The first annual Rock the Shorts Film Festival, screening only short films, showcases an exploding medium. ShortsTV, Short of the Week, Vimeo, Youtube and more have made sharing these films much easier and they are finding a wide audience. Short films are entertaining and very diverse. There are no network or studio heads running the production…the filmmakers are in charge.
Making a short film is a realistic way to pursue your dreams of filmmaking on a small budget. As an actor, writer or director, it’s a great way to get your work seen without a studio deal. Many filmmakers use their short films as proof of concept to get funding for the feature version; a great example of this is Whiplash. Lights Out and Polaroid were also short films that became features. The short film Bottle Rocket and its subsequent feature film version (of the same name) made Wes Anderson and the Wilson brothers (Owen and Luke) household names.
The hopes are big and numerous for filmmakers at film festivals, especially the independent filmmaker. The indie filmmaker likely funded their project themselves by emptying their own bank accounts or through a GoFundMe campaign and certainly pulled in many favors from the above and below-the-line crew working for free.
The team behind Rock the Shorts possess a first-hand understanding of these independent spirits; appreciating and celebrating them. Founder and Festival Director Roxanne Marciniak and Co-Festival Director Josef Csongei stepped up to materialize the first annual Rock the Shorts Film Festival. The festival takes place on Saturday, March 7, 2020 at the Downtown Independent. The festival screens only short films and puts the spotlight on the filmmakers who brought them to life.
Marciniak relates “Some film festivals are just too big in my opinion. We have personally felt lost in the shuffle at a few festivals where our shorts have screened. Fortunately, we also felt encouraged and supported by a few others. We want the latter…all of the time. This is what we are trying to achieve with Rock the Shorts. All of the filmmakers should feel like rock stars. They all deserve it.”
When asked how smaller is better, Marciniak replied “I was watching a film that I really enjoyed. The pace was good, the actors made me laugh and it was a different take on a story that I hadn’t seen before. Then I noticed a sound error that went back and forth during a party scene for about 30 seconds. I knew it was fixable as I’d recently experienced sound issues in my own short film. I reached out to the filmmaker and told him how much I enjoyed the film and I let him know what I’d heard. I received the most appreciative email back and he had fixed the issue. That film is one of our 2020 official selections. I highly doubt that someone from a larger film festival would have reached out to that filmmaker about their sound mix.”
Csongei relates, “Many filmmakers wear multiple hats to guarantee their films make it to the finish line. It’s hard work. We’ve been there. We understand and appreciate the work that goes into each film. Their passion for storytelling propels the community forward.”
Taking place on March 7th at the Downtown Independent LA (251 S Main Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012), Rock the Shorts has a wide variety of films that span several genres. The festival directors were adamant that the films at the festival be organized in a manner which created the best viewing experience for the audience and filmmaker.
Marciniak explains “Each film is like an opening act to the next film. We had a personal experience recently where our opening act made for a jarring transition. The film before ours ended with such a tragic visual that it took a few minutes to be present for our own short film, which was a romantic comedy. I said to Josef, ‘I want to pay very close attention to the order of the films in our festival…and we did!’”
When asked what steps were taken to set Rock the Shorts apart from other festivals in the area of programming Marciniak answered “When we were first thinking of the film blocks, we thought the same genre would be fun. Later we realized that in some cases it might be too dark or sad if we went that route. This is when we seriously considered thoughtfully mixing genres that felt right emotionally. This wasn’t an easy task. This took a lot of time and consideration. We watched most of the films 4 to 5 times to get it right. If a film was a little dark, we wanted to ease the audience out of that mindset slowly for a smooth transition…allowing the audience to work their way to the hard laughs in the following films.”
Marciniak continues “We started mixing a few animation shorts with documentaries; and comedy and drama narrative shorts on the board using note cards. We knew all of these films very well at this stage. It all fell into place naturally. Then Josef said, with much enthusiasm, “It feels like old Hollywood with newsreels, cartoons, and features for the complete movie-going experience.” I guess we brought a little of the Golden Age of Hollywood back.”
Their first submission was an animated film titled Anacronte Directed by Raul Koler & Emiliano Sette. Marciniak said she was blown away. “It was visually stunning and emotionally deep; an existential ride or sorts. Each time I watch it I have a slightly different take on the message. I was thrilled that this was our first film and I couldn’t wait to get more. Every morning during the submission period was like Christmas.”
Some of the other films that took an emotional hold on Marciniak and Csongei were Generation Lockdown Directed by Sirad Balducci and documentary short The Difference Directed by Brianne Berkson & Miguel Gluckstern. Marciniak said “We put these two films together. Generation Lockdown is about a school shooting and a young boy who finds himself making a choice no person, child or adult, would ever want to make. It’s a powerful thinker film and you are definitely in an emotional state after watching it. What follows that? We thought, The Difference. The first line of dialogue is “Do we really want to bring a child into this world?” The film turns into a very positive and upbeat message featuring the work of the Holistic Life Foundation of Baltimore and how they teach kids coping skills through yoga and meditation.”
Marciniak goes on to say “there are several comedies such as Basic, Me Too Nice, and Just Friends that made us laugh out loud. There are films like Movie Night and The Fork that are fun and suspenseful in the thriller/horror genre as well as young adult films like The Tooth Racket, The Change, and Lost Treasure of the Valley. There are also films that leave a lasting mark with little to no dialogue such as Townes and Undersee. We wish we could spotlight all of the films in this article and even give recognition to a few films and documentaries that we sadly couldn’t fit into our schedule. There is a lot of great talent out there.”
Special invited guests of Rock the Shorts who will be in attendance are actress Matilda Szydagis (of Amazon’s Golden Globe and Emmy winning series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) and actor Michael McMillian (known for True Blood, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Silicon Valley).
Co-written and co-directed by Matilda Szydagis and Ric Sechrest is the short film The Hoosac, a drama inspired by the real-life tunnel tragedy in which trapped miners died in a small isolated New England mill town. The Hoosac depicts a lonely soul who can’t escape his past life in this twist on traditional ghost stories.
Michael McMillian stars in the dark comedy The Arrival. The award winning short film also stars Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe and Elias Harger. Written & Directed by Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe, it’s the story of a little boy who feels betrayed when his mother has another son and decides to give her a taste of her own medicine by summoning a replacement mother.
Rock the Shorts Film Festival enables a connection between filmmaker and audience as well as among peers and collaborators. Any vibrant and relevant form of art requires risk; both on the part of the artists and those willing to expose them to the world. At the core of this film festival is the commitment of Marciniak and Csongei to empowering the continued advancement of indie filmmakers.
A complete list of short films being screened at the film festival on Saturday, March 7, 2020 can be found at https://www.rocktheshortsfilmfestival.com/official-selections-for-2020/. These films are indicators that filmmakers left to their own inclinations are the artistic true north of the industry.