The Aspen Shortsfest isn't a Hollywood shmoozefest.
Sure, this tenth annual competition is expected to attract a few film producers. But organizers insist that the festival's purpose remains recognizing achievement.
Guests, including bad-boy director John Waters (who will be featured during Saturday's closing-night celebration at the Wheeler Opera House) and recent Academy Award-winning animator Michael Dudok de Wit, are anti-establishment sorts. Waters, who began making shorts in Baltimore, was chosen because he continues that offbeat strain in bigger-budget Hollywood films. Dudok de Wit, a Dutch filmmaker whose haunting Father and Daughter earned this year's animated short Oscar, stayed true to his independent roots by keeping his remarks terse during the windy Oscar awards ceremony.
Despite being overlooked elsewhere, short films and their makers rule at Aspen's festival, where juries will award more than $20,000 in cash and other prizes to competitors from eighteen countries; their works were selected from 1,100 entries.
Why people around the globe embrace this art form is obvious to supporters: "It's a creative outlet that allows people to take risks in a medium that invites risk-taking," says Shortsfest executive director Laura Thielen.
And while some filmmakers do use their films in hopes of landing bigger projects, the creative spark burns first, says Austin animator Bob Sabiston. He and partner Tommy Pallotta will share the Director Spotlight at noon Thursday, showing examples of the animation technique they developed over the past few years. Commercial success was not their motivation, they say.
"I don't think we had a definite idea what our market was," Sabiston admits. "We just wanted to contribute a good short."
"It was an experiment which grew organically, piece by piece," adds Pallotta.
The partners began testing a blend of video and computer that blurs the lines of reality. The resulting technique, called interpolated rotoscope, uses software to enhance videotaped reality: Things may look real, sort of like a documentary, yet cause a viewer to question what is truth.
With each experimental work -- several of which have been shown at previous Shortsfests -- they've refined their creations. "We've been lucky because one thing has led to another," Sabiston explains. They recently employed rotoscoping for Dazed and Confused director Richard Linklater's yet-to-be-released feature Waking Life.
But while other feature-length films are likely to follow, the duo hopes to begin another short soon in Austin. "Shorts are quicker, gratifying and less pressure than features," Pallotta says.
"Short films are getting much more sophisticated in their storytelling, casting, scripting and production," adds Thielen. "Sometimes it's very difficult to tell the difference between a professional's and a student's work."
Film-school alumni have boosted the shorts industry, giving students access to state-of-the art technology. Armed with the latest equipment, young filmmakers are now finding alternative ways, beyond the handful of North American festivals, to get their films out to audiences. Even established directors such as Sabiston are exploring the Internet as an outlet.
"The Internet is a new medium for expression," he says. "I don't think it threatens movies, because going to the theater is such an experience."
"People talk about new media," Thielen says. "You look at what Bob and Tommy are doing and say, 'Oh, this is what people are talking about!'"
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