Aspen Shortsfest brings four film programs to Carbondale | PostIndependent.com

Aspen Shortsfest brings four film programs to Carbondale

Elizabeth Henry

"The short film doesn't supplant the feature," says film critic Richard Brody. "It nourishes it."

The Crystal Theater will screen a nourishing series of short films this weekend as part of Aspen Film Shortsfest.

Short films are meatier than feature length films — there's no room for extra fat. We get only the essentials: a funny cut, a motivated close up or camera move, pure structure and lots of visual storytelling. Worlds can be surreal, imagined, absurd or animated, yet there's a human connection. What often makes the world of short film so wonderful is that, liberated from big budgets and complicated logistics, filmmakers get an opportunity to speak from the heart.

Aspen Shortsfest has a premier reputation. Films screened here qualify them to be considered for an Oscar. And short films become a kind of calling card for those working their way toward bigger budgets and longer film projects. So Aspen Shortsfest claims an impressive roster of alumni: Damien Chazelle ("La La Land"), Jason Reitman ("Juno," "Up in the Air"), Jean-Marc Vallée ("Dallas Buyers Club") and Sarah Polley ("Stories We Tell") have all shown work at this festival.

This year's Aspen Shortsfest is spiced with animated films in the midst of a mélange of live action narratives and documentaries. There's lots of humor in every program, but just when it seems the entire show will be made up of comedy, there's a powerful, heart-filled film that brings something, from somewhere far away, home to the heart.

Here are a few highlights from each of Carbondale's four programs.

Recommended Stories For You

"Sam Did It" proves the point about short films and innovative situations and locations. In this case, it's a morgue. The film opens with the coroner doing a little dance and ends with a classic twist that narrative shorts are known for.

Those of us who climb hills on our road bikes will enjoy "The Climb" and its witty reflection on the necessity for story and character to climb an arc in a well-written screenplay. We see one long ride up a hill as the friendship between two men is revealed and, of course, complicated. The tension between them rises.

"Magic Alps" is a beautiful, simple film about our love for animals, no matter where we come from. Every individual shot and word of dialogue in this film is carefully thought out and all comes together at the end of this poignant tale about one lone, lovable human refugee and his dear little goat.

"Poles Apart" brings a bit of warm and fuzzy to climate change, as it depicts an animated polar bear trying to learn to eat like a grizzly. Helena Bonham Carter plays the polar bear in a beautiful stop-motion animation and award-winning film about melting glaciers. And, hey, who doesn't love a bear?

"Home Shopper" reminds us of the quiet impact of well-composed establishing shots and good editing. Questions about gender, marriage and financial pressures all come out from a simple story of a housewife watching a home shopping network and buying a few too many blenders. Appropriate and satisfying nods to the Coen brothers and Martin Scorsese ensue. And the film includes a few hilarious moments with Armie Hammer, perfectly cast.

And then there's "Wild, Wild West," a film that works as performance art, about the joys of drumbeat as a cinematic experience, not to mention some magnificent artwork made from the raggedy materials found at a Los Angeles Home Depot and an artist who explains why humble origins should not deny an artist equal standing and respect.

Speaking of class difference, there is also "Maude." It's a story about an old friend from an average place whose encounter with her former classmate throws her into a higher class of fashion-conscious moms. There's lots of wit and a little bit of sadness here about this working-class woman trying to fit into some expensive new leisurewear and the "mommy and me music class" crowd. And there is, you guessed it, a twist at the end.

There's the beautiful "Negative Space" with its intricate and articulate stop-motion puppet animation. The film is based on a poem that's poignant in a deceptively simple way.

Michelle Latimer's "Nuuca" is also deceptively simple. It opens with long takes of the wide-open prairies of North Dakota where, on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, the landscape is now more about the malignant burning flares of an oil well rather than, say, it is about wild horses running free. The filmmaker has an evocative way of making big rigs and oil wells look ominous, but not as ominous as the huge influx of transitory male workers who are bored and drunk and violent and wreak havoc on the bodies and souls of indigenous women there.

"The Driver is Red" is artistically animated drawings combined with powerful audio mixing. It's a kind of "true crime" story about the capture of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Argentina, full of drama and tension and a nod to early Mossad.

The beautifully shot "Hair Wolf" is a perfect blend of horror and comedy with killer art direction to boot. The film is rich with perspective about how a resistant African-American culture gets appropriated into the trivial and fashionable mainstream. And so we see how cultural appropriation is a kind of vampirism.

With "My Dead Dad's Porno Tapes," and its provocative title, you might think the film is about the "tackiest video pornography the '80s had to offer." But really, the film is about all the weird stuff in a single family history, generations back. It tells an engaging story about family dysfunction, abuse and forgiveness using only objects from a dead father's life and old footage.

Since this is just a smattering from each of Carbondale's four programs. I think we can't go wrong in attending any or all of them. Especially if we're in the mood for entertainment, poignancy, beauty, a bit of heart or humor and a great variety in terms of the tasty wonders of motion pictures. And of course, there's that popcorn.

Elizabeth Henry teaches film classes at CMC. She is a photographer, writer and script consultant.

If you go

Aspen Shortsfest

Saturday-Sunday, 5:15 and 7:30 p.m. The Aspen-based festival of short films brings four programs to Carbondale this weekend.

Crystal Theater, TK Main St., Carbondale | $20 per program | aspenfilm.org/about-2018-shortsfest