San Diego Film Festival: Short Films
Independent filmmakers showcase their best short works
"The Hiccup" stars Eric Normington (left) and Robert Chester Smith
Five days and over 110 film screenings later, the 2012 San Diego Film Festival is a wrap. In its 11th year, the event was more popular than ever, bringing in droves of film fanatics and high-profile celebrities. While undoubtedly the most attended events were the screenings and parties touting the biggest stars, the festival’s primary focus was to expose and honor the art of independent filmmaking.
Whether it was film students presenting their thesis project or industry veterans just wanting to work on a small budget, the heart of independent filmmaking is found in short films. Shorts act as a director's resume to show what they are capable of. If the film is a hit or critically acclaimed, it allows that filmmaker to move on to bigger, and hopefully the more profitable work of full-length features. A direct example of this is director Martin McDonagh, whose new film “Seven Psychopaths” was the most attended screening of the festival. His first crack at cinema was a low-budget short called “Six Shooter.” The film went on to win the Academy Award for Best Live-Action Short and McDonagh is now making multi-million dollar films with the likes of Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson.
Now, not all filmmakers will be so fortunate to have the title “Oscar Winner” plastered in front of their name after their debut, but getting to brag that their film was featured or even won an award at a festival is good in itself.
I was able to check out 15 short films during my time at the festival. As expected, it was a pretty mixed bag of surprisingly deft flicks and appallingly inept efforts. Featured below are my three favorite shorts.
Directed by Scott Schaeffer
After the sudden loss of her playboy son (Chad Michael Murray), an estranged mother (Rita Wilson) learns more about her son than ever before through contacting his friends and former lovers. Each encounter brings more perspective into how carelessly her son lived and loved and how it affected those he met. Also starring Oscar winner Anna Paquin, this dark tale of grieving and acceptance was more emotionally impactful than any feature or short at the festival. Each character and perspective is fully realized in the limited time given and backed by the most professional production values. In fact, “The Carrier” is a rare short that leaves audiences wanting more, but is so fully realized, it probably would not work as well as a full-length feature.
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Directed by Robert Matthews
A blazing revenge thriller, “Retribution” is the quick and dirty tale of street mugging gone horribly wrong for the thief. After just getting engaged, Robert (Matt Pohlkamp) and Nikki (Angie Patterson) are held-up while walking to car. Just before it appears the criminal will get away, Robert pulls his gun on the assaulter and reveals his officer badge. Instead of simply arresting the man, Robert vows to make this stranger suffer for ruining he and his finance’s big night. Using a flashback editing approach, director Robert Matthews turns this ordinary tale into clever and heart-pounding affair in which the viewer isn’t sure of whom to feel sorry for. With solid acting and a vibe that feels like something cut from the TV show “24,” this 11 minute short is as satisfying as they come.
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Directed by Matt Smukler
This winner of Best Comedy Short at this year’s festival was unsurprisingly the most outrageously hilarious. After a night of who knows what, Rob (Robert Chester Smith, best known for harassing Aaron Rodgers in the State Farm Discount Double Check commercials) and Michael (Eric Normington), are looking to get out of town fast. The only hiccup is, there car is in desperate need of water for its smoking radiator. Broken down in Rob’s old neighborhood, he runs to ask his elderly woman neighbor (Carol Mansell) for a pitcher of water. This should-have-been quick encounter leads to awkward exchanges, sexual harassment and an even bigger reason to leave as soon as possible. Chester Smith’s transformation from confident team leader to flustered victim is what makes this harmless situation turned horribly wrong so entertaining. With high production values and a quirky score, this will undoubtedly be a great resume enhancer for all involved.
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For a list of all the winners at this year's festival, visit www.sdff.org.