The art of short-film making is alive and well, and Asbury Shorts USA seeks to ensure that audiences continue to enjoy some of the world’s best short films in a theater setting.
“Nothing against YouTube or Vimeo or viral sites that allow you to call up short films on your smartphone or computer, but to us, showing these films on a real theater screen with a whole bunch of folks in the audience laughing, crying and eating popcorn is the best way to experience them,” says Doug LeClaire, director and co-founder of Asbury Shorts USA, which began 36 years ago. “We’re a celebration of independent short film making.”
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Asbury Shorts’ annual tour stop returns for the third year to Stockton University’s Dante Hall Theater in Atlantic City 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 17. The evening will include screenings of about a dozen short films spanning a variety of subject matters, each having garnered high praise at such hallowed events as the Sundance and Tribeca film festivals, and in some cases the Academy Awards.
Asbury Shorts is not a film festival itself, LeClaire asserts, but rather an event that applauds current and classic short-film subjects that stand out. It was born out of an advertising production company LeClaire and some college classmates started on Long Island’s Asbury Avenue in 1981, and has been based in Manhattan since 1988. Only since 2000 has it been a touring production company, he said, and this year will include a record 38 tour stops along the East Coast, as well as Dallas and Los Angeles.
“More and more we’re being referred to as an off-off-off-Broadway production, and have spent the last 36 years trying to not be a film festival but an entertainment event celebrating well-produced short films from all over the world that have some sort of pedigree to them,” LeClaire says. “There is a place and a need for long documentaries, educational and experimental films, but in our show you’re only go see drama, animation and an occasional short documentary. We’ve survived this long because we know how to keep the night moving and entertaining.”
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The running time for any film Asbury Shorts might consider cannot exceed 20 minutes, and on average films are between five and 15 minutes. Press of Atlantic City Director of Entertainment Publications Scott Cronick will serve as the event’s guest host, introducing the crowd to the first batch of five or six films and returning after a brief intermission to announce the second batch.
Some of the standout films guests can expect to see include “Reaching Home,” a 16-minute family drama directed by Kenneth Murphy and starring Emmy Award-winning actress Debra Monk; “Elevator World,” a five-minute animated short about people whose lives are connected by experiences in an elevator; and “Dad in Mum,” a short comedy by French director Fabrice Barac done in subtitles.
“‘Dad in Mum’ is a six-minute comedy that’s a bit risque, and let me qualify ‘risque’ by pointing out that the film is performed by two little girls who can’t be more than six,” LeClaire says. “They wake up to hearing noise coming from their parents’ bedroom and have a very intense discussion about what it is their parents are doing.”
Unshrouding a sensitive subject
Kate Phelan’s career in film spans the gamut from electrician to gaffer — or chief lighting technician — to cinematographer for 12 years.
About four years ago she started toying with the idea of being a director, and rather than wonder if she had the aptitude or inclination for directing her own films, she decided to remove all doubt by diving in and doing it last year.
“There’s a pretty big divide between the two (cinematographer and director),” she says. “It’s sort of the difference between being a problem solver for someone else’s production, and coming up with the ideas or the essence of the story you want to tell yourself. They’re totally different jobs but they’re related, and I enjoy doing both.”
The first film she directed, and one that the Asbury Shorts’ audience will see Friday night at Dante Hall, is called “Visit 57,” which won best short screenplay at the Women’s Indie Film Festival and high praise at the Hamptons Film Fest. It is a 12-minute-long docudrama about a young woman’s experience attempting to get pregnant through fertility treatments, and the difference between the procedure’s public perception and reality.
“It’s completely autobiographical,” Phelan says. “I did fertility for three years to have my second child, and I’ve never seen it portrayed with any kind of accuracy. I thought it was important to sort of pull back the curtain a little bit and show how it can be a long process that’s expensive, time consuming, emotionally taxing and ultimately very dramatic.”
“Visit 57” plays up what can be a very sterile environment and impersonal relationship between hospital staff and women when they are teetering between hopefulness and heartbreak.
“The numbers are something like 50 percent of women who are unsuccessful at having children this way, so it can be pretty rough emotionally,” Phelan says. “And I felt like, because it’s so common and because people aren’t really talking about it, it was really a perfect topic to explore more deeply, especially visually.”