Ones to watch at Aspen Shortsfest 2022
Your guide to the Oscar-qualifying short film festival
What: Aspen Shortsfest
When: April 5-10
Where: Wheeler Opera House
How much: $25/general admission; $20/Aspen Film members
More info: aspenfilm.org
Movies are meant to be seen on as big a screen as possible in the dark with strangers, and that’s how the 70-plus selections for the 2022 Aspen Shortsfest will screen following two years of all-virtual pandemic outings.
The six-day, 12-program lineup is a characteristically global Shortsfest, with films representing 28 countries in the Oscar-qualifying competition. More than half of the chosen films — 41 of them — are directed or co-directed by women, continuing the festival’s recent track record of reaching gender equity behind the camera.
“I think that going back to a real live festival experience is going to be a great one where everybody sees something at a set time together,” said Aspen Film executive and artistic director Susan Wrubel.
The in-person festival also marks the return of in-person Q&As and industry panels (see related column, p. 20).
The slate of in-competition films were chosen from a competitive field of about 3,000 submissions, on par with recent years, all of them made under the challenging circumstances of the pandemic and ranging from larger productions navigating union COVID protocols to intimate two-handers and animated works made largely by lone artists.
While the pandemic itself is not an overt topic in many films – the Sundance award winner “White Devil” is among the exceptions – the effects of the pandemic are evident in some of the themes and trends on-screen. Shortsfest director of programming Jason Anderson, for instance, noted that there are noticeably more films reflecting on the natural world and human relationships with it.
“It was interesting to see because there has been this shift toward being in nature, being outside if you can, and being out of the cities that got so eerie and quiet,” Anderson noted, pointing to standout documentaries like “Skyward,” about a pair of young birders, “Naya,” about the first wolf to live in the wild in Belgium in a century, and “Nuisance Bear” about human-polar bear conflicts in Manitoba.
The society-wide mental health struggles that surfaced during the pandemic are also evident thematically in the films, from comedies such as “F^¢k ‘€m R!ght B@¢k” and “Crumb” to darker fare like “Enjoy” and the music drama “Jensen.”
“There was certainly a lot of stuff about people feeling very disoriented and despondent and scared and anxious,” Anderson said. “Those feelings certainly come through and a lot of work made during the last two years.”
Watching submissions, Anderson said, he also thrilled to social scenes, dancing and sequences shot in nightclubs, a sign of our tentative returns to normalcy.
This 31st Aspen Shortsfest also includes several world premiere films, including the festival-opening documentary “My Mom’s Eggplant Sauce” which explores trauma through a family recipe, Amanda Seyfried-starring gothic horror “Skin & Bone,” the queer family drama “Dress Up,” along with “Jensen,” “Skyward” and “Crumb.”
“I’m really thrilled to have those films in particular because they’re super fresh and they’re all really unique,” said Anderson.
Each program includes a mix of international cinematic voices working in drama, comedy, animation and documentary. If you’re having trouble deciding which programs to attend at the Wheeler, you can’t go wrong by heading to some of the titles in my annual “Ones to Watch” list here:
“Crumb,” Program 2
A sly pandemic commentary, the six-minute entry from director Josh Cohen – who has previously worked with the comedy team Tim & Eric – about an obsession over food crumbs.
“Boobs,” Program 6
This dark Canadian animated comedy explores a woman’s love-hate relationship with her body by imagining a young woman who waked up with paper breasts.
“Shark,” Program 10
The familiar faces of actors Rose Byrne and Nash Edgerton – who also directs – lead this Australian comedy about a couple attempting to one-up each other’s pranks.
“Sierra,” Program 1
A surreal car-racing fantasy from Estonian filmmaker Sander Joon making its U.S. premiere at Shortsfest.
“A Brief History of Us,” Program 2
Brat Pack icon Molly Ringwald narrates this film directed by the acclaimed novelist Etgar Keret about the effects of long-term relationships.
“Goodbye Jerome!” Program 5
A delightful and absurd French animated film that gives us the titular Jerome on a seaside paradise in search of his wife.
Family Program, Program 11
The return of this Sunday morning Shortsfest tradition brings nine artful and international animated shorts to the Wheeler. The first six are recommended for viewers of all ages, the rest recommended for kids age 10 and up.
“Nuisance Bear,” Program 1
Exploring a familiar phenomenon for “bear aware” Aspenites, this Canadian doc looks at a Manitoba town that has become a destination for polar bear photographers and the conflicts that arise between bears, locals and camera-toting tourists.
“The Victorias,” Program 3
A funny and unique look at the performers who worked as “costumed interpreters” at the Tenement Museum in New York who were laid off diuing the pandemic.
“Skyward,” Program 8
The world premiere short follows two young British birders who are inspired to activism by their experiences in the outdoors.
“The Martha Mitchell Effect,” Program 8
A deep dive into some forgotten recent history, running nearly the 40-minute Shortsfest running time limit, this doc explores the role of the infamous wife of U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell as she emerged as an early critic of President Richard Nixon.
“Conducting Life,” Program 9
An Aspen-ready profile by Diane Moore of the acclaimed Black conductor Roderick Cox, who is due for a much-anticipated performance at the Aspen Music Festival this summer.
“Enjoy,” Program 4
A darkly comic film about depression starring the incomparable Hamish Patel (“Station Eleven”) as a tutor looking for hope amid spiraling despair while tutoring an extraordinarily bratty new pupil.
“Skin & Bone,” Program 7
Horror has historically been underrepresented at Shortsfest, but as this creepy rural thriller starring Amanda Seyfried and Tomas Sadoski proves, the form is ideal for a taught scarefest like this. The Aspen screening marks its world premiere.
“Faces of the Future,” Special Showcase
Made by Aspen High School students Micah Sanders-Silva and Moritz Johnson, the pandemic-shot drama imagines a bully who is challenged by a vision of the future. The screening is free and will also include a screening of the Bridges High School 5Point Voices Youth Film Project.
On a recent September Saturday morning, I awoke with an intense yearning to lose myself in the mountains, disconnect from cell service, and rediscover why I decided to call Aspen home in the first place. Standing there, at the Cathedral Lake trailhead, I knew I was right where I needed to be.