When the jury for Charlotte’s annual 15 Short Film Festival selected films for 2012’s event, one stood out.
Writer/director/actor Shawn Christensen’s “Curfew” made its festival debut at 15 last year and won the audience award – “and a couple months later, it won the Oscar (for Best Short Film),” says Antonio Diaz, one of 15 Short Film Festival’s founders. “It hit the short film circuit really hard, but made its festival debut here. The jury immediately thought it was the best film.”
“It was riveting for such a short film,” adds Keith Whatley, Diaz’s partner in 15 Film and a member of the jazz fusion ensemble Groove 8. “The fact that he was able to develop the characters in such a short time, and you got to grasp the characters.”
Though lightning isn’t likely to strike twice, the seventh annual 15 Short Film Festival – scheduled for Sunday at Evening Muse – will feature 28 selections with equally big dreams.
Diaz’s personal favorite is “Wilt Chamberlain: Borsch Belt Bellhop,” which tracks the legendary basketball star’s tenure at a Jewish resort in the Catskills, where he worked as a bellhop and played ball prior to his senior year in high school.
“The family that ran the place actually gave up footage of him playing and bellhopping and getting the job,” Diaz says.
Other buzzed-about entries are the animated film “The Golden Sparrow,” and the minute-and-a-half-long “How to Train Your Robot.”
The idea for a short film festival came to Diaz in a coffee shop, when he realized there was no such showcase. He recruited event co-creators Whatley and childhood friend Ryan Walker (now an editor on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire,” who dropped out of 15 to focus on directing in LA). This year, Whatley and Diaz hired two interns to help weed through 1,538 submissions. As film students, the interns were interested in technical elements like cinematography, but the festival founders stressed story.
“It has to be a nice, entertaining evening,” adds Whatley, who would like to take the festival to other cities. For now, they’ll keep the perennially sold-out event at the intimate Evening Muse.
“This is a chance to see them first, kind of like you can see musicians first at the Muse before they go on to bigger and better things,” says Joe Kuhlmann, who owns the venue. “Evening Muse wants to help give an outlet for all forms of art. Film (is) in a constant state of evolution. The process has become more available to more artists, kind of like how everyone with a computer can make a record now. Filmmakers need public recognition, and if we can help make a platform for them to gain some cred, we’re here for them.”
For its part, the 15 Short Film Festival is gaining cred nationally as well.
“I got a letter from Robert De Niro,” says Diaz. The Academy Award-winning actor co-founded the Tribeca Film Festival. “He was really high on our film fest being a community, do-it-yourself kind of thing, without any sponsors.”
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