By Marissa Willman
The 18th annual Palm Springs International ShortFest is in full swing after kicking off Tuesday, bringing a total of 325 short films from around the world to Camelot Theatres through Monday.
More than 20,000 people attend the festival’s various events, which includes daily film screenings, an awards ceremony and three days of programs and panelists at this weekend’s ShortFest Forum. Two-time Oscar-nominated director Gus Van Sant, who earned nominations for directing “Good Will Hunting” and “Milk,” will receive the Spirit of Short Film Award on Saturday for his distinguished film career and decades-long dedication to short films. Van Sant and Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit will host separate Master Classes on directing and cinematography on Saturday.
Programming and Executive Director Darryl Macdonald believes ShortFest is unique because its spirit is the polar opposite of that found in Hollywood.
“There’s this energy at ShortFest and innocence,” Macdonald said, “where it’s not about the commercial aspect of film making.”
The festival features short films from around the world, and more than 400 filmmakers from as far as South Korea, Russia, Bolivia and Australia will come to Palm Springs to attend their screenings.
“They bring with them such a sense of exuberance and energy that is really infectious,” Macdonald said. “They’re in love with the art of making films and it transmits to every aspect of the festival.”
After each screening, directors offer a 15 – 30 minute Q&A session.
More than 3,000 short films were submitted for consideration for this year’s festival but roughly 10% were lucky enough to make it to the festival. Macdonald and his team spend the months leading up to the festival carefully watching and grading each submission.
“It’s gotten tougher and tougher as access to better equipment has become available to filmmakers around the world,” Macdonald said. “The films are better and the sophistication of storytelling is getting better.”
Shorts are packaged together based on themes, such as the “Local Sightings” package that features shorts that either include local talent or were shot in the desert. Each package includes anywhere from four to eight films and generally runs from 80 – 90 minutes.
Another not-to-be-missed package is “Shooting Stars,” which includes shorts made with or by major talent. The package includes works involving stars such as Judi Dench, Michael Fassbender, Octavia Spencer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Kathy Bates and Shia LaBeof.
Dozens of other packages are available, ranging from the all-ages “Kool 4 Kids” package to the adult-oriented “Taboo” package. On Monday, festival-goers can check out the best of the fest at Camelot, where the highest rated shorts will be screened a second time.
The best part about ShortFest, according to Macdonald, is that festival-goers are bound to find something they like.
“You can be sitting there watching the film and maybe you don’t like it,” Macdonald said, “but stick around. Five minutes later, you’ll see something you enjoy.”
Another aspect of the event is the ShortFest Online Film Festival, a contest hosted through the festival’s website. For the second year, visitors can watch a selection of shorts specifically chosen for the online contest and grade each film. The highest-rated short film will win the “ShortFest Online Audience Award,” to be announced at Sunday’s Festival Award Ceremony on closing night. Macdonald said the online contest is a great way to become familiar with short films.
“You can refresh your senses as far as how wonderful watching a short can be,” Macdonald said.
Ticket information and a full schedule of festival’s events can be found on their website, PSFilmFest.org.