ASPEN SHORTSFEST REPORT
Brandon Harris, who blogs at Cinema Echo Chamber, covered the Aspen ShortsFest for us and contributes here a round-up in advance of his more detailed coverage in the Summer issue:
One of the premier showcases for emerging directorial talent in North America, the Aspen ShortsFest concluded its 16th addition this past weekend. The Academy Award qualifying festival looks abroad for a majority of its programming, with over seventy-five percent of its fifty-nine competition films originating from outside the United States. With crowds made up largely of local film fans, zero sales activity and industry involvement at a minimum, this quaint resort town provides an inclusive, celebratory atmosphere without the velvet rope hustle and bustle of larger, more market oriented festivals.
The programmers leaned heavily toward superbly executed, conceptually sharp animated films (Bill Plympton’s “Guide Dog”, Jonas Odell’s “Never Like The First Time!”, Osbert Parker’s “Yours Truly”), whimsical, naturalist comedies (Isold Uggadottir’s “Family Reunion”, Dyana Gaye’s “Ousmane”, co-student winner Fellipe Gamarosa’s “Salt Kiss”) and understated, emotionally wrenching humanist dramas (Felice Goetze’s “Tougher Yet”, co-student winner Vineet Dewan’s ‘Clear Cut, Simple”, Michael Dreher’s Best Drama winning “Fair Trade”). Yet much of the work doesn’t fit neatly into these categories and a consistent theme running through many of the films is the difficulty of communication and emotional interconnection in a dangerous, exponentially changing world.
Perhaps the most powerful film in the competition, completely overlooked by the jury, Jens Assur’s “The Last Dog in Rwanda” takes a penetrating look at a Swedish war photographer’s life long obsession with armed conflict. Along with Raoul Peck’s startling HBO docudrama “Sometimes in April”, Assur’s film peels back the gloss of chic Indiewood treatments of modern African turmoil, to look squarely at the terror and militaristic nihilism within this tiny African country. The desire to aestheticize death that has long been a major ethical concern for filmmakers is given direct textual treatment; the film’s protagonist is an ambivalent man whose job is to bear witness to inexplicable horror with unblinking artistry. Flashbacks within the short format are often ill advised, but Assur is concise and clever in his use of glimpses from his protagonist’s war obsessed childhood. That orderly, savant-like childhood curiosity, nurtured within a privileged Swedish household, provides a stark counterpoint to the grim nihilism of the Hutus. Its potent and bloody final passage left an unprepared Aspen audience breathless.