In the Shorts
The debut Monterey Bay Film Festival amasses a whirlwind of striking short films.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
What do a group of teenage girls incarcerated at Salinas Juvenile Hall, Watsonville high school kids and an award-winning animator have in common? They are all filmmakers with short films screening this Saturday at the inaugural Monterey Bay Film Festival, an expanded version of last year’s Teen Film Festival.
“This year, the whole festival is framed to be intergenerational,” says Enid Baxter Blader, CSU Monterey Bay’s Teledramatic Arts and Technology department chair. “We have films by teens who learned from college students and films by college students and established filmmakers, who the college students learn from.”
CSUMB film students have been leading Young Filmmakers Program workshops at nine cites throughout Monterey County, including programs at Seaside Boys and Girls Club and the Salinas Community Center. The goal of it is to teach local 13-17 year-olds how to make their own short films. This year, there were 212 submissions competing for the festival’s 12 available spots. The college students running the workshops were tasked with a difficult selection process. “This is how [the students] get the experience of putting together a film festival,” Blader says. “The process is extremely selective, so all the films showing at the festival are amazing.”
The program will open with a film by an Armenian teen about a young boy who works in a tombstone factory. Another one of the standouts is Letters From Within, a collaborative effort made by two CSUMB students and girls serving time at Salinas Juvenile Hall. The film tells the gripping stories of the teen girls’ lives through their letters and poetry.
“[Letters] is going to win a lot of awards in the future,” Blader says.
There will also be a screening of five films by current CSUMB students, including a claymation short, The Sniffer, and a quirky music video shot on a local beach.
Following the teen and college short film segments, Blader enlisted of her longtime cine-pal Mike Plante – a programmer for the Sundance Film Festival – to put together an additional shorts program to complete the intergenerational triangle. “Right now, [Plante] is probably the most important film festival programmer in the country,” Blader says.
Plante explains that it’s important for the festival to begin modestly and grow a little bit each year. Currently, there’s a mobile application in the works.
“We didn’t want to go nuts the first year,” he says. “We wanted to do something we knew we’d be able to pull off. Just by having the festival we’re going to start making connections with people in the area and interest will grow; we have to make it manageable so people can have a good time and not feel overwhelmed.”
The enthusiastic film fest guru says that he watches more than 5,000 films every year for Sundance and other festivals; he keeps an ongoing list of gems that sometimes don’t make it into festival lineups. For MBFF, Plante chose 11 stellar shorts that he considers to be “really good, unusual films” that locals will dig.
“These are great films that I want people to see,” Plante says. “I tried to hone in a little bit about what may play good in Monterey.”
Plante took into account the county’s rich literary history and diverse population to construct a tasty plate of mini celluloid samplings.
Notes on the Other, directed by Sergio Oksman, is a pseudo-documentary and quasi-autobiographical toast to the mysterious and romantic life (and death) of Ernest Hemmingway, starring a number of the author’s look-alikes and featuring the running of the bulls in Pamplona.
Two-time Academy Award nominee Don Hertzfeldt uses stick figures with flashy backgrounds to tell a very human story in his animated short I Am so Proud of You.
Topaz Adizes’ Laredo, Texas is an 11-minute border story – which takes place in the biggest inland port city in the U.S. – about a the tension-filled interaction between an undocumented immigrant and a guy on his first day at a new job.
The Sundance-selected Charlie and the Rabbit – directed by CSUMB alumni Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck and Robert Machoian – delightfully follows a trotting toddler on a mission to hunt his own rabbit, Elmer Fudd style.
Next year, Plante already plans to add a selection of feature-length films. In addition to bringing subversive films to the area, the festival will pair CSUMB students with working filmmakers. “Students will get access to people working in film around the country on a similar level,” Plante says. “A lot of the stuff I’m showing was made for a few thousand dollars, with no studio backing and a small crew.”
Plante, who works with other festivals around the country besides Sundance, is making it his personal mission to spread the word around the industry about the MBFF and CSUMB the rising film program.
“I see it becoming a multi-venue festival featuring local content, literature and activism,” Blader says. “Mike and I have big plans and we think the community is going to rise to the occasion.”