark Metcalf made his reputation playing aggrieved authority figures, most famously in NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE and BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. Now in his 70s, he takes a critical look back on his life and career in this meditation on power, privilege, and the perils of being a “type.” (Vera Brunner-Sung, USA, 17 MIN)

Coffee Shop Names

Three Indian people imagine their personas as their “coffee shop names,” the names they give baristas because their real names are hard to pronounce. As they imagine, they realize their personas are more ingrained in them than they thought before they return to work. (Deepak Sethi, USA, 8 MIN)


A comedy about death. A year after the sudden passing of their beloved wife and mother, a dad and daughter grapple with life after loss. Grief looks very different on both of them. Paul, played by Michael McKean (BETTER CALL SAUL, SPINAL TAP), is manic. He gets a perm in order to look like Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill and begs neighbors to hot tub with him. Abby, played by Casey Wilson (SNL, HAPPY ENDINGS) is depressed. She sleeps in her closet and takes pills that mask her urges to urinate out of sheer laziness. At its heart, DADDIO is a love story between a father and daughter. Unfortunately, based on real life events. (Casey Wilson, USA, 18 MIN)


An erotic dance theater in Lahore prepares for a new show just as a sacrificial goat disappears; an attractive trans girl aspires to grab the limelight and a naive young man falls in love. (Saim Sadiq, USA, Pakistan, 16 MIN)


Should you hide your pain? Close yourself inside your inner world, full of longing for your father’s love and its displays? Or should you understand and forgive before it is too late? (Daria Kashcheeva, Czech Republic, 15 MIN)

Día de la Madre

A band of juveniles embarks on a 24-hour spree of breaking into houses and causing a ruckus. (Ashley Brandon, Dennis Hohne, USA, 6 MIN)

En Route

When Inay (9) and her little brother have to join their father on a special trip through the city, she tries everything to cause a delay. She knows that if they arrive late at their destination, she will be rewarded with loads of sweet desserts. (Marit Weerheijm, Netherlands, 10 MIN)

Flower Punk

From director Alison Klayman (THE BRINK, AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY), FLOWER PUNK is a hypnotizing short documentary that brings you inside the other-worldly work and process of Japanese artist Azuma Makoto. After encountering his boundary-pushing works, you won’t be able to think about flowers the same way again. (Alison Klayman, Japan, 29 MIN)

Grandad was a romantic

A child documents the love life of her Grandad – a man who has a reputation for being a passionate romantic. She tells the story of how her Grandad came across a picture of her Granny for the first time and decided in that moment that she must be the love of his life. He marries her, and they start a family together, but Grandad’s boundless romance never dies. It will take him in unforeseen directions. (Maryam Mohajer, UK, 5 MIN)

Hello Ahma

With their passports stuck in America’s immigration bureaucracy, 8-year-old Michelle and her parents cannot return to Singapore for Grandma’s funeral. The parents try to maintain traditional funeral rites in their new home, as Michelle absolves her grief and guilt by searching for Grandma’s reincarnation in a pet-store turtle. But Grandma struggles to stay alive under Michelle’s eager and amateur ministrations.  (Siyou Tan, USA, Singapore, 16 MIN)

Hot Flash

Ace Naismith is having a hot flash, and she is about to go live on local television. How one woman tries to keep her cool when one type of flash leads to another. HOT FLASH is a journey into the funny, uncomfortable, and sometimes maddening world of an aging professional woman navigating a culture that puts great emphasis on physical appearance. (Thea Hollatz, Canada, 10 MIN)

I’ll End Up in Jail

Maureen Sauvageau’s escape comes to an abrupt end when she drives her monster truck into a deadly car accident. Stuck in the middle of nowhere, she must share the company and the blame of a rather touching junkie dubbed Jelly the Loon. (Alexandre Dostie, Canada, 23 MIN)

I’m No Holiday

An un-candid portrait of Lawrence Sendass (Steve Zahn), a grieving fireworks photographer who attempts to reframe his work through the memory of lost love. The film humorously explores searching for the magic of the mundane through memory and art. (Rick Gomez, USA, 16 MIN)


