The current pandemic and racial reckoning have created unique opportunities to research and reach out
The panel of jurors on this year’s ShortList Film Festival finalists offered aspiring filmmakers some timely advice, especially amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and racial reckoning in America.
“We tend to look outside; ‘I like this, I want to copy that.’ That’s okay to you have your references and the things you like,” said Gabriel Osorio, a Chilean filmmaker whose 2014 short “Bear Story” won both the ShortList and the Academy Award. “It’s really important to look inside. What is really important to you, to your life, to your family? What really moves you? That’s the way to find a theme or message that you’ll be really attached to … that’s something that shows in the shorts we have in this selection. All the creators are attached to the message they are trying to tell. We as creators have to look inside of us.”
Sundance Film Festival film programmer Dilcia Barrera urged filmmakers to “stick to your authentic and not trying to make something that Sundance would want or the Academy would want.”
The jury was very impressed with the quality of this year’s entries and selected Terrance Daye’s “-Ship: A Visual Poem” –a short about identity and masculinity in the Black community — as the winner of the Industry Award.
While a strong point of view is important from the outset, form is not.
“We not only had documentary and fiction but also animation. The new generations of filmmakers are experimenting with forms is so exciting and inspiring,” Barrera said. For example, entrant Jonathan Langager initially envisioned his space love story “Cosmic Fling” to be CGI, but ended up using puppets instead.
Director Valerie Barnhart used animation to tell the real-life story of the kidnapping and murder of Xiana Fairchild, a young indigenous girl, in “Girl in the Hallway.” A traditional documentary would seem like the obvious route for a true-crime story, but Barnhart chose animation. “I love how the animation was used to get this raw emotion; I love looking to films that are the same thing over and over again,” Osorio explained.
Shorts are finally getting the attention they deserve. While society seems obsessed right now with hyper-short videos like TikTok and Triller, there’s something unique about films that fall between those and feature-length ones.
Juror Trevor Groth, a 30WEST executive who once programmed short films at the Sundance Film Festival, said shorts can open to door for feature opportunities. “[Shorts] are an incredible resource for us,” says Groth, who now works in financing features. “When we’re evaluating a project from a first-time feature director, the first question I ask is, ‘Do they have any short films that they’ve done that I can see?'”
In fact, there’s a growing appetite for shorts. “A lot of distributors are getting into the shorts game,” Oscar and Emmy award-winning director Roger Ross Williams said, listing companies like Netflix, Nat Geo, the New York Time Op Docs, PBS and POV as platforms that finance and distribute shorts.
“At Sundance, we believe shorts are king,” Barrera said. “It’s an opp where the stakes are a little bit smaller to take advantage and explore and experiment and play, wherever you are in your career.”
In terms of filmmaking during the pandemic, the jurors offered several pieces of advice. “Go and watch great short films,” Groth said, especially while you have free time. “The form is different: the beats, the rhythms, the character development, they’re different. Having a deep understanding of that form can help you when you make your film.”
Topic vice president of originals Gena Konstantinakos suggested, “Reach out to those people whose work you connect with and really resonates with you. You can put together a panel of advisers who are officially part of advising you along the way, whether it be on the subject matter … or about the creative process itself. Or looking for the people who can join the project as an EP and can bring something to the process for you that helps mentor you along the way.”
Sometimes that reaching out requires a lot of persistence.
“Right now is definitely a good time to reach out to people,” Barrera said. “Even though we’re all busy, I think it’s been a little bit easier to connect to these people via social media, whether it’s sending DM or twitter message. In terms of creative partners, it’s been a great time for people to connect in that sense. Everyone is looking for new people to get work done together.”
This is especially true for filmmakers of color as the country undergoes a racial reckoning.
“For people of color — Black creators like me — we’re really busy now because our phones are finally ringing,” Williams said. “We’re getting to do the work that we were getting that recognition for before this moment.”
“We have this opportunity now to create work finally, people are calling us and greenlighting our projects. And I’m going to jump on it!” he added.
Check out the jury’s discussion with TheWrap’s editor in chief Sharon Waxman above.
The ShortList Film Festival 2020 is sponsored by Heineken, Topic and the Los Angeles Film School.