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Shortsfest brings full spectrum of films to Crystal Theatre

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By Megan Tackett
Special to The Sopris Sun


Saturday, April 8 marks the beginning of Aspen Film’s 26th Shortsfest — in Carbondale, at least. This year, the acclaimed festival features 64 “shorts” — films that are less than 40 minutes long, organized into thematic programs. The Crystal Theatre will host four of those roughly 90-minute programs at 5:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. April 8 and 9. Each event will be followed with a question-and-answer session with the featured filmmakers. 
The festival is a labor of love, with at least as much of the former as the latter. For this year’s presentation, the Shortsfest programming team sorted through almost 4,000 contending films. 
“We select the films first,” said Kathleen McInnis, programming director for Aspen Shortsfest. “It takes [the team] months to go through all the films in consideration and start to narrow the list. Once we have decided which are the films that fit all our parameters, then we discuss emerging themes together.”
Carbondale audiences will get the full spectrum regarding those parameters, which focus on “top-level storytelling, fresh looks at new perspectives and production values,” among others, according to McInnis. 
The programs slated for the Crystal Theatre include charming animations from both student filmmakers and Pixar professionals. They are equally diverse in genres: expect to see documentaries about Syrian and Somali refugees, as well as pieces that would tempt one to call them absurd, only to subsequently realize their underlying purposes. 
And, regardless of artist or genre, audience members can look forward to being able to say, “I saw it first.” While the Shortsfest holistically boasts 31 premieres, the Carbondale programs alone will feature nine world and international premieres, 15 North American and U.S. premieres and one work still in progress. Furthermore, the films coming to Carbondale represent artworks from much of the world — 15 countries to be exact, from Australia to Germany to the U.S. 
That level of diversity is no accident, nor are the neatly packaged programs into which the films are organized. 
Once the film-selection process is complete, “I lock myself into a room for a day and start the jigsaw puzzle of the program,” McInnis said, “trying to create a satisfying and emotional experience in each package.”
Programs A and B comprise Saturday’s viewings at the Crystal Theatre, titled “Memories Lost and Found” and “Brave New World,” respectively. Sunday goers will see the C and D programs, “Landscapes” and “Around the World.” Though the programs are meant to thread a theme between the films, there is a broader mainstay among them all: the human experience.
How well each filmmaker tells his or her version of that experience could mean more than simply an often-international, work-related trip to the Roaring Fork Valley — the Shortsfest is an official qualifier for the Academy Awards. While audience members are asked to vote for their own “best of” films after each program, Aspen Film’s guest list of jurors will also be among the more discerning eyes in the crowds. They represent myriad aspects of the industry mosaic, including agents, managers, festival programmers, production companies and media.
“Aspen Shortsfest is as much about connecting filmmakers with their industry as it is about connecting them with their audience,” McInnis said. “The industry attending Shortsfest this year are notable for their generosity as well as their breadth of experience and invaluable knowledge across the global cinema landscape. We are thrilled they have dedicated their week to mentoring our filmmakers and meeting our audiences.” 
In that regard, Aspen Shortsfest alumni have a good track record. Just last year, McInnis put together a package of short films that “I knew from the 2016 festival circuit [that] I thought likely to get an academy award or Oscar nod” for the Aspen Film’s Academy Screenings Program. “As it turns out, ‘The White Helmets’ won for best documentary!” she said. McInnis had previously programmed “The White Helmets” for the Toronto International Film Festival. 
McInnis isn’t the only one with Aspen Shortsfest on a resume to also be able to claim Oscar-level talent; Damien Chazelle won best director this year for“La La Land.”  

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Published in The Sopris Sun on April 6, 2017. 
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