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Aspen Film makes short work of entries

Joel StoningtonGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Courtesy Aspen Film"McLaren's Negatives," an animated portrait of Canadian animator Norman McLaren, is featured in Tuesday's Program One at Aspen Shortsfest.
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ASPEN In order for Aspen Film’s Shortsfest to narrow more than 2,200 official entries to 59 short films in time to start today, one man had to watch every single one. In fact, Shortsfest lead programmer George Eldred viewed more than 3,000 shorts this season.”That’s a lot of movies,” Eldred said. “Myself, personally, I’ve watched quite a lot this year, even more than ever.”Shortsfest will present the 59 films in eight programs through Friday at the Wheeler Opera House. The finalists represent 30 nationalities and will vie for more than $20,000 in prizes.Eldred said the community-based screening committee that watches hundreds of shorts each year helps distinguish Shortsfest; most festivals rely on a small team of professionals to help choose the finalists.Each week, committee members get together to watch 10 or so shorts, have a glass of wine or a bite of cheese, and discuss film. At the end of the night, they may take shorts home to review.Those reviews go into a database that Eldred and Aspen Film executive director Laura Thielen access in order to choose finalists for the competition.”I rely very heavily on the evaluations and comments of the screening committee,” Eldred said. “There are various levels of participation. Everyone has a real life. We have quite a number of people who have been very dedicated and spent many hours, in some cases for many years, doing this every winter.”But though Eldred credits the committee members, they generally send it right back.”For me it’s more like taking a grad course,” said an Aspen Film board member who also screens shorts. “At the same time, you can have a glass of wine and have a very nice evening.”Much of the draw for the board member is getting to discuss films with Eldred, who can expound on questions of genre, technique and perspective.With the number of films Eldred sees each year as lead programmer of Shortsfest – and also on the shorts programming team of the Sundance Film Festival – he knows as much as anyone about recurring themes and trends.”There’s a perennial set of films about unhappy childhood or dysfunctional families, and more films recently about a grown-up caring for an adult parent,” Eldred said. “For the last several years there have been films about post-9/11 issues.”One of the selections this year is a 14-minute story of a soldier in Iraq and his translator friend. The quick-moving tale rapidly builds tension and explores a war happening a world away.”If one sees 20 or 30 films about a certain topic, on one hand you’re thinking, this is an important topic,” Eldred said. “On the other hand, it’s like how many Iraq movies can you show in any given showing? It’s like, how many potatoes do you need in any given dinner?”Those are the tough questions for Eldred, who works with Thielen to make each showing well-rounded. He compared it to arranging a bouquet of flowers.”It’s as much intuitive as it is aesthetic,” Eldred said. “We wouldn’t want our opening night audience to leave the theater feeling gloomy. We’d like them to leave with a chuckle.”For a complete Shortsfest schedule, go to http://www.aspentimes.com/film.Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.com


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