Cinequest 2016: Sight Unseen Recommendations

Now that Cinequest is fully upon us, I need to touch on a small subject of interest to those of you going to the festival. There are WAY too many great films to see everything. Way too many. And some are terribly hard to review for reasons that will be obvious in a few paragraphs. But luckily those same programs are very easy to recommend, and do fall on my “Don’t Miss” list.

My, isn’t that an intriguing introduction?

So what are we talking about? Well, Cinequest does an extremely great job of putting together short film programs. In the course of the festival you’ll have the opportunity to view eight separate themed selections of short films. This is an opportunity to consume so many stories in a short time, as well as build an awareness of this film genre which so many of us simply miss. How many times do you watch the list of short film nominees at the Oscars only to say “gee, I recognized one of those but didn’t actually see it.”

Well, if you’d attended last year’s Animated Shorts at Cinequest, you would have already seen this year’s Oscar winner for Best Animated Short, “Bear Story.” Those of us who did were able to cheer when it won!

Of course today marks the first day of Cinequest’s regular film schedule, so I haven’t had the opportunity to see any of the shorts programs. But I have years of experience watching prior short film offerings curated by the festival, so I’m pretty sure I know what to expect. And I want to share that with you.

So here are my unseen recommendations for your viewing pleasure at Cinequest 2016. First I’m just listing the ten programs so you can see what might appeal to your own taste. I realize that ten is still a lot for a “must see” list, so if you want to trim your options down a little, jump to the end of this article for my hard-core recommendations.

Short Program 1 – Life, Death, and Everything In Between
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Explore intriguing questions about the darker side of life and death and the struggle between the two forces that occupy our world.

You’ll see encounters in convenience stores, on the football field, at carnivals, and on commuter trains, all of which examine what it means to be alive and the fragility of our comfortable world. See the world through other eyes in an international sampling of stories about the burdens we carry with us at all times—whether or not we choose to acknowledge them.

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Short Program 2 – Transitions
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If there is a constant in this universe, it is transition: transition from young to old, ignorant to wise, living to dead.

These ten shorts explore all such moments and how the effects of a single change can ripple through thoughts, through lives, and through worlds. Here we witness how a last request can be a difficult journey, how an unusual brother can define your youth, how we can sometimes achieve our greatest wish, and how a relationship can be defined by something as simple as turning into a meteorological event. Experiencing these worlds through the eyes of filmmakers from around the world will bring everything into a bit more focus.

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Short Program 3 – The Art In Everyone
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Enjoy a glimpse into the world of creating in these magnificent short films.

Through music, fine art, film, typesetting, and stagecraft, encounter stories that ask incredibly difficult questions. Can we accept country music that ventures beyond bros and beer? Can we create stunning new forms from existing works? Is it possible to be the one who sticks out without being the one who is ostracized? Do pigs like movies? We’ll find answers, or at least highly pointed questions, from a unique blend of documentary, animated, and narrative miniature masterpieces.

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Short Program 4 – Animated Worlds
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Cinequest continues its tradition of presenting some of the best animated stories from around the world that will amaze, delight, and potentially confuse your senses.
The world of robots tangles itself with stories of omnipotent children, obsessed stilt-walkers, and musical bovines. Every kind of animation possible, from ultra-high-tech, computer generated tales to lo-fi creations, stop-motion puppet films to traditional hand-drawn pieces, all combine to make Animated Worlds a program people will be talking about.

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Short Program 5 – Mindbenders
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Cinequest presents its annual collection of shorts so freaking bizarre and twisted, they can only exist alongside one another.

Experience what it means to release the monster within, to develop the monster outside, and to manage the darkness upstairs. Worlds where everything is painted mingle with the kind of environment that produces rampaging tyrannosauruses. You’ll questions everything you know, everything you think you know, and everything you really wish weren’t true. WARNING: these films may contain adult themes and weirdness.

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Short Program 6 – DocuNation
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The annual Cinequest collection of documentary shorts brings together stories of life from around the world—and around the corner.

