With the exception of Oscar-nominated shorts and the occasional Pixar release, films under thirty minutes go largely unseen by general audiences in the United States. The presenters of a new First Friday Film Festival hope Kansas City will become an exception to that rule.
Festival coordinators Matthew Dunehoo, a filmmaker with the production company Elk’s Pride Pictures, and Carly Harter Lee of Musical Theater Heritage, say their primary goals are to expose new audiences to emerging filmmakers and to provide those filmmakers with a local venue.
“Part of this is to create a bridge between the filmmaking community and audiences,” Dunehoo says. “Seeing top-quality shorts will inspire local filmmakers to challenge themselves, and encourage the local audience to want to see more compelling short films.”
They’re also interested in exploring challenging content that provokes thoughtful discussion.
This Friday’s lineup – including a horror film from Spain, an unusually quiet post-apocalyptic science fiction piece from a local filmmaker and a dark Iranian family drama – is sure to fulfill those criteria.
The Festival debuted in July with a 90-minute program of 12 films, with a focus on Kansas City filmmakers but also featuring films from across the U.S. and the world.
The films, which tend to be under 25 minutes long, are screened in two acts with an intermission; the MTH bar is open during the event. Following the screening, a “talkback” session allows for audience discussion, including conversations with filmmakers able to attend the event.
“And there was a great audience discussion after the films,” Dunehoo says. “People asked really insightful, relevant questions.”
There’s often a lightness to film shorts – July’s FFFF selections included a haircut gone wrong, a pillow-themed superhero and a literal fish out of water story – but shorts are also an opportunity to pare a story down to its most concentrated – and thus most potent – elements. Milwaukee filmmaker Jennifer Higgins’ The Hindu Thread, for example, told the Hindu creation myth in a charming three-minute animation in the style of Lotte Reiniger.
Dunehoo and Lee select films from a range of directors, thinking not only in terms of region and background, but also about showcasing the myriad possibilities in filmmaking in the 21st Century. July’s Happy Birthday Kevin, a one-minute, eleven-second film by John Psathas of Illinois, was shot on an iPhone, while Mousse, a 30-minute entry by Sweden’s John Helberg, looked like a big-budget Hollywood caper, condensed.
Dunehoo and Lee say the monthly Festival will continue to feature narrative, documentary and experimental shorts (including animation) of all genres. They’ve already seen a jump in the number of submissions between the festival’s debut and this month’s second outing, and the orchestrators may eventually move toward themed programs. November’s Festival is scheduled to feature a debut film from and Q&A with a Kazakh filmmaker. (Filmmakers can submit their work through filmfreeway.com.)
Audiences appear to appreciate Dunehoo and Lee's efforts to focus on an under-recognized area of filmmaking, particularly one committed to a diverse range of filmmakers’ voices.
“The theater was at capacity for the July screening,” says Lee.
First Friday Film Festival, Friday, August 5, doors open at 8:30 p.m. and the screening begins at 9 at MTH Theater, Third Floor, Crown Center, 2450 Grand, Suite 301, Kansas City, Missouri, 64108. Admission is free but attendees are encouraged to reserve seats in advance.
Melissa Lenos is an Assistant Professor of English at Donnelly College, where she teaches film studies, composition, literature and popular culture. She can be reached at email@example.com