Short and Sweeter
Big Sur International Film Screening Series 2010 only improves on first four.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
The roots of the Annual Big Sur International Film Screening Series took hold after Magnus Toren impulsively purchased a film projector on eBay from a preacher in Kentucky.
“I don’t remember how I could have had that money, but I just really frivolously spent a bunch of [my own] money on this projector thinking that maybe I was going to rent it out, and rent myself out as an operator as a side business,” says Toren, the executive director of the Henry Miller Library.
Though Toren never started that film business, he did begin showing short movies on the lawn of the Henry Miller Library under the redwoods, which eventually blossomed into the First Annual Big Sur International Film Screening Series in 2006. The fifth installment of the festival, which begins this June 10 and takes place every Thursday evening until Aug. 29, has become one of the best film showcases in Monterey County. Among this year’s impressive 62 entries is Kavi, a movie that was nominated for a 2010 Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film, and What About Me?, which was co-directed by the popular Israeli writer Etgar Keret, whose novella Kneller’s Happy Campers became the basis for the 2006 feature film Wristcutters: A Love Story.
This year’s film offerings come from even more far-flung parts of the world, including Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Bosnia, due in part to Art For the World, an organization associated with the United Nation’s Department of Public Information, which submitted 22 short movies.
“They wanted to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Toren says, “and the way they did that was, they were soliciting from filmmakers from all over the world to illustrate aspects of the declaration in short-film format.”
A sampling of the summer’s selections reveals that there is no underlying theme connecting the works. Kavi depicts a young, enslaved Indian boy who dreams of playing cricket while toiling away in a ramshackle brick-making operation, while This Is Alaska pokes fun at a group of hipsters who attempt to assert their individualism by becoming part of an eclectic, cold and dark community in the northernmost U.S. state.
Toren, who chose the short films with a small committee that includes Henry Miller Library staff and Big Sur residents, believes that thematic threads don’t connect the films even though there is something that most have in common. “In terms of categorizing films, I think there is one thing we are biased towards, and that’s a story well told,” he says. “If you have a narrative film, you are going to have a little bit better chance of being selected than if it isn’t narrative or if it’s simply poetic.”
The best of the movies being screened at this year’s series will be sent to a jury of filmmaking heavyweights, who will chose four or five of the summer’s finest selections for the festival’s gala Aug. 29 finale.
This year’s jury includes Academy Award nominated actor Woody Harrelson, composer of three Academy Award-nominated film scores Philip Glass, Academy Award-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, experimental performance artist Laurie Anderson, film editor Susan Littenberg and film producer Lawrence Inglee.
Even in its first year, the festival secured top-notch works, as evidenced by the fact that the winner of the 2006 series, Binta and the Great Idea, went on to be nominated for a 2007 Academy Award in the Best Live Action Short Film category after being shown at the Henry Miller Library. Since then, the series has shown short movies by Nacho Vigalondo, who made the mind-bending 2007 feature Timecrimes, and Jay Duplass, who directed the upcoming, full-length Cyrus, which stars Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei and John C. Reilly.
Though it’s hard to predict what will happen to the films after they are screened at the library, Toren is sure that this batch of movies will resonate with the series’ audience, who takes them in along with picnic snacks and BYO wine under towering redwoods and shimmering stars. “There are a few that are absolutely, no questions about it going to cause tears at the end,” he says, “or a huge amount of emotions.”