Each year, more than 8,000 filmmakers submit their short films to Sundance Film Festival, vying to join the ranks of now-acclaimed directors like Darren Aronofsky, the Coen brothers and Wes Anderson, who all launched their careers at the Utah-based fest.
Sundance programmers then spend five months watching the films and choosing the best ones. Only a small percentage of submissions are selected to screen at the festival.
“We … try to balance fun entertainment with true art and important social issues,” explains Sundance senior short film programmer Mike Plante. “You want to make a program that showcases new talent and films with a fresh style and story.”
So you know what’s included in the 2015 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour — which visits Honolulu Museum of Art’s Doris Duke Theatre Aug. 18-22 — is the cream of the crop. Each of the six films are award winners from the festival. A humorous take on single parenthood. An animated espionage sci-fi thriller. A new Don Hertzfeldt flick. It’s all there in the 83-minute program.
“It is a great mixture of genres,” says Doris Duke Theatre film curator Abigail Algar, “and it’s a great opportunity to see some films that you probably never would have a chance to see otherwise. It’s a treat.”
It’s also a rare opportunity to see short films — which often don’t have outlets for mainstream viewing — on the big screen.
“It’s a very under-represented form of filmmaking, because it doesn’t get the theatrical release that other feature-length films see,” Algar says. “There are tons and tons out there, but they just don’t get the attention in terms of theatrical release that full-length films get.
“The short-film form has been and will continue to be a medium which allows and encourages experimentation, innovation and originality,” Algar continues. “Filmmakers are more willing and able to take risks with short-form work, and this is what keeps pushing film forward as an artistic medium.”
The Short Film Tour is just one component in what is becoming a blossoming partnership between the museum and Sundance Institute, the governing body that oversees the festival and offers programs dedicated to supporting independent filmmakers throughout the year. Last year, the 2014 shorts tour also screened at the theatre, followed by the animated shorts tour. Then, earlier this year, Plante and other Sundance programmers brought the Institute’s ShortsLab to Honolulu. The ShortsLab programs visit cities throughout the country, featuring curated screenings and panel discussions as a way to give aspiring filmmakers a look into the industry.
The seeds of the partnership were planted in 2013, when Hathaway Jakobsen joined the museum as its chief advancement officer. She was fresh from a stint at Sundance Institute, where she worked in fundraising. Arriving in Honolulu, she saw an opportunity.
“I just saw an amazing array of creative artists and creativity and such a great energy here,” Jakobsen says.
Plans to expand the partnership currently are in the works. While the museum can’t reveal all the details, Algar and Jakobsen do say that it will focus on bolstering local filmmakers and helping them get their work out there.
“(Sundance) is looking for voices that maybe the big studios of Hollywood wouldn’t necessarily look at,” Jakobsen explains. “They’re looking for that independent artist who sold everything they had to make a film, maybe they’re in credit card debt, but they really believe in their craft and in their story.”
As demonstrated by the ‘Ohina Short Film Showcase that the museum hosted last weekend, there is indeed a breadth of local talent. The showcase featured films created by local independent filmmakers — all submissions either had to be filmed in the state, or by a Hawaii resident living elsewhere. Selections included Lahaina Noon, directed by Christopher Kahunahana, who landed a fellowship with Sundance last year in a program that supports indigenous filmmakers.
“I think there is a hunger for more,” Jakobsen says. “Living in an island community can sometimes feel limited, and it can feel harder to dream big … The goal (of the partnership) is to inspire and motivate and activate our local community to dream big, to go for it.
For more information on the 2015 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour, see the sidebar and visit honolulumuseum.org.
The 2015 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour plays at 1 and 7:30 p.m. Aug. 18, 20 and 21 and 1 and 4 p.m. Aug. 22. Tickets cost $10 for general admission or $8 for museum members.
This film peeks into the life of a young, single mother whose free time has become consumed with caring for her toddler son. But when she tries to capitalize on her son’s nap time to invite a former fling over, the encounter doesn’t go as planned. It’s a humorous take on the struggles of balancing parenthood with the rest of life, as well as a reflection on how desires morph over time.
The film is the directorial debut of Frankie Shaw, who is perhaps most recognizable from her roles on sitcoms Blue Mountain State and the short-lived Mixology. Shaw also wrote and stars in the film, which recently was optioned by Showtime to be developed into a series.
OH LUCY! 50-something Setsuko spends her days sitting in a cubicle working a nondescript office job. But she gets a jolt of excitement when her niece approaches her with a proposal to take English lessons. Setsuko agrees and readily accepts her handsome teacher’s terms: Wear a blonde wig and go by the name Lucy. But with a new identity comes new desires.
The director, Atsuko Hirayanagi, is working on a feature-length version of the short.
THE FACE OF UKRAINE: CASTING OKSANA BAIUL At first a seemingly straightforward audition reel, this film shows several girls trying out for the role of Olympic figure skater Oksana Baiul. Each of the aspiring actresses responds to a series of increasingly probing questions posed off-screen — what they do in their free time, their dreams for the future, the last time they cried — ultimately revealing tales of war and displacement, and intimate displays of emotion that transcend the casting call.
Director Kitty Green is known for her documentary Ukraine Is Not A Brothel, which details the inner workings of feminist activist group Femen.
This documentary is told silently through close, focused shots of ice and water as a man swims through a frozen lake and others wait on top of the ice for him. With slow, deliberate pacing, it packs its punch in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reveal.
STORM HITS JACKET
It’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not in this hallucinatory animated film. Two scientists are working through a storm — on what seems to be a contraption that makes people feel like they’re “face to face with the future,” as they boast — when a spy tries to interfere.
WORLD OF TOMORROW
In the latest film by Don Hertzfeldt, a little girl is visited by the future clone version of herself, who updates her on the state of humanity: People have become singularly obsessed with preserving the past — cloning themselves and preserving memories.
Hertzfeldt rose to Internet fame in 2000 with his Rejected cartoon series — those once-ubiquitous “my spoon is too big” videos — and later became a Sundance darling with his Everything Will Be OK trilogy.
World of Tomorrow is Doris Duke film curator Abigail Algar’s favorite of the batch.
“It is a humorous tale, but at the same time, it’s actually a little disturbing,” she says with a laugh, “and quite accurate, probably.”