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LA Shorts Fest

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“This reads like the list of horses at the Hollywood Park Racetrack,” my friend said, flipping though my copy of the LA Shorts Fest program. He had a point -- Free Lunch, Hove (The Wind), Schrodinger's Cat -- these film short titles could easily inspire the naming of a racehorse. And after sitting in on the screenings of at least 100 of the shorts so far, I can say attending is as much fun as a day at the races and just as unpredictable.

The 13th Annual Los Angeles Short Film Festival opened this past Thursday with a red carpet event attended by a number of stars with projects in the festival, including Scarlett Johansson, Courteney Cox, Demi Moore, Kirsten Smith and Patrick Warburton. The festival will wrap up on Friday, July 31st, with an awards ceremony at 5pm. Officially recognized by the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences and the largest short film festival in the world, The LA Shorts Fest has presented 33 films that have received Oscar nominations, with 11 of those taking home statues.

The over 280 short films are shown in groups of about five to eight, and screenings begin at 1:00, 3:15, 5:30, 7:45 and 10:00 daily through Thursday, July 30th. Each screening concludes with a Q&A session with filmmakers in attendance, and the purchase of a ticket to the first show of the day grants access to a 12:00 coffee chat with a variety of guest speakers before the screening begins. Visit the festival website at www.lashortsfest.com for the complete schedule of events.

Many of these films air for the first time at the LA Shorts Fest, but will also be shown in film festivals throughout the world over the coming months. I’ll be interviewing a number of these up-and-coming filmmakers and reviewing a number of the short film frontrunners in a variety of categories. As for now I’m off to the races, um, theater, again.

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LA Shorts Fest ’09, Laemmle’s Sunset 5 Theatre, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90048. Parking is available under the building and is free for 3 hours with validation.

* The Awards Ceremony will be held at CineSpace, 6356 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90028. Tickets to the ceremony are only available at the Laemmle Sunset 5 Hollywood Box Office.

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THESE VAGABOND SHOES

You expect film shorts to be short, but the other night, after the world premier of first-time director Scarlett Johansson's six-minute film "These Vagabond Shoes," the silent ending credits dragged on for an uncomfortably long time. That's when a voice piped up from the back of the theater, breaking the silence and lightening the mood.

"Sorry about that," Scarlett said, cracking up the audience. "That was terrible," she added, referring to the lengthy credits, as her film was beautifully done and warmly received. Her short was filmed as part of a larger picture, "New York, I Love You," but ultimately didn't make it into the collection. The credits from the entire picture, however, made it onto the end of her short. "I never worked with any of those attorneys," she joked as the names of no less than six lawyers slowly rolled by.

Scarlett describes "These Vagabond Shoes" as a love letter to New York and said that, as a native New Yorker, one of the things she loves best is the hot dogs at Nathan's in Coney Island. The film stars Kevin Bacon as a man who journeys across Manhattan to get himself one of those very hot dogs, and I can say I've never felt more anticipation for the first bite of a meal that wasn't my own. The film itself is shot in black and white by the cinematographer of "Capote" and "Lars and the Real Girl," Adam Kimmel, but the characters and cityscape Bacon passes along his journey are colorful nonetheless.

It's not hard to direct Kevin Bacon, according to Scarlett. The only part she really talked to him about was the hot dogs, she wanted to know how many he thought he could handle eating. (She managed to get the shot she needed after he ate about four.) One of her favorite things about working with Bacon was the time she spent with him on the screen in the editing room. "There were so many times when I'd just freeze a frame and call to someone to come see, there are all these times when he looks just like Charlie Chaplin," she shared in the Q & A after her screening.

Scarlett has wanted to direct since she was a twelve-year-old working on "The Horse Whisperer" with Robert Redford. She realized as she watched him direct that that's the job to have. With "These Vagabond Shoes" under her belt, I'm sure we'll be seeing her behind the camera again, and maybe even sitting behind us in the theatre.

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WE LOVE YOU

As the theater lights came up after the LA Shorts Fest screening of the documentary film "We Love You," I was getting ready to interview the director, Jonathan Kalafer, when I noticed the man sitting in front of me. He had mocha colored skin, blue eyes and dreadlocks past his shoulders. I recognized him from the film, so I figured I would ask him a few questions first. He said hello and told me I looked familiar. I've only lived in L.A. for three months, so I told him I didn't think we'd met. He reached into his pocket and handed me his business card. I read it and a bell went off in my head. I did know this man, David. I'd bought a framed picture from him on the Venice boardwalk six years ago while on vacation. We chatted for a while and when Jonathan came up to do the interview, David hugged me goodbye and I told Jonathan the crazy small-world story. He wasn't remotely surprised.

