‘Blindspotting’ Star Rafael Casal Explains Why We Shouldn’t Doubt Short Filmmakers (Video)

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Should short films be able to stand on their own? It’s a question that always comes up when critics debate the merits of short filmmaking and whether its an art form worthy of its own medium or if a short is just a condensed version of a feature film.

Speaking on behalf of the jury at TheWrap’s 2018 ShortList Film Festival, “Blindspotting” star and co-writer Rafael Casal may have finally put that question to rest.

“It’s like asking a writer whether or not a haiku is valid,” Casal told TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman on Thursday at the AMC Century City 15 in Los Angeles. “It has its place, it has its purpose, it has its power. Medium is entirely arbitrary.”

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Casal explained that beyond more easily being able to secure funds or manage time, we frequently see shorts that succeed when the same technique stretched out into a 90-minute feature would struggle.

One great example of this was Casal’s fellow juror Irene Taylor Brodsky. Her film “Homeless: The Soundtrack” is a documentary short that has no backing score, but is half-filled with music that the characters listen to or perform live.

“I don’t know if I would’ve tried that in a feature, because it was an awkward tool to use,” Taylor Brodsky said. “But in a short, in a 26-minute film, I could do it.”

Studios and distributors too are looking more intently at short films and how they can best be shared.

Also Read: ‘The Driver Is Red,’ ‘Magic Alps’ Take Top Prizes at TheWrap’s ShortList Film Festival 2018

“It’s always a great opportunity to take a peek into someone’s talents,” said Jihan Robinson, vice president of nonfiction programming at Topic Studios, a unit of First Look Media. “Deeply powerful stories can be told in a short form. And given the nature of how people are viewing media today in shorter formats in general on the internet, I think to be able to have platforms on the web that are showcasing shorts are a great opportunity for people to connect with filmmakers and material that is really impactful.”

Now in its seventh year, the ShortList Film Festival gathers together award-winning short films from festivals across the country to compete in one showcase. And this year’s ShortList jury, which also included “Thunder Road” filmmaker Jim Cummings and Dana Gills, director of production and development with Lionsgate motion picture group,  recognized Randall Christopher’s “The Driver is Red” for the festival’s top Industry Prize.

The hybrid, animated-documentary tells the story of the hunt for a Nazi war criminal hiding in South America. The jury called it “an incredibly crafted, elegant, and possibly timely story of the execution of civilized justice under circumstances where no civility was due.”

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But regardless of the length of a film, filmmaking still comes with challenges and adversity that must be overcome. Casal also offered some advice to any aspiring directors who might hope to find their way to a future ShortList.

“Do it with your friends. Do it with people you love,” Casal said. “Issa Rae says a great thing, she says network across, not up. Stick with the people next to you who have the same ambition, same heart and same love, even if they’re a little less qualified. Straight up. Even if they’re a little less qualified, they’ll run 10 miles longer than the person who is that clocks out.”

Watch a clip from the jury panel at the 2018 ShortList Film Festival above.

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The filmmakers competing in TheWrap’s 2018 ShortList Film Festival had to contend with children, Nazis, drunk college students, financial challenges, peer criticism — and in the case of one of the festival’s winning short films — an adorable goat, in order to get their movies completed.

“We’re not going to pout and cry about it,” student filmmaker David Fortune told TheWrap’s Steve Pond on Thursday. “We’re going to make something happen.”

Now in its seventh year, The ShortList gathers award-winning short films from festivals around the country into one competition. And considering that for many directors, these shorts represent their first films, they’ve already faced immense adversity getting here.

Also Read: ‘The Driver Is Red,’ ‘Magic Alps’ Take Top Prizes at TheWrap’s ShortList Film Festival 2018

“There are so many things that went wrong, it’s a miracle we’re here today,” the director of “Night Shift,” Marshall Tyler, said while speaking on a panel discussion during the awards presentation at the AMC Century City 15 in Los Angeles.

Randall Christoper’s “The Driver Is Red,” an animated, documentary short about the hunt for a Nazi war criminal, won the festival’s Industry Prize as determined by a jury. And “Magic Alps,” an Italian film about an Afghani refugee forced to separate at the border with his beloved pet goat, won the Audience Prize as voted on in an online poll.

