In late April I had the pleasure of being a jury member in the Short Film competition of the USA Film Festival. The festival itself was fantastic! So well produced and attended. I saw two great feature length documentaries–the sumptuous and riveting Dior and I, directed by Frederic Tcheng, and the fascinating Tab Hunter Confidential. I recommend them both highly. I also got to see the classic Nicolas Roeg film from the 70s, The Man Who Fell To Earth, on the big screen with the marvelous Candy Clark in attendance.
The judging itself was grueling. My colleagues, director John Putch, and actor/director Christina Beck and I, were sequestered in a small hotel room(armed with diet cokes,raw almonds, and dark chocolate), where we watched 75 short films in 2 and ½ days!
It was so inspiring to see the range of works in competition. Yes, a few suffered from weak scripts and/or poor casting and production values, but many were absolutely wonderful and equal in quality to works produced by big studios.
Some of the films have really stayed with me. Particularly Against Night, a beautifully directed drama about a Russian cosmonaut that reminded me of one of my favorite films of all time, Slaughterhouse Five,The Way of Tea,a powerful film about a Muslim man making peace with an angry racist (we awarded this film First Prize), and the documentary, War Within the Walls, that illuminates the world of Vietnamese children who were born with birth defects caused by Agent Orange. War Within the Walls focuses on the journey of one young man,”Chau,” who was raised in a “war remnants” orphanage. Despite not having the use of his hands (he uses he mouth to paint) and no financial or educational resources, when he gets out of the orphanage he finds a way to fulfill his dreams of becoming a professional artist. I urge you to see it if at all possible. Chau’s story is incredibly inspirational and it’s also very important to get the word out about the damage inflicted on these poor innocent children due to our use of chemical weapons during the Vietnam War.
Other than the few times I’ve cast projects, this was the first time I was in the choosing-who-gets-the-award business. It really is an impossible task. There were at least two contenders in each category, animation, documentary, narrative fiction, student, that were completely worthy of first prize. I saw once again the old apples vs oranges thing in play. Once again an illustration of the fact that when someone wins the prize, ( or the role, or the book deal, etc.) it doesn’t mean they were necessarily the “best,” or that the other contenders were second rate. Something I’ve always known in my head, but of course when I’m the one in competition, not so easy to remember.
Candy, her brother Randy, and me.