The Reeler


April 30, 2007

BeFilm's Short Run to Midtown

Former Tribeca Underground fest programs moves north, programs full week of shorts

(L-R) Dirk Van Dijck and Koen Van Impe do a work dance in the award-winning Tanghi Argentini, one of this year's featured shorts at BeFilm (Photo: BeFilm)

BeFilm, The Underground Film Festival is a lot like George Jefferson: Short, spunky and definitely movin’ on up. The shorts-only film fest (which changed its name last year from the Tribeca Underground Film Festival at the request of the Tribeca Film Festival) has planned its biggest year yet, showcasing over 65 films from more than 17 countries over five nights (May 1–5).

From small beginnings in 2004, as BeFilm founder and co-director Laurence Asseraf told The Reeler, when audiences sat on the floor while films were projected onto the walls of her downtown art gallery, her big dream about little films has now spread its screenings out at the Bryant Park Hotel and the Park Avenue Screening Room. But while professing her excitement over the event’s steady growth, Asseraf insists that the festival will continue to spotlight the mini-films she loves so much:

“The main thing is that we do shorts and only shorts, and we are absolutely not interested in becoming a mainstream festival with features," Asseraf said. "We’re completely crazy about shorts -- I see them like unique little works of art. We want to show the diversity of the talent that is out there -- that’s the main goal. And variety is key because we’re aiming at opening this festival up in the best way possible to the general public.”

A glance at the program reveals this diversity; for five nights dramas, animations, documentaries and comedies -- each less than a half-hour long, several as short as 60 seconds -- are scheduled back to back. Opening night at Bryant Park includes an Ethiopian comedy, Menged, by Daniel Taye Workou, the New York premiere of Tanghi Argentini (which recently took the home audience awards at France’s Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival and the Aspen Shortsfest), followed by Sherif Nakhla’s 30-minute short, Miraculum, which tells the story of an Egyptian interfaith love affair.

“For me," Asseraf said, “a short that stands by itself is a short that does not need to be expanded into a feature. It can be the beginning of something -- it can be the beginning of a career, because that’s how filmmakers get noticed. But that doesn’t mean that that little film has to become an hour and a half film. ... These are just little gems and they’re all amazing. The filmmaker puts so much intensity into a short, so the work is not diluted. It’s just a direct impression of that filmmaker, and he gives all he’s got.”

And for a woman admittedly obsessed with short films, what’s her driving principle?

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“Quite frankly, the shorter the better," Asseraf said, “It should be like a heartbeat: boom, boom, boom, boom, going from one idea to the next, and very exciting. We’re all about trying to have the most interesting and fun program, because I want people to get the idea that they can just grab a short.”

In keeping with the fest’s inviting, laid-back attitude, audience members are encouraged to mingle with the film directors at intermission, eschewing more formal post-film Q&As. And on Friday, the only evening of themed programming will endeavor to incite ticket sales with a tongue-in-cheek “sexy night” at Bryant Park; the evening will feature the racier submissions for this year, including Andrew Vannata’s one minute Subway Strippin' and the three-minute animation The Return of Sergeant Pecker from Pierre Delarue.

And if Friday’s program could metaphorically speak as the BeFilm Festival thesis, then a sexy night of shorts may prove once and for all that size really doesn’t matter.

BeFilm, The Underground Film Festival launches May 1 at the Bryant Park Hotel Screening Room and continues there and at the Park Avenue Screening Room each night through May 5. Check the festival's site for ticket and schedule information.

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