"That happens all the time with the Rainbows," he said. "They are all about the connections between different human beings. Those kind of things kept happening to me while I was working on this film."

Jonathan's short film, "We Love You," is about the Rainbow Gathering, which takes place in a different U.S. National Forest over one week each July. The Rainbows are made up of thousands of counter-culture types who use their time together celebrating nature and praying for world peace. Cameras have never been welcomed at the gathering before, but with Jonathan and his team behind the lens, the Rainbows invite him, and the audience, into their tribe. I sat down with Jonathan to find out more about his experience.

LAist: How did you first hear about the Rainbow Gathering?

JK: I was in college. A buddy of mine from upstate New York was telling me about this place, a city in the woods where everything is free and when they leave they meticulously clean everything, leaving no trace behind. The gatherings usually take place out west, but when I was a grad student living on the east coast in 1998, they had one in Pennsylvania, so I went.

LAist: Had you been since then?

JK: They have regional gatherings of about 200 to 1,000 people over the summer. I went to one, again in Pennsylvania, when I decided to do a doc, and it was just like I remembered.

LAist: There's some trouble between the Rainbows and the Feds in your film, which was shot in 2008, and you were right in the middle of it. What was it like?

JK: They had arrested a man for possession of marijuana and were leading him out of camp. They went right through Kiddie Village, which is an almost sacred safe place for the Rainbows. They're super anal about making sure the kids get the best food and the cleanest water and it's a substance-free zone. And then the officers just stop right in the middle of Kiddie Village with their guns. I didn't see any sticks being thrown, and I have seen all the footage that was shot there, I have most of it. Apparently the officers had recently been issued some new non-lethal weapons... and they used them. I respect police officers, I think their jobs are important to the stability of our society. Things were escalating and I pulled out my press badge and held it up, standing still, not approaching, nothing threatening, and I had someone put a tazer in my face and say, "I don't give a fuck about your press I.D. Get down the hill or I'm gonna taze you." It was one of the scariest things I've ever been through.

LAist: How were things in 2009?

JK: The Federal Government seems intent on stopping the gatherings, but the level of intensity fluctuates. There are always roadblocks, people are searched, sometimes people are ticketed for attending. It escalated to the worst it's been while I was there in 2008, but in 2009 the Forrest Service cooperated with the gatherers. There is a problem because they have a permit policy that says in a U.S. National Forrest you need a permit for a gathering of 75 people or more. Someone is supposed to sign it and be legally responsible for the group, but the Rainbows are anarchists and therefore have no one person in charge to do it.

LAist: You're a pretty clean cut guy. How did you fit in at the Rainbow Gathering?

JK: I guess I maybe blended in more the first time I went in '98, but the Rainbows practice what they preach. Even with short hair and clean clothes people hug you and tell you they love you. But there were people there who were dressed more like me, too. There isn't one Rainbow style.

LAist: What did you hope to do by making the gathering accessible to people who've never attended?

JK: It's weird because people always want to compare it to Burning Man or a music festival, but it's really unlike those things. They've created this place, there's a quote in the movie about it, where magic can happen. You're far away from everything, off in the woods and people are amazingly kind to each other.

LAist: What do you hope viewers will walk away with after seeing your film?

JK: I had some people tell me , "Thank you for making the film," because they showed it to their grandma and she understood what they're doing when they go and that they're not caught up in some crazy cult or something.

LAist: You chose a rather psychedelic style of cinematography. Why was that?

JK: That was on purpose. The experience of being there creates this kind of natural high the Rainbows refer to as "Bliss," like people are "Blissed Out." They also call the gathering a "healing gathering," and with all this positive energy it's a really therapeutic experience.

LAist: So now you've directed your first short and you're working on a feature length documentary. Do you think you'll move out to sunny Los Angeles?

JK: It'd be great to be in a place where I had to make that decision. (laughs) I love L.A., but I could never leave New Jersey.

Article by Courtney Quinn