Shorts fest continues online
In a black-and-white world, Bill, a lumberjack, becomes a 21st century tin man when a pastor curses his axe. Within the span of a 20-minute short film, Bill loses one limb, then another through freak accidents, until his entire body is replaced by metal prostheses manufactured by his friend Paul. Finally, he loses the one thing that can’t be replaced by modern science: the warm attention of Jill, the love of his life.
The fast and furious filmmaking of this year’s Sundance Film Festival’s honorable mention for best short film, "Death to the Tinman," tells the surreal modern-day backstory to L. Frank Baum’s "Wizard of Oz," the tin woodsman, an all-metal man who lost his heart.
The festival might be over, but independent short maker Ray Tintori’s fairytale short, like its unstoppable protagonist, is also experiencing a second life by way of modern technology, trading the silver screen for a smaller, digital screen on the Internet.
Sundance launched many of its 71 innovative shorts program online to give budding film talents extended exposure, and, in conjunction with iTunes, the opportunity to turn a profit. In the past, a filmmaker views a short as an investment in the future of their career, and not a way to earn a living.
This year, for the first time, some shorts opted to be launched on iTunes, where they can be downloaded-to-own for $1.99.
Selected shorts are also available at the festival’s Web site, at festival.sundance.org free of charge and will be available through June, 2007.
Among the shorts offered online is the nine-minute documentary "God Provides," a film that follows members of a Mississippi community and spiritual mission leaders as they respond to Hurricane Katrina’s carnage.
Brian Cassidy who co-directed "God Provides" with Melanie Shatzky, says though a screen "the size of four postage stamps" cannot replace the experience of seeing film shorts with an audience in a theater, he accepts the new virtual forum.
"There’s a part of me that thinks absolutely a short film should be experienced in the theater, but at the same time, things are changing," he told The Park Record. "The way that people are experiencing film is changing, the distribution models are changing and I do think a newer generation will just kind of develop a new way of processing images."
According to Cassidy, while he attended Sundance and his film was being viewed on the big screen, he fielded calls from not only from other states, but from other countries from people who saw his film on line on their computer screens.
"I think that [launching shorts online] can only be a good thing in the end," said the first-time filmmaker. "As time goes on, and as the distribution models for films change and people begin to experience things in more fragmented ways, I think that the short form will have a kind of renewed vitality.
"In the past, the short film has been perceived as less marketable, less popular. I think that’s going to change," Cassidy concluded.
Robert Redford reflected at the beginning of this year’s festival that watching the work of short filmmakers will give people a taste of what to expect in the future. If people care about independent filmmaking, they should watch shorts, he said, since they are "the best indicators of what’s coming down the pike."
The Sundance short program as helped to further the careers of such filmmakers as Directors David O. Russell, who directed "Three Kings," Spike Jonze, the director of "Adaptation," Paul Thomas Anderson, and the director of "Magnoia," Paul Thomas Anderson.
Most of them, however, had to wait until they were involved in full-length features with a larger budget before they earned a living.
For the past two decades of Sundance’s shorts, there has not been a market for the shorts films, according to director of programming for the Sundance Film festival John Cooper. Most filmmakers considered making short film an investment in their future careers, he said, adding that the online offerings of films is exciting because it could "change the culture of the short film genre."
For actor Anthony Neil Moss, the investment in shorts has already paid off.
"This is my first Sundance and this short is my first major release as a lead," he said. "This is the greatest experience I’ve had in my entire life as far as filmmaking is concerned."
For six 18-hour days and little preparation, he and director Jesus Beltran produced "The Grass Grows Green," a dramatic piece about the impact of a soldier’s death in Iraq on the Marine recruit who encouraged him to enlist. The 19-minute performance features Moss as a lead in the role of lieutenant and is also featured on the Sundance Web site.
Moss, who previously had been working as a telecommunications engineer in Dallas, Texas, says due to connections he made in Park City in the past week, he will soon travel to China to play the lead in a full-length feature now that the festival has ended.
As far as the future of shorts is concerned, the screen will only get smaller.
Last November, Redford announced plans to commission six directors to make three-to-five minute shorts for an even tinier screen: the cell phone.
Redford said he hoped to launch the five short films at a cellular industry conference organized by the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) in Barcelona next month, when cell phone operators can make the films available for broader distribution.
In the November press release, GSM Association Chief Marketing Officer Bill Gajda said phone operators would not charge consumers for the films. Once the content was downloaded people would be able to transfer the films to other phones using wireless link technologies such as Bluetooth, he said.
The filmmakers asked to direct the shorts by The Sundance Institute include Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who debuted the feature film "Little Miss Sunshine" at Sundance in 2006.
GSM allows cell phone users to roam freely among markets and has become the global standard for mobile phone frequencies throughout the world.
If successful, in the near future the once non-existent shorts market could be magnified more than ten fold: GSM represents nearly 700 mobile phone operators in 215 countries, Redford said last fall.
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