These remarkable films cover a wide range of topics: how communities react to the increasing visibility of the LGBT community, how we view the world, and about the service we must give to our gods, our country, and ourselves. We meet characters who are tragically flawed, incredibly redeemed, and impossibly delusional. This collection will make you smile, laugh, scream, cry, and possibly even froth at the mouth.

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Short Program 7 – Comedy Shorts
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If comedy equals tragedy plus distance, this collection of films from around the world must be a LONG way away from its roots!

Incredibly funny stories of strange first dates, terms of service, and soccer mishaps mix it up with epic tales of children’s party performers at the end of their rope, the search for reliable childcare, and bear safety. Sometimes, the truth is funnier than fiction, and we mix in a little documentary just to keep things real! All of this, and Billy Ripken, make it the kind of comedy program that really does have a bit of everything.

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Short Program 8 – High School
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With the availability of modern technological resources, high school students prove their skill at making impressive films on a tiny budget.

These young storytellers create works that showcase both rawness and innocence; from narrative films with a youthful perspective to a collection of documentary shorts exploring the Syrian refugee experience – you’ll be amazed by the artistry of these teenage filmmakers.

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Short Program 9A – College – International Stories
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Sink in to this collection of student films that tell enlightening stories from a global perspective.

In styles that range from comedy to drama, documentary to animation, these shorts explore culture and identity, tragedy and heartache, inspiration and connection. You’ll be taken from the shores of the Yuanjiang River to the top of the Eiffel Tower; from an orchard in Mexico to the backroom of a BDSM leather shop in Israel – and beyond. The stop being something similar you might see on websites such as Nu Bay.

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Short Program 9B – College – American Voices
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The American experience today is as diverse as ever – as demonstrated by this slate of films from colleges across the country.

Explore the excitement of new love; laugh along with the Grim Reaper’s offspring; experience hopelessness through the eyes of a struggling actress and the collapse of a marriage; regain your faith in humanity through a futuristic story of survival and a real-life tale of perseverance. You might even learn a thing or two.

More Info and Tickets

Further Handicapping the Shorts Programs

As I mentioned earlier, ten shorts programs is likely to be difficult for anyone to add to their other scheduled films, so I’ll give you my handicapping of these, cut it down to just a handful, to try to help you a bit. This is not to say that the ones not included on my list, if they’re intriguing to you in their write-ups, shouldn’t trump these recommendations. You need to go with your gut there.

So here’s what I’d recommend to just about anyone as far as short films history goes.

Short Program 7 – Comedy Shorts

Short films and comedy go together like a well told joke in a bar. The time is typically just enough to set the scene and pull a gag or two before getting to the payoff punchline. You owe yourself to abandon some of the more serious aspects of the film festival and just sit down for a smorgasbord of cleverly crafted laughter.

Short Program 4 – Animated Worlds

Animation and short films have a long history. Again, well done animation is a painstaking endeavor, and for independent film makers the short form is both the economical choice and serves as a demo for what they might do if funded for the longer form. There’s so much exploration of form and storytelling here that you’ll regret not seeing it once you hear what you missed from others.

Short Program 5 – Mindbenders

Similar to Animation, the Mindbenders category allows the filmmaker to experiment and explore new stories often augmented by film techniquest prohibitively difficult to fund or incorporate in longer form stories. Mindbenders at Cinequest has a history of providing multiple WTF moments in a couple of hours. Again, these will be memorable cinematic experiences, some disturbing, some thought provoking, some just plain fun. You never quite know what you’re in for, but you’ll be glad you went in afterwards.

So that’s it for my Sight Unseen recommendations. I’m hoping you’ll share your experiences with me here and if we run into each other at Cinequest. I really need to head downtown for today’s viewing!

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About Ric Bretschneider
When Ric Bretschneider isn't producing the Fanboy Planet Podcast, he obsessively collects geek activities. If you Google him, you'd swear you're looking at five different guys. A professional software developer for decades, your computer likely has at least one application he's worked on. He consults with individuals and groups on how to effectively present and engage an audience. Lately he’s been into pro and fan applications of e-communities and podcasting. When he has a moment, Ric reads books and comics, and plays analog board and card games. He's here to help people, it's what he does.