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Arts and Entertainment

The Sundance Film Festival Comes to LA

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Every January the quaint Mormon hamlet of Park City, Utah is overrun by tens of thousands of people eager to attend the films (and parties) of the Sundance Film Festival. Having attended the festival for the last three years, I can highly recommend the experience. In fact, I'd say that everyone should try to attend at least once. From the freezing weather to the immense crowds to the abundance of cinema, alcohol and sleeplessness, it is a film festival that is unique to the world, and tomorrow night a little bit of Sundance comes to Los Angeles.

Downtown and Dirty Shorts kicks off at 8 pm at the Downtown Independent. The event features shorts by James Franco, David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, Jody Hill and others. Most importantly, it's completely free! No RSVP is necessary as the event is first-come, first-served. Once the screenings conclude, there will also be a party on the roof of the theater featuring DJ Suckapunch. LAist spoke with one of the event's organizers, Trevor Groth, and one of its participants, Jody Hill earlier this week about what's in store for the evening.

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LAist: How are you guys doing today?

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Trevor: We're doing all right.

LAist: Trevor, tell me a little bit about the short film event you guys have coming up this week.

Trevor: It's something I'm really excited about. It's the first time we've really done a specific program like this in terms of having a curated shorts program in LA. We wanted to do it for a number of reasons. Kind of to expand the awareness and the audience of the type of work that Sundance supports. Also to spread the word about short films in general. As much as people fall in love with shorts online, there's still nothing like seeing them in a theater. So we wanted to do that. We wanted to pick films that set a fun tone for the night. We wanted films from filmmakers that are serious about film but don't take themselves too seriously. And that kind of led us to this group that Jody is a part of, this North Carolina troupe of filmmakers. It's Jody Hill and David Gordon-Green and Danny McBride and Todd Rohal. We really found some nice little gems from these guys. Some early stuff and some stuff that's been made more recently. I think it's a nice mix.

LAist: Jody, what kind of film are you going to be showing?

Jody: The film I'm going to show is a short film that actually -- Sundance picked five filmmakers to make films that were strictly for cell phones. They chose me and Justin Lin and Dayton & Faris who made Little Miss Sunshine and Cory McAbee and Maria Maggenti. I made this short called Learning to Skateboard that stars Danny McBride and Ben Best who are two collaborators of mine.

LAist: Trevor, you're the new Director of Programming this year at the festival. What changes can we expect to see with respect to shorts this year?

Trevor: Well, my first job on the programming staff was programming the short films along with John Cooper. So they've always had a very special place in my heart, and they really bring such energy to the festival. Because the shorts and the filmmakers who make them are truly uninhibited for all of the right reasons. The short we're showing by David Gordon-Green is the first short that he shot on film. So you get to see what he did earlier and what he's done throughout his career.

LAist: Jody, did you see shorts as a natural path to features? Mostly people start doings shorts because...you can!

Jody: Early on, I made shorts in high school and certainly in college. I feel everyone starts with shorts to some degree. There's nothing worldly to be gained from making a short so I think it's kind of a pure experience for filmmakers. Even in film school, I don't think many of my shorts were very good (laughs) but at the same time they certainly helped me become a better filmmaker. And now when I look back on those times, I definitely think -- whether they were mistakes or wins -- they definitely contributed to my filmmaking now.

Trevor: It's funny, the short we're showing from Danny McBride that he directed in college is called Eddie Noble and the Heroes. Do you remember that one, Jody?

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Jody: Yeah! It's almost the closest thing we had to a big-budget short.

Trevor: Certainly! It's an epic! (laughs) (in a video intro before the film on Friday) Danny says, "This is a film I made eleven years ago. I'm not really sure why it's being shown because it sucks. But if you need to use the restroom you can go ahead and do it right now." But what I like about it is that it looks like an ambitious student film, but within that you definitely see the talent that he has. The humor that he pulls out of it is there. He's definitely evolved from that time but it's nice to see where he started.

LAist: Is the shorts event you're doing on Friday sort of a one-off thing or a program that Sundance is interested in doing more of?

Trevor: Well, the latter. This is definitely a trial run and we're going to see the level of interest people have in us doing things like this in LA around short films. We do have an idea of expanding on this if we think it works and if we think there's a hunger for it. So we're excited about it and we'd love everyone to come down and check out these films. And there's a party to follow.

LAist: And it's free for everyone.

Trevor: It's free! Absolutely!

LAist: Last question, guys. A few years ago I saw a short film called 405. And essentially it was the first time I'd seen a consumer-grade film. You know, a guy who bought a camera at a store and a computer at a store and then made a really, really inventive short film. I was wondering if there were any short films that you guys could give me that really jumped out at you and deserve some attention.

Trevor: One that sticks out for me is one that won our shorts prize a long time ago in the 90s. I don't even know if you can find it online, but it was a film called More and it was directed by Mark Osborne. He did this short animated piece that was a silent film. It was a stop-motion film that was one of the most epic journeys I've ever been on in five minutes. It managed to tell so much story without any dialogue. I still think it is one of the perfect examples of what you can do in the short form.

Jody: At Cinevegas, which Trevor also sponsors, I saw this film called Stingray Sam by our buddy Corey McAbee. And it's made up of six shorts that you watch individually or you can watch together. It's a musical but there's also animation and he wrote, directed and acted in it and everything. It's just kind of this space journey of this guy Stingray Sam who has to save the universe! (laughs). It's pretty amazing to watch.

LAist: Thanks, guys. Good luck with the event this Friday. I hope to see you there. And good luck this year, Trevor, at the festival.

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More by Mark Osborne

Trailer for Stingray Sam by Cory McAbee

405 by Bruce Branit and Jeremy Hunt