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Vail Film Fest Wrap-Up: Shorts and Saving Pelican 895

Justin here with the last report from The Vail Film Fest.

The Fest Overall:

The Vail Film Fest is a weird beast. I was graciously given press credentials to cover the event, which I would have otherwise not attended due to financial considerations. Day passes to the event were $120. The pass I received, a “black diamond,” sold for $865. This allowed me access into practically every movie I wanted, all panel discussions, events, and the hospitality lodge which included free booze. I felt super out of place the whole time, but I was super grateful for the opportunity and overall I had a really great time. A helpful volunteer told me how to get free parking, so I ended up getting out of the festival only paying for a cheap but delicious calzone courtesy of Pazzo's Pizza.

The festival and attendees were very posh. I'm not the kind of person that is used to fancy or any kind of preferential treatment, so it was really weird how my pass literally opened doors – seriously, there were doormen everywhere. I grabbed a couple free Stellas at the bar and tried to spend as much time as possible in screenings. The main sponsor of the fest is Cadillac, that should give you an idea of the typical attendee. In fact, throughout the fest, there was a series of shorts playing inside 3 Cadillacs outside one of the theaters.

I want to give a shout out to my “local” comic shop, Eagle Valley Music and Comics. If you're in the area and looking for a great indie music store or comic shop, you should seriously check them out. They got me oriented to Vail and gave me some tips on how to park and get around.

I was able to take in a handful of shorts when I first got to the fest. Like most shorts programs, it was a grab bag with some good and some bad. Here's a breakdown of the ones I saw:

Shoes – This Irish short is about a man who is about to kill himself by jumping off a bridge. He is then accosted by a mysterious hobo who manages to talk him out of it. It was an OK short but lacking in imagination. I was hoping it would go to more interesting places than it did. Instead we get an O. Henry style twist at the end that I saw coming miles away. The story really went off the rails about halfway through when the jumper's life flashes before his eyes.

Hello Caller – This opens with a woman looking at a suicide hotline flier. I thought, “Aw fuck, this is one of THOSE festivals.” But then as the short progressed, I got a really funny story of the world's worst suicide prevention counselor. This was really really funny. It totally won me over. I'd like to talk about it more, but it would ruin it. Check it out.

Aya – A Japanese movie about a samurai obsessed professor's struggles with sexual thoughts about his young adult daughter. Any meaningful exploration of that disturbing theme was undone by the fact that the story was all a dream/fantasy. Weak. One interesting thing to note though was that the art direction credit was given to David Mazzucchelli. I'm not sure if this is the same David Mazzucchelli that was responsible for Asterios Polyp and art in Batman: Year One. I'm guessing since there was nothing particularly compelling about the art direction that it was a different guy.

A Really Shitty Boyfriend – A cute and quirky short from Spain about a shitty boyfriend. It was cute and didn't overstay its welcome at about 5 minutes. However, I really thought it could have been just a little longer. The premise really started picking up steam about the time the movie ended.

Saving Pelican 895

I caught the first part of a documentary double feature which had this excellent 45 minute documentary about the cleaning and rehabilitation of pelicans after the Deep Water Horizon oil spill disaster last year. The movie was directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky, who was also responsible for the documentary, Hear and Now.

When I walked into the theater I had no idea what was playing. I'm not even all that interested in wildlife films or pelicans. But I really liked this movie. Brodsky has a great handle on how to tell a story visually, which is a skill you don't often see with documentaries. The story follows one pelican designated “895” from the moment he is captured to his rehabilitation and re-release into the wilds of Louisiana.

One of the things I appreciated was that the movie didn't editorialize about the spill. Practically everyone knows how horrible it is and has feelings about it. The subjects of the film address it briefly, but it never dominates the discussion.

Pelicans are weird birds. I guess not ever really seeing any up close before, this didn't occur to me. By the end of the film, I came away loving the bizarre things. Saving Pelican 895 was produced by HBO documentaries, so hopefully they will broadcast it at some point. It is definitely worth your time even if you don't think you care about pelicans.

Movies I tried to see but couldn't

I really wanted to see Super with Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page, but inexplicably this was shown at 4:45 pm on Thursday. This was one of the biggest movies at the fest and it was shown then. What?

I wanted to see Daydream Nation but I couldn't get in because it had filled up while I was watching Boy Wonder. Unfortunately missing it threw my planned scheduled off. Fortunately though it lead me to watch Small Town Murder Songs, which was excellent.

The movie I planned to see after that was The Inner Room, a psychological thriller that takes place in a cabin in Fairplay. I really wanted to see this because aside from being local, Fairplay scares the shit out of me. I made a pit stop there on my way to New Mexico a few months back and had a very disturbing time at a gas station there. Fairplay is unfortunately a future ghost town. I was able to contact one of the producers, who said he would be sending a screener to me. Look for a review of this in the near future.

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Vail Film Fest Wrap-Up: Shorts and Saving Pelican 895 + TIME