A cinematic portrait of Kiev’s Soviet scrap metal ‘Kachalka’ gym – the world’s most hardcore gym. (Gar O’Rourke, Ireland, 10 MIN)

Little Grey Wolfy. Summer Party

Little Grey Wolfy´s birthday is soon! Wolfy is dreaming about a real birthday cake with candles and cream for his birthday party. But everyone knows that cakes do not grow in the forest on trees! However, this is not a problem for his good friends. (Natalia Malykhina, Norway, 7 MIN)

Lovely Day

A young construction worker, anxious about the state of his relationship, spends a day prepping to meet with his significant other. (Bo Mirhosseni, USA, 7 MIN)

Maradona’s Legs

During the 1990 World Cup, two young Palestinian boys are looking for “Maradona’s legs”; the last missing sticker that they need in order to complete their world cup album and win a free Atari. (Firas Khoury, Germany, Palestine, 24 MIN)

Marcy Learns Something New

Feeling run down by the usual cycle of self-improvement programs, a widow (Rachel Dratch) tries going to a dominatrix workshop. Inspired by success in the class, she meets a younger man online and embarks on a first dominant experience with him. While Marcy’s earnestness despite her lack of experience is comical, the film ultimately explores themes of hope, loneliness and finding freedom. (Julia Kennelly, USA, 16 MIN)

My Brother Luca

When an imaginative little girl discovers that her older brother might have superpowers, she sets out on a quest to make sure everyone else sees him as she does. (Carlos Algara, Catalina Serna, Mexico, 10 MIN)


To a rhythmic drumbeat and in vibrant strokes of color, a lovesick bird-of-paradise prances through the black of the night, flaunting his majestic plumage in an attempt to impress the females. (Sonja Rohleder, Germany, 4 MIN)

No Crying at the Dinner Table

Filmmaker Carol Nguyen interviews her family to craft a portrait of love, grief and intergenerational trauma. (Carol Nguyen, Canada, 16 MIN)

No Hard Feelings

A playful, yet endearing comedy inspired by heartbreak, confusion and self-doubt. Rodney’s (Paul Henri) crumbling ego is at breaking point and if his best pal Slim (James Ballard) can’t whip him into shape before his big date tonight, he might just lose it. (James Ballard, Paul Henri, Australia, Indonesia, 6 MIN)


Sexual signaling and suburban myth; what does your front garden say about you? Plants were used in 1970s suburbia to send seductive signals to neighbors, or so rumor has it. A hybrid documentary exploring the truth in the botanical myth; what went on behind closed curtains? PAMPAS is a fetishistic flirtation. A look at sexual signaling, female desire, subcultures, and suburban legend. Featuring model and author Naomi Shimada in her acting debut. (Jessica Bishopp, UK, 5 MIN)

Pitch Black Panacea

Amy and Carl both have lazy eyes. In an effort to find a DIY cure they’ve signed up for an unusual treatment. (Tom Hardiman, UK, 7 MIN)

Postcards from the End of the World

Trapped in a seemingly dull family vacation, Dimitra, Dimitris and their two daughters will have to find a way out of a secluded island in the Mediterranean, when confronted with the unexpected end of the world. (Konstantinos Antonopoulos, Greece, 23 MIN)

Quiet Carriage

It’s an age-old problem. The commute, the daily grind, the same old faces not offering so much as a smile. For Derek, it’s an evening train ride home like any other. Apart from one thing. That girl on her phone. Talking loudly in the quiet carriage. Derek wonders – doesn’t she know what she’s doing? Doesn’t she care? Of course not. She’s not one of us. If she were part of our tribe, she’d know there are rules that have to be followed.

