Day 3, full of coffee. Mountain Chalet has become the de facto home to the filmmaker continental breakfast. Rather than enjoying my own hotel’s complimentary “feast,” I enjoy the company of the artists who screened their films the night prior at the Chalet. Today’s first topic of conversation is the lovely Australian native Romi Trower who screened her vibrant film, “Chocolate Cake” last night.
“Chocolate Cake” addresses the issues of sexuality, addiction, the inevitability of mortality and – among other things – chocolate cake. Trower wrote, produced and starred in the film and was more than happy to discuss the inner workings of Isabella, the protagonist of the film. The thirty year old bartender is compelled by a lust and addiction for 21 year olds. On the surface, it seems provocative and sexy, but it hits a bit of a darker note and ultimately comes off as somewhat tragic. Isabella brilliantly compares these vices to her love of chocolate cake. “Tempting, enticing, rich, luscious and fun, you just dive in. When you finally have a little bit of time away from it and begin to digest, you start to feel the gut-wrenching after effects: weight gain, guilt and shame.” The film itself – while deep and heartfelt – sports rich, lively colors and an illustrious wit that helps drive home the message with whimsy and comedy. As I watched the beautifully composed scenes and direct-to-your-face narration, I couldn’t help but feel like I was forced to make the same choices as the film’s divided star: indulge in my vices and face the consequences of feeling alive, or protect myself and simply embrace the inevitable. The smile hardly ever left my face.
Along with “Chocolate Cake,” last night’s screenings included two other notable, heartfelt pieces: Oscar Sharp‘s “Sign Language” and Max Zähle‘s “Raju.” I was fortunate enough to get both filmmakers together between screenings at the Wheeler to discuss the similarities and differences between their films – from a behind the scenes perspective. Sharp’s “Sign Language” is a comedic portrayal of an Oxford St. sign holder discussing the nature of his profession and the love he has for it. This starkly contrasts Zähle’s deep and profound look at a young German couple who are faced with a question of morality after adopting a young child from Kolkata. Sharp reminds the audience how important it is to find joy in life; Zähle commands the audience to decide for themselves if the final resolution is truly the right decision. Both films have an agenda, but they’re very different in message and morality. Or are they?
As our conversation went on, the two filmmakers began to discuss the true agenda of their work, asking the question, “Are we serving cinema first, or are we serving mankind first?” Zähle’s piece has had a large impact on the illegal dealings of kidnapped children in India; it actually led to the closing of one orphanage that was participating in these atrocious acts. Zähle has stated that this was the most rewarding part of his experience as a filmmaker thus far. Sharp discussed the sadness he feels for people who are embarrassed to tell others what their profession is and are shamed to even consider working towards their dreams. The forty minute conversation made me realize that this festival is more than just appreciating the art of film; it’s a chance for insight, a chance to discover something new.
Even though the week has hardly begun, I’ve already begun reviewing my life and opinions and seeing things in a whole new light. I’m not special. Anyone can introduce themselves to the filmmakers and begin to have rewarding and occasionally life changing conversations. The cost of a festival pass, airfare, and stay may be justified by the transformational experience of Aspen Shortsfest. The feeling you have when you walk out of the theater holding your head high and you realize you were part of something surreal – something special. You can’t put a price on that feeling.