Life is Shorts
Hundreds of short films boil down to the Big Sur International Short Film Screening Series grand prize Sunday night at the Henry Miller Library.
Thursday, August 23, 2012
For me, the Big Sur International Short Film Screening Series didn’t begin with the first public screening on June 6. It started April 4 with an email from Magnus Toren, Henry Miller Library’s director and series emcee.
The surprise message asked me to sit on the initial selection committee with him and HML archivist Keely Richter – saying he took my enthusiasm for film and relentless attendance at the series in previous years as a sign I’d be game to voluntarily sift through nearly 300 of the approximately 1,000 films submitted for consideration.
He had me. After all, I hurry home following every BSISFSS session to email a friend briefs on all of the films. Now, however, the audience could hold me accountable for the quality of films selected. Fortunately any pain is fleeting, as Big Sur resident and BSISFSS regular Dan O’Rourke points out.
“If you don’t like a film, at least it’s over in a little while, and then it’s on to the next one,” he says. “Most I find entertaining. It’s been an incredible year for the films.”
Indeed, while the films ranged from sunshiny to sexy to disconcerting, each of them struck chords. Douglas (USA) featured music by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and amazing acting as Douglas, a young man with a social anxiety disorder, is conned by a petty thief. Tumult (U.K.) required a suspension of disbelief and a slightly twisted sense of humor, as three primitive Icelandic warriors armed with swords walking through the countryside happen upon a tour-bus filled with people armed with… cameras; with worlds colliding, in two climactic swings, two camera holders are beheaded. As the last film of the final night, Norway’s Tuba Atlantic was playing on HML’s redwood-framed cinema screen, I realized I might not see this film ever again. If the film wasn’t chosen for the Gala Finale on Aug. 26 by the screening series’ jury, which includes Kirsten Dunst, Phillip Glass and six other heavy hitters from the entertainment industry, I’d be out of luck – no more re-screenings of its sweet tale of life, death and intensely humorous hate for seagulls.
“It’s difficult to pick the best ones,” said Oscar-winning cinematographer and judge Vilmos Zsigmond. “Usually, you give a high score to the one you enjoy the most. It seems to me that every year the festival is getting better.”
In all, 54 films were chosen for the series’ 11 weeks, which enjoyed debuts beyond Big Sur, with Wednesday screenings in Carmel at the Outdoor Forest Theater (for the first three weeks of the series) and in Monterey at the Muscum of Monterey (for the final eight weeks), along with every Thursday in Big Sur.
The finale not only showcases the best four or five films of the summer, but also sends them off with a party. Britt Govea, the (((folkyeah!))) music-promotion mastermind, will DJ movie-themed music as entertainment until it’s dark enough to show the films. A fund raising raffle gives away Henry Miller items and the grand prize of a private movie screening party at the library ($2,000 value). Beer, wine, and chocolate will be available for a donation.
Also starring at the finale is the stovetop popcorn, made fresh each night of the series. Popcorn guru Mike Scutari was churning out close to six pounds per night. Regulars call it the best popcorn in the world.
The year was also distinguished by several filmmakers attending the screenings. Week nine brought Lo Dagerman, executive producer of the Swedish post-WWII documentary Our Need For Consolation, and Jared Varava, director of the American mockumentary Tumbleweed. Both were thrilled with the turnout and appreciation.
Xavier Thibault, sound engineer for the French murder thriller The Piano Tuner, also showed, and saw his film about a piano tuner who pretends he is blind to steal peoples’ sympathy for better tips, and “feels” his way into the home of a woman who had just murdered her husband. Thibault happened to stumble upon the series without any knowledge of the screening taking place. At the conclusion of the evening, all restaurants in Big Sur had closed their kitchens, so at midnight I made Thibault and his three French countrywomen omelets while they mixed cocktails.
So I couldn’t help but understand what Toren told me later.
“I’ve had so much fun this year,” Toren said of year seven. “It shouldn’t be legal to have this much fun.”
GALA FINALE OF THE BIG SUR INTERNATIONAL SHORT FILM SCREENING SERIES 2012 happens Sunday, Aug. 26, at the Henry Miller Memorial Library, Highway 1 just south of Nepenthe restaurant. Gates open at 7pm; films start at dusk. Free; donations appreciated. 667-2574.