The jury of industry veterans, including “Blindspotting” co-writer Rafael Casal and filmmakers Jim Cummings and Irene Taylor Brodsky, called “The Driver Is Red,” “an incredibly crafted, elegant, and possibly timely story of the execution of civilized justice under circumstances where no civility was due.”

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“When I started this project in 2016, I never imagined in 2017 there would be people marching on American soil with swastikas,” Christopher said upon accepting the Industry Award.

“Magic Alps” co-director Andrea Brusa said prior to accepting the Audience Award that the goat in his film often called the shots on set. Unlike a trained dog, this was a beautiful, but stubborn animal that dictated when the crew took breaks or where they could shoot at a given moment.

“She was the queen of the set,” Brusa said. “At the end of the film we put no animals were harmed, actually she was the boss. We were like the interns.”

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All the same, this group of filmmakers each gave some advice to aspiring filmmakers who, with any luck, might be in this same spot next year. Among their words of wisdom were: always shoot everything to make sure you’re fully covered, insist on getting that extra shot that you might need later, don’t miss out on those special moments on set by getting too stressed out or caught up in your own headspace, and always remember that directing involves the “art of listening,” as one director put it, not just dictating orders.

“You have to embrace the challenges. Otherwise it’s not going to be fun,” said student filmmaker Cecilia Albertini.

Watch a clip from the 2018 ShortList Film Festival above.

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ShortList 2018: Why ‘Nevada’ Director Chose Naked Puppets to Tell Her Sexy Story (Video)

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Human stories are always the most compelling, but sometimes you get more mileage out of a puppet than a flesh-and-blood actor.

Take it from director Emily Ann Hoffman, whose award-winning stop-motion short “Nevada” is one of the finalists in TheWrap’s ShortList Film Festival.

It’s a simple but emotional narrative about couple Zoe and Eli, two people in the “honeymoon phase” of their relationship, Hoffman told TheWrap. While they seem keen on each other, they’re less discerning when it comes to condoms.

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A flimsy one breaks, leaving the pair with the awkward and urgent decision about whether or not to seek emergency contraception (like Plan B).

“It was important to show the story truthfully. And, truthfully, these characters would be walking around naked after sex. It’s way easier to show naked, stop-motion puppets than it would be live-action actors,” said Hoffman. “Audience members are more comfortable with a naked puppet.”

Naked they are.

The puppets spend most of their time fully exposed or engaged in sex. There’s even a tiny, broken, used condom in the film. But the motive to use animation was more than just practical (Hoffman works in stop-motion for a living).

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Zoe and Eli have painful discussions about Plan B’s side effects for women, who should pay for the medication and the unthinkably early conversation about actually keeping a baby at a tender stage in their relationship.

Hoffman said that for the majority of women she knows, these conversations “were being had behind closed doors, and not with our male partners. I wanted to shed some light on an experience that is very common and very relatable in sex that can lead to pregnancy.”

Watch the film above. Viewers can also watch all of the ShortList finalists at any time during the festival at shortlistfilmfestival.com and vote from Aug. 8-22. The ShortList Film Festival is supported by Topic and AMC Theatres.

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Benjamin Cleary said the inspiration for his new short, “Wave,” was a BBC news story about man who hit his head and woke up speaking fluent Welsh, although he wasn’t from there.

“Human communication fascinates me, especially as…

ShortList 2018: ‘Devi’ Director on Returning to India for Look at Homophobia and Class (Video)

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Karishma Dube had a very specific set of goals when she set out to make her third-year film for NYU’s graduate film program. “I really wanted to make a film that was shot in Delhi, the city I grew up in, that examines sexuality and class but within a contemporary Indian household similar to the one I grew up in,” Dube recalled.

After months of writing and planning, three weeks of preproduction and six days of shooting on location in Delhi, Dube to produce the 12-minute “Devi” (“Goddess” in Hindi), a finalist in TheWrap’s ShortList Film Festival that  tells the story of a well-to-do modern Indian teenager coming to terms with her sexuality and her attraction to her childhood maid.

Although the film is not autobiographical, Dube — who was “brand spanking new” as a filmmaker when she applied to NYU — said that she drew from her personal experiences to develop the story.