(Ben S. Hyland, UK, 6 MIN)

Recoding Art

On an October evening, the digital media researcher Gabriel Pereira sent an e-mail to Brazilian artist Bruno Moreschi. The message marked the beginning of a research project that involved creating an unprecedented platform that centralized 7 commercial Artificial Intelligences to read the collection of Van Abbemuseum, a Dutch museum of contemporary art. (Bruno Moreschi, Gabriel Pereira, Brazil, 15 MIN)

Something to Remember

A lullaby before the great disaster. Two pigeons visit a zoo without animals, a snail measures his blood pressure at the doctor, in the CERN laboratory something has gone terribly wrong. Six moments from our age, like memories of the world we leave behind. (Niki Lindroth von Bahr, Sweden, 5 MIN)

Sorry Not Sorry

Feride is on her way home from a party when she meets a group of young choir-singing boys in a wooden boat. When she helps them with their motor problems, she is unwillingly taken out for a ride in the Swedish summer night. (Julia Thelin, Sweden, 15 MIN)

South of Bix

A story about Molly, a young woman who returns home to say goodbye to her estranged grandfather before he passes. As Molly tries her best to seek connection in spite of her Grandfather’s dementia, the interaction tests each other’s limits and Molly’s ability to forgive. The film explores how we navigate our personal allegiances and family ties. (Justine Lupe, Briana Pozner, USA, 14 MIN)

Status Pending

This film chronicles the professional and personal lives of five Mexican American, first-generation Immigration Lawyers in the Los Angeles area who created a (support) 2x in 1 sentence group to provide professional, personal and emotional support. They met at the same high-intensity law firm before starting their solo practices and remain in constant communication via group chat. Through their perspectives, we see how changes in the interpretation of the laws and in legal procedures under the current administration directly affect their work and clients. (Priscilla Gonzalez Sainz, USA, 26 MIN)


A reflection about modern man in an age of omnipresent technology. Looking through stories – a popular function in many social media platforms – we see people who are lonely, lost or already indifferent about reality surrounding them. Action takes place during one day and it’s told by short, often (auto)ironic scenes, where virtual world sinks to reality. (Jola Bankowska, Poland, 5 MIN)

Streets of Fury

Max Punchface loves to punch and kick anything that moves, and many things that don’t. When his fury conjures up a portal into a strange calm world, he can’t help but explore. However, the portal disappears leaving Max trapped in this cute alien land with only some friendly sheep for company & punch practice. (Aidan McAteer, Ireland, 5 MIN)

The Blue Cape

Two months after Hurricane Maria landed on the shores of Puerto Rico, the power remains out and the infrastructure continues to collapse. Junior, a ten-year-old boy, is summoned by his mother to search for the medicine his grandfather so desperately needs. He puts on a blue cape, made of the tarp that covers his room. (Alejandra Lopez, Puerto Rico, 5 MIN)

The Chef

In the near future, when all labor workers are replaced by humanoids, a Chinese chef, Pu (60s) is ordered to pass on his cooking skill to a humanoid robot, William, and to teach him Chinese cooking. Designed to satisfy his owner, William tries to follow Pu’s every instruction, but his robotic demand for precision and perfection is essentially contradictory to Chinese cooking. At the same time, the protests against AI replacing human labor are more and more intense. (Hao Zheng, USA, 20 MIN)

The Flame

A young girl and boy in a remote town remember a time before a cold wind first swept across the land. It was when fire meant something different; when the fire was a warm, safe and familiar place for families to sit together; where stories were passed down, where culture was kept alive. (Nick Waterman, Australia, 13 MIN)

The Last Day of Autumn

Forest animals secretly collect abandoned bike parts with the intention of building vehicles that fit their size. A great race is preparing. The last day of Autumn’s race. (Marjolaine Perreten, Switzerland, Belgium, France, 8 MIN)

The Manchador

Mina and Saeed live a stressful life in the Iranian capital, Tehran. Being a woman in Iran is not particularly easy and Mina sees a future for the family elsewhere. She wants to move abroad, but Saeed then invents a device that places the responsibility for the hijab where it belongs – with the men whose gaze women need protection from. The Manchador is a satire about life in modern day Tehran, seeing, our senses, and spirituality. (Kaveh Therani, Norway, Germany, 20 MIN)

The Manila Lover

Norwegian Lars (46 years) has fled from his money trouble in Norway and is visiting Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Here he pretends to be successful and feels like a Nordic king. He has high hopes for the romantic and loving relationship he recently started with the Filipina Abigail (42 years). But when she turns him down, Lars has to face his own prejudices and deal with this very uncomfortable situation. In just one day everything’s changed, he is no longer a Nordic King. (Johanna Pyykkö, Norway, 27 MIN)

