A daunting 150 short films are currently being screened at the Megaplex 17 at Jordon Commons in Sandy, Utah, for the Second Annual Filmquest Film Festival, which celebrates the horror, fantasy and science-fiction genres.
These films represent a wide variety of themes inherent to the genres they represent, and they stand as calling cards for the next generation of filmmakers. The work of countless veteran, amateur and student filmmakers are on display for an audience eager to witness their unique vision.
This year’s shorts program is presented in numerous, nearly two-hour blocks, and a few shorts are being paired with feature films. The films themselves tackle various themes – from comedy to straight-up horror, from the supernatural to the human condition, from animation to re-animation – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
With shorts, filmmakers don’t have the luxury of building up a long narrative. The story needs to be quick and to the point – economical and ultimately impactful.
It would take forever to break down all the short films that are being screened; and I only managed to see a third of them. But here are a few that stood out in my mind, left an impact or actually got my blood flowing and stayed with me well after the conclusion.
- Jon Ksander & Kevin Adams’ Gear is a look at a dystopian future where not only petty crime is rampant, but also apparently intellectual theft. It’s an intriguing and cautionary sci-fi tale that features solid visual effects and much more engaging characters, both human and artificial, than can be found in the big-budget dud Chappie.
- I’m not entirely sure how Alejandro Montoya Marin’s Low/Fi ended up in a genre film festival, but I’m glad it did because I would likely have never seen this charming, cute and funny short. A 30-year-old woman’s interpretation of how romance should be was shaped by the movies, and all she wants is a fairytale romance like she finds in those films. However, life is not like the movies, as she soon discovers. The film features a solid comedic performance by Kristen Rakes, a witty screenplay and great direction.
- Christiano Dias’ Monster in a House chronicles the terror that ensues when quarreling parents discover that the monster their daughter has claimed to have been seeing is all too real. This metaphorical and psychological tale puts a creepy, horror spin on the all-too-real horrors children may witness. It features solid performances, is nicely paced and leaves just enough room for interpretation by the viewing audience.
- Sadie Rogers’ RPG perfectly captures the intense and intertwining relationships that can be found in a role-playing game (RPG) night. As six friends have their monthly Dungeons & Dragons game, emotions come to a boil as the group’s latest adventure doesn’t go too well for those in the game and in real life. Rogers’ slice-of-life drama achieves a certain level of verisimilitude and leaves you wondering just how the dice will roll both during the film and when it concludes.
- Pablo Absento’s Shi is a film that may at first leave you perplexed by its simplicity, but as you begin to peel away the layers and find the perceived subtext, you begin to see a much more complex and haunting story. While the film is open to interpretation (apparently mine was out of left field), this is still an effective chiller about a man in the wrong place at the wrong time. It has a nice pace, is well acted and has solid make-up work and locations.
- Astrid Wells Cooper’s Slick Timing is an amusing take on luck. The film follows a pair of Time Adjusters, the people who can manipulate time and events to prevent a fatal catastrophe from befalling you. It’s a fun concept and features nice comedic acting, intriguing situations and leaves you wanting to see more adventures.
- Chris Cronin’s Sophie’s Fortune is a fun adventure that chronicles the events of a “fathers-only” treasure hunt where the participants’ imaginations get the better of them. You never know just where this one is going to go, but it features numerous nods to the action/adventure genre that will certainly draw a chuckle or two. It certainly drives home the message that it’s fun to have an imagination regardless of how old you are.
- Michiel ten Kleij’s Steven Caught a Star is a poignant story about a dreamer whose world is shattered by the news that his parents are divorcing. Young Steven has a fascination with space, an interest that even his teacher encourages him to pursue. One night he manages to capture a shooting star. His preoccupation with this shooting star fuels his imagination and proves to be his only escape from the world as he sees it. This well made fantasy/drama, which features a compelling story and well performed characters, will leave you reflecting upon its conclusion long after it’s over.
- Victoria Vaughn’s The Fairies’ Child unfolds like a Celtic tome. After her father’s death, Emilia returns to her childhood home and discovers that the make-believe creatures of her childhood were in fact real. It’s a poignant and lyrical tale about a person who must come to grips with what they believe, where they belong and which path they should take. It’s a well told and well shot film that, at times, reminded me of the animated classic Song of the Sea.
- JT Seaton’s The Peripheral is an entertaining take on something we have all gone through at one point or another. That moment where we see something in our periphery, think there is someone there and then look up to see there was nothing there to begin with…or was there? Seaton effectively lays on the tension when a patient shows up at his psychiatrist’s home because he is terrified that something is going to get him. Is he or isn’t seeing things? You’ll have fun trying to find out.
- Marc Martinez Jordan’s Timothy is a very twisted and terrifying film that becomes quite unsettling when you begin to piece together just what it is you watched. Simon and his babysitter are visited by Timothy, a giant bunny character from one of his favorite shows. I saw this at Screamfast last year, and it hasn’t lost a step, still packing a punch upon its conclusion.
This is just a small sampling of some of the shorts I managed to see during the festival’s opening weekend. All of the shorts elicited some sort of response from me, which is all a viewer could hope for, especially when filmmakers only have a few minutes to make their case. If you are in the Salt Lake City area, take the opportunity to catch some of the shorts; you are sure to find something that appeals to your tastes.
As the festival wraps up 10 full days of programming, eyes look to Filmquest 2016, for which submissions will be taken starting next month. Information can be found at filmquestfestival.com.