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The film also served as Dube’s vehicle for coming out to her family. “It’s inspired by the people I’ve grown up around, and we shot in the house where I grew up, but the characters are created,” she said.

“We have this culture of domestic help in India,” she said. “I was raised by a woman who was like family and was like a second mother to me, and I wanted to put these women in a script and put them in a room and have these conversations that I’d never seen them have.”

The shoot was not without its complications since most of her crew were visiting India for the first time. “There were a lot of accidental illnesses,” she said, “and the gaffer and cinematographer were really ill.”

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The opening scene, which features a mob chasing the central character through a real-life market at night, was the hardest to shoot. Since Dube was the only one on her crew who could speak Hindi and communicate with the extras, she also had to fend off unsuspecting bystanders who thought the scene was a real fight and tried to join in.

“It was very exciting,” Dube said with a laugh, adding, “nothing bad happened.”

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Dube has been pleasantly surprised by the positive reaction to the film within India as well as internationally.

“I was expecting a lot of negative feedback and I didn’t get that,” she said. “It resonated a lot, and a lot of people reach out to me and try to understand the film a little bit better.”

To Dube, that impulse to initiate discussion of a once-taboo subject like homosexuality is a real achievement. “In India there’s a culture of never addressing things,” she said, “and if the film can get people to start talking about [these issues], I will have achieved what I set out to do.”

Watch the film above. Viewers can also watch all of the ShortList finalists at any time during the festival at shortlistfilmfestival.com and vote from Aug. 8-22. The ShortList Film Festival is supported by Topic and AMC Theatres.

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Finalists Announced for 2018 ShortList Film Festival

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Julio Ramos said he was inspired to shoot his short film “Debris,” about a gruesome accident on a construction site, after observing an incident involving immigrant construction workers without documentation on the remodeling of a friend’s house.  

In the film, a finalist in TheWrap’s ShortList Film Festival, a worker named Rafa (Jorge Diaz) has fallen off the roof and impaled himself — but the crew boss Tadevos (Karren Karagulian) refuses to transport him to a hospital and instead calls in a shifty “doctor” to treat him on a basement floor.

Ramos said he researched labor trafficking and what it actually entailed — luring people from Third World countries to the U.S., stripping them of their passports and their rights. “I was asking myself, ‘If a trafficker has an equity or an investment on these workers … what would it do to them if they became incapacitated?’” he told TheWrap. “I was forming this thriller based on that aspect.”

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Ramos, a graduate of UCLA’s MFA program, said he chose to tell his story in four long shots to keep the film subjective, to follow crew leader Armando (Tenoch Huerta) wherever he went on the site.

“We knew the longer we could continue rolling, the more engaged the audience could potentially be, or at least be more on the edge,” said Ramos, adding that he was influenced by the shooting styles used in films such as “American Honey” and the German thriller “Victoria.”

Although the owners of the home are never seen, the stark white porch and expansive interior is a looming reminder of what the workers themselves lack — a proper bathroom, potentially heat or even beds to sleep on.

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Even for viewers who think they have no direct connection to the immigrant experience, “Debris” may still hit close to home.

“Sometimes we don’t realize that our connection to trafficking is a lot closer than we think, and it comes down to just to asking yourself, ‘Do you know who the people are that are going to your house to do these jobs, do you know is are actually building these beautiful homes in America?” Ramos said. “The beautiful apple that is sitting on your table right now, who picked it, who hired the person that picked it?”

Watch the film above. Viewers can also all of the ShortList finalists at any time during the festival at shortlistfilmfestival.com and vote from Aug. 8-22. The ShortList Film Festival is supported by Topic and AMC Theatres.

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Alexa Lim Haas credits President Trump in part for spurring her to make the most of her prescient animated short “Agua Vida,”a finalist in TheWrap’s seventh annual ShortList Film Festival.

Lim Haas began working on the film — about the daily routine of a Chinese immigrant woman who works in a nail salon in Florida — nearly two years ago, just before the 2016 presidential election.

“It felt different after Trump got elected,” she told TheWrap. “It became motivation, and I felt activated to make it more.” 

Lim Haas, the daughter of Filipino immigrants, said much of “Agua Vida” is based on the experiences of her family members, particularly those who work in service industries. “I’m just really interested in what they think about and what they do, because their routine is so repetitive, day to day,” she said.

