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Sundance Shorts

Sundance Shorts

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.

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.

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Kyle Buchanan