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Ready for more Oscars drama? Oscar-qualifying Aspen Shortsfest kicks off on Tuesday

Giulio Callegari's short film Erratum is funny, philosophical – and very French.
Courtesy of Aspen Film
Giulio Callegari's short film Erratum is funny, philosophical – and very French.

The Aspen Shortsfest film festival kicks off Tuesday. This year’s festival features 77 short films from around the world. By the end of the week-long event, five of the films will qualify for the 2023 Oscars.

Aspen Shortsfest is the only major Oscar-qualifying film festival that focuses exclusively on shorts – films that are 40 minutes or less.

Because of the format, it’s a good place to find experimentation and unfamiliar names.

“Shorts, I always say, are a great calling card for directors – particularly directors who are just starting out,” said Susan Wrubel, executive and artistic director at Aspen Film.

Aspen Shortsfest has five Oscar-qualifying categories: Animation, Comedy, Documentary, Drama, "and Short-Short, which is a short film that is under five minutes,” Wrubel explained. “People always laugh at that one. But it is a great category.”

In addition to qualifying for an Oscar nomination, the winners of those categories will walk away with $2,500 prizes.

Nearly 3,000 films were submitted for this year’s festival. Only 77 made the cut.

Slated for Thursday night, the British film Enjoy comes from director Saul Abraham. It explores the slow process of trust-building between an angry, school-age boy – Archibald – and his tutor, Michael, an at-home teacher whose real passion is spoken word poetry.

His lyrics include: “The Simon Cowell generation, can't say no to the temptation, out of the womb onto a PlayStation.”

He’s not very good, as Archibald points out rather ruthlessly.

Over the course of the 18-minute film, Michael struggles with depression and anger. His breakthrough finally comes when his relationship with Archibald moves from distrust and outright disdain to a place of vulnerability and healing – it captures the type of rare connection between an unhappy child and an adult who can actually understand what they’re feeling.

“Sometimes I get sad for quite a long time,” Archibald says. “You don't understand.”

“I do. I do understand,” Michael replies.

Asked how to make it better, Michael hesitates: “Well, I don't know.”

Another short film – Erratum, from French director Giulio Callegari – also follows a protagonist who must learn the phrase “I don’t know.”

Florence, an archeologist, and her student, Bastian, are excavating a site when they discover an inscription of a vulgar phrase.

The vulgarity is modern, but the pigment dates back to 50 B.C.

Florence becomes obsessed with finding an answer to the question: “Pourquoi?” (Why?)

It’s funny and philosophical.

Erratum is slated for opening night on Tuesday.

This year’s festival also features an Aspen-based filmmaker – Diane Moore, with the documentary Conducting Life.

Slated for next Saturday, the film follows the story of Roderick Cox, a young classical music conductor who spent time at Aspen Music Festival on his way to global success.

Towards the end of the film, he reflects on his path: “Starting my journey, a feeling I can remember most was fear and uncertainty about what this career will hold in store for me – if I can chart my own path as an African-American conductor. Where I find myself today, I feel like I'm still at the beginning. I feel like there's a long road ahead. But there's not fear that motivates me anymore. I believe it is hope and patience.”

The 77 films are dramatically different, even within each category.

Jason Anderson is the programming director for Shortsfest.

“We really strive to have this kind of amazing diversity in variety at Shortsfest, where you get comedies and thrillers and dramas and documentaries and amazing animations,” he said.

The filmmakers behind the shorts also come from a diverse range of backgrounds – important for a festival that sends nominations to the Oscars, which historically have mostly gone to white men.

“Short film certainly has been a sphere where a lot of the goals – the sort of wider goals for creating more inclusivity and diversity and equality in the film business – it's there in the short world,” he said.

Shortsfest is an important launching ground for up-and-coming filmmakers, and Aspen Film already placed a year-round emphasis on educational programming for young filmmakers and local high school students in the Roaring Fork Valley.

This year marks an expansion of Aspen Film's educational efforts with the launch of “The Young Emerging Voices In Cinema Showcase,” which will showcase fiction and documentary works from area students.

The festival kicks off on Tuesday and runs through Sunday, with most events happening at Aspen's Wheeler Opera House or Crystal Theatre in Carbondale.

Dominic joined the Edlis Neeson arts and culture desk at Aspen Public Radio in Jan. 2022.