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She was also interested in the linguistic struggles that many of her family members experience with native English speakers, including younger relatives. “We would have conversation without language, it would be gestural conversations or smiles and warm pats on the back,” she said. “A lot of the film is about what it’s like to be inside of a body and the feeling of not being able to express what’s inside of you.”

In 2016, Lim Haas received a “No Bro Zone” grant from the Borscht Corporation in Miami, a female-driven funding program. She then began traveling to different nail salons in New York, Miami and Philadelphia to speak with workers and learn about their routines and inner lives.

At the same time, she was writing, storyboarding and animating the film, a “very lonely” process that lasted nearly 15 months. “I made it largely solo, and it was just me in a room in my apartment for about a year, just animating away,” she said. “The largest challenge was just waking up every day and doing the same thing every day.”

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As she made the film, Lim Haas felt compelled to address the discourse of the Trump era. “There’s such rhetoric from many sides, as Trump says. Words are very meaningful, and sometimes we’re just having semantic battles across the lines.”

While reactions to the film have been mostly positive, one scene has triggered surprise and some walkout:  an up-close and personal view of a woman getting a Brazilian wax. “People aren’t used to seeing female parts in a non-sexual way, and in more conservative towns, people will walk out,” she said. “It really shakes people for some reason.”

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Filmmakers Marco Scotuzzi and Andrea Brusa traveled to many farms just outside Milan until they found just the right goat — who turned out to be named Alice.
In the short film “Magic Alps,” a finalist in TheWrap’s ShortList Film…

Finalists Announced for 2018 ShortList Film Festival

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TheWrap is pleased to announce the 12 finalists in the seventh annual ShortList Film Festival, launching today online.

The finalists, hand-picked from the world’s top film festivals over the last year, will stream on the site starting today through August 22, 2018 — allowing visitors to vote on their favorites.

The Audience Prize and The Industry Prize winners will each receive a $5,000 cash prize during a ceremony to take place at the AMC Century City in Los Angeles on Thursday, August 23.

The films in the main competition are a mix of foreign language, drama, comedy and animation created by filmmakers from around the globe.

Also Read: MEET: The 2018 ShortList Film Festival Jurors!

In addition, eight student films from top colleges and universities included in TheWrap’s ranking of film schools have been named finalists in a sidebar competition.

The contenders come from filmmakers who studied at USC, UCLA, University of North Carolina School of the Arts, the American Film Institute, Loyola Marymount University, the University of Texas, Northwestern University and Savannah College of Art and Design.

You can watch, vote and share your favorite festival short film using #Shortlist2018 for your chance to win two tickets to the ShortList Film Festival award ceremony. The ShortList Film Festival is supported by Topic and AMC Theatres.

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Here are the official finalists in the 2018 ShortList Film Festival:

“Agua Viva”
Directed by: Alexa Lim Haas
USA, 7 minutes
A Chinese manicurist in Miami attempts to describe feelings she doesn’t have the words for.

“Debris”
Directed by: Julio O. Ramos
Peru/USA, 14 minutes
After a disastrous event on his construction site, Armando acts quickly to save his crew, but instead stumbles upon an unspeakable truth.

“Devi (Goddess)”
Directed by: Karishma Dev Dube
India, 13 minutes
Set in New Delhi, a closeted lesbian risks family and social boundaries as she pursues her household maid, Devi.

“The Driver Is Red”
Directed by: Randall Christopher
USA, 14 minutes
Set in Argentina 1960, this true crime documentary follows the story of secret agent Zvi Aharoni as he hunted down one of the highest ranking Nazi war criminals on the run.

Also Read: ‘The Silence,’ ‘American Paradise’ Take Top Prizes at TheWrap’s Shortlist Film Festival 2017

“Fish Story”
Directed by: Charlie Lyne
UK, 13 minutes
Sometime in the 1980s, Caspar Salmon’s grandmother was invited to a gathering on the Welsh island of Anglesey, attended exclusively by people with fish surnames. Or so he says. Thirty years later, filmmaker Charlie Lyne attempts to sort myth from reality as he searches for the truth behind this fishy tale.

