Sundance Shorts Wrap-Up 

By Kyle Buchanan

Originally published on Advocate.com January 30 2009 12:00 AM ET

Though the
feature-length films at Sundance often have a higher
profile, the short LGBT films programmed there can
provide a real hint of what’s to come in gay
film. Whether they’re inaugurating new talent or
giving some of our leading filmmakers a different
outlet for expression, these brief queer films offer
some of the festival’s best moments in
filmmaking. They’re also much more likely to be seen
outside Sundance thanks to a strong network of gay
film festivals and compilation DVDs -- in fact, this
year’s feature-length entry Dare (starring
Emmy Rossum and Alan Cumming) was adapted from a short
film originally featured on the Boys Life 5
collection.

One of the most
provocative, talked-about shorts in this year’s
festival was "The Young and Evil," Julian
Breece’s strikingly shot film about young black
teen Karel (Vaughn Lowery), who attempts to seduce an
older, HIV-positive man into giving him the virus. Though
that logline could strike some as exploitive of a
“bug-chasing” fringe movement, Breece
and his producing partner Aaliyah Williams actually made the
short in order to put a spotlight on high rates of HIV
infection among black gay men in cities like New York
and Washington, D.C.

“You hear
these staggering rates of HIV infection, and you
automatically think, Oh, you're talking about
Africa,
or You're talking about a third-world
country,
” says Williams. “And it’s
like, No, we're talking about the city you live
in!”

Lowery, a former
model who’s perhaps best known as the dancer who
donned a grin (and not much else) in a popular series
of Joe Boxer commercials, welcomed the opportunity to
play such a morally complex character -- even if some
of his advisers warned him against taking on the role. As a
young boy, Lowery eschewed sports for academics, which
left him able to relate to Karel’s feeling of
cultural disenfranchisement.

“I wanted
that role so bad,” he said of his decision to
“stalk” the filmmakers. “This is
why I moved to Hollywood. If not, I would have just
stayed in New York and modeled for the rest of my
life.”

 

Another timely
short was Jenni Olson’s "575 Castro St.," which
played the real recordings of Harvey Milk’s
pre-assassination tape over static shots of
Milk’s camera shop, recreated as a set for Gus Van
Sant’s biopic. "575 Castro St." is also
available online (on Focus Features’
Milk site), auguring a new trend that expands
the audience for these shorts before their festival runs are
over.

Madeleine
Olnek’s sharp, award-winning comic short
"Countertransference" was just one of the films to benefit
from an iTunes promotion during the festival, and
though Coley Sohn’s amusing "Boutonniere"
hasn’t yet made it online, the short (starring gay
faves Wendy McClendon-Covey and Zachary Quinto) had a method
of distribution at Sundance that was just as
ingenious: bright pink bracelets that disguised a jump
drive containing the film.

Some movies leave
Sundance struggling to find a distributor, but when it
comes to getting seen, the new wave of savvy short directors
are as fleet as their films.