The Physics of Sorrow

THE PHYSICS OF SORROW is a potent portrait of a dislocated generation struggling to find home as they shift through everchanging personal and geographic landscapes. (Theodore Ushev, Canada, 27 MIN)

The Starr Sisters

Patte and Randa Starr are fun specialists. After growing up in an abusive household set above their father’s candy store, these sisters have spent their lives fighting to find joy and freedom. Now in their 70s, they do exactly as they please: they live together near the beach, they always have a movie on, and the candy drawer is fully stocked. (Bridey Elliott, Beth Einhorn, USA, 16 MIN)

The Tail

Ekrem, a middle-aged man in existential crisis, suffers from an extraordinary condition. He has been dealing with this situation for a long time in his own way… A very bizarre way. One day he encounters his pretty neighbour Şevval; when he goes to take out the trash as usual. She is aware of Ekrem’s situation and doesn’t seem to care about it at all. The conversation between them on the way to the dumpster brings them closer and turns into an inner journey for him. (Yiğit Hepsev, Turkey, 10 MIN)

The Tattooed Torah

Over the last three decades, the beloved children’s book by Marvell Ginsburg, “The Tattooed Torah,” has been a powerful resource for Holocaust education for children all over the world. The adaptation of “The Tattooed Torah” into an animated short film is a three-generational endeavor, initiated by Marvell’s daughter, Beth Kopin. Now more than ever, it is essential to continue teaching the lessons of the Holocaust to young children in an impactful and palatable way, so that such horrific events are never forgotten and never repeated. (Marc Bennett, USA, 21 MIN)


An animated documentary exploring how my mother’s abusive relationship with my father shaped my own experiences in a boarding school as a child in China. The societal pressures on my mother to hide her abuse and her desire to protect me ultimately created a situation where I was subjected to the same societal pressures. Our shared desires for intimacy, safety, and normalcy have been constantly at odds with the realities that surround us. The parallels between my mother’s experiences and my own are abstracted. Through a conversation as adults, my mother and I learn to understand each other and support one another. (Danski Tang, USA, China, 7 MIN)


VIRAL attempts to authentically portray the effects of opioid addiction and internet venom, shedding light on those who suffer from both of these societal wrongs. Faceless internet attacks affect real people and what’s uploaded can have consequences that last infinitely longer than the event itself. (Donald Broida, USA, 11 MIN)


A short documentary about a town in Northern Idaho where brothels were open, tolerated, and ingrained within the local community until 1991. The majority of residents viewed prostitution as a legitimate business, and madams as legitimate business owners. The madams played a large role in civic contributions; the doctors had weekly check-ups with the prostitutes; and the children trick or treated at the brothels. And while some don’t miss the brothels, most wish they were still around. Welcome to Wallace. The Last Western Town. (Delaney Buffett, USA, 18 MIN)

What’s My Superpower?

Nalvana feels like all of her friends have some type of superpower. She has friends with super speed, friends who can jump so far she thinks they can fly, and friends who are better than her at a million other things. As Nalvana tries out each of her friends’ superpowers with no success, she wonders if she might be the only kid in town without a special talent. But then her mom shows Nalvana that she is unique and special—and that her superpower was right in front of her all along. (Justin Heymans, Canada, 10 MIN)

Why Slugs Have No Legs

Slugs were not always without limbs. But they have always been slow. In fact, they are so slow that they become unbearable for their co-workers, the ever-busy bees. During the big financial crisis in the city of insects, the bees see only one way to save their once flourishing business. What follows is a big step in the evolution of animals. (Aline Höchli, Switzerland, 11 MIN)

Yves & Variation

Every day, concierge Yves Deshommes practices his violin behind the front desk of a Manhattan office building. But during the hours outside his shift, Yves’s life is revealed to be equal parts intrepid and inspiring. (Lydia Cornett, USA, Haiti, 16 MIN)

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