“Little Potato”
Directed by: Wes Hurley & Nathan M. MIller
USA, 14 minutes
An autobiographical documentary short about a gay boy growing up in the Soviet Union, his mail-order-bride mom and their adventurous escape to America.

“Magic Alps”
Directed by: Andrea Brusa and Marco Scotuzzi
Italy, 14 minutes
An Afghan refugee arriving in Italy to seek asylum brings the immigration system to a grinding halt when he includes his beloved goat in the application. Based on a true story.

“My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes”
Directed by: Charlie Tyrell
Canada, 13 minutes
In My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes director Charlie Tyrell attempts to uncover a deeper understanding of his deceased father by examining his posthumous possessions.

Narrated by David Wain (director of “Wet Hot American Summer”), Tyrell presents a unique lens on family relationships and their challenges.

“Nevada”
Directed by: Emily Ann Hoffman
USA, 12 minutes
A young couple’s romantic weekend getaway is interrupted by a birth control mishap in this stop-motion animated comedy.

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“Night Shift”
Directed by: Marshall Tyler
USA, 16 minutes
A day in the life of a bathroom attendant in a Los Angeles nightclub.

“Wave”
Directed by: Benjamin Cleary and TJ O’Grady Peyton
Ireland, 10 minutes
Gaspar Rubicon wakes from a coma speaking a fully formed but unrecognizable language, baffling linguistic experts from around the globe. Cleary won an Oscar two years ago for his last short, “Stutterer.”

“Weekends”
Directed by: Trevor Jimenez
USA, 15 minutes
“Weekends” is the story of a young boy shuffling between the homes of his recently divorced parents. Surreal, dream-like moments mix with the domestic realities of a broken up family in this hand-animated film set in 1980’s Toronto.

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The finalists in the Student category:

“A Place to Stay” (American Film Institute)
Directed by: Charlie Polinger
USA, 17 minutes
Kansas City, 1959. When Andy’s boyfriend leaves him, he drives across the state to confront him and discovers his lover’s double life.

“The Goodnight Show” (University of Texas)
Directed by: Charlie Schwan
USA, 16 minutes
The year is 1978 and an unstoppable asteroid is soaring directly for earth. As a family eats their last meal, a news program playing in the background confirms their inevitable and impending doom. For most, there isn’t much to do except sit and wait for the end. In paltry hero Samuel’s case, however, this is his last chance to prove to himself — and everyone else — that he’s not a loser.

“Labor” (University of California, Los Angeles)
Directed by: Cecilia Albertini
USA/Italy, 12 minutes
Two mothers. One baby. A harrowing decision.

“Oglesby Park” (Northwestern University)
Directed by: Troy Lewis
USA, 9 minutes
After a confusing encounter at the park, a young boy struggles to reconcile the ache of empathy with the desire to push the pain away, leading to devastating results.

“One Small Step” (University of Southern California)
Directed by:  Aqsa Altaf
USA, 13 minutes
Dasani is a motivated 9-year-old student who dreams of becoming an astronaut. After finding out that her class is going on a field trip to the Science Museum to see the Endeavor Space Shuttle, Dasani starts counting down days to that trip. After her mother doesn’t return from a rally one day, Dasani is forced to choose between going on that field trip or being with her siblings.

“The Peak” (Savannah College of Art and Design)
Directed by: Mark Alex Vogt
USA & Hong Kong, 14 minutes
In this love story, set against the backdrop of Hong Kong’s Hungry Ghost Festival, a young man leads his girlfriend on an elaborate scavenger hunt as they prepare to say goodbye to the city where they first met.

“Supernova” (University of North Carolina School of the Arts)
Directed by: Gavin Lankford and Alexsandre C. Kosinski
USA, 9 minutes
When a little boy’s late-night viewing of his favorite space adventure is cut short by a scolding from his mom, he channels the heroism of his sci-fi fantasy hero and makes it his mission to get it back.

“Z-MAN” (Loyola Marymount University)
Directed by: David Fortune
USA, 12 minutes
Z -MAN follows the journey of a 7-year-old boy pretending to be a superhero in South Central LA. After witnessing a crime in his neighborhood, he goes on a mission to find the man responsible and ensure the safety of his community.

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