Go make something: The tools are everywhere

The Aspen ShortsFest film festival was last weekend. As the name implies, the event is devoted to short films. I’d never been to anything like it and discovered it to be a delightful and profound experience.

The festival featured about 55 short films, one to 20 minutes long, grouped in 90-minute programs with filmmaker question-and-answer sessions afterward. The pieces covered a wide range: high art, comedy, irony, dark and moody, bizarre animation, cleverness, documentary. Some were downright bad.

The filmmakers and their ideas came from all over the world, all walks of life — and all kinds of budgets, so the films were filled with surprises. With the exception of a few big names, nothing shown had been made by Hollywood-machine types.

The whole idea of short films seems so beautifully suited for the world today, and especially for those of us with correspondingly short attention spans.

All that said, the best part of the festival was listening to the filmmakers, writers and festival buyers discuss and answer questions about their experiences as filmmakers.

In fact, the best advice I’ve heard in a long time came from the comedy writers’ discussion panel. “The Sometimes Hilarious Pain of Writing Funny,” moderated by Elias Davis (“The Carol Burnett Show”), featured panelists Mike Reiss (“The Simpsons”), Shauna Cross (“What to Expect When You’re Expecting”), Alexander Payne (“The Descendants”) and Robert Weide (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”).

During the question-and-answer portion, a young college student on the front row asked if the writers had any advice for people wanting to “break into” the business. The panelists almost seemed to recoil, startled by the question. Then Reiss threw up his hands and yelled, “Just go make something! Look around you! The tools are everywhere!”

The tools are everywhere.

Last year, Colorado Mesa University teacher and Rocky Mountain PBS Producer Greg Mikolai’s documentary about the Colorado National Monument won an Emmy award. Recently, local filmmaker Todd Braley’s short film was selected to show at the Cannes Film Festival.

After learning that thousands of short films are submitted to film festivals, with only a few selected, I realized what a big deal it is that Braly’s film was selected and that Mikolai earned an Emmy. I thought of CMU’s upcoming Animation Festival showcasing student projects in the University Center Ballroom on May 4.

Reiss repeated his declaration: “Just go make something,” as Weide looked out at us, adding, “and that applies to life too, not just films.”

Just go make something. Tell your story. I thought of artists, builders, entrepreneurs, hobbyists. There are so many “somethings” to make, when you think about it. Make a short film, a new friend, a voyage, a garden, a smile, a mess, dinner, time for family, well-rounded solutions to problems, a business, dessert, amends, love.

Oh sure, mistakes will be made too — that “stuff happens” variable that brings down conspiratorial machines, that email rant sent to the wrong person, that one point of vulnerability in a massive and unsinkable ship.

But isn’t that precisely what classic stories tell us time and again? I asked a scholarly acquaintance about the relevance and staying power of timeless stories, from the account of the sinking of the Titanic to classic fiction like Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility.” I expected him to liken the Titanic to today’s “too big to fail” sacred cows or the social class distinctions in Austen’s books.

But instead he said, “People do dumb things, so these stories should offer some comfort for us, knowing that none of this is new.”

There are no guarantees, no sure things in life. We cannot eliminate risk, we can only minimize it. Progress, evolution and enrichment are the result of our species’ ability to just go make something, as are our blunders. We can’t possibly know what lies in wait for us around every turn in life, so we make something anyway.

The poet Thomas Hardy presented such irony when he wrote, “The Convergence of the Twain” a few weeks after the sinking of the Titanic. A few lines here:

And as the smart ship grew

In stature, grace, and hue,

In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.


... Dim moon-eyed fishes near

Gaze at the gilded gear

And query: “What does this vaingloriousness down here?”


On that note, I’m going to just go make something, anyway.


Krystyn Hartman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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