Take It in the Shorts

Photo by Gavin CarltonGavin Carlton's newest film is about taking risks, he says, and now he's taking a little risk with his film. In conjunction with Fullerton's Stages Theater and in the shadow of OC's monolithic multiplexes, Carlton is putting together a showcase for those short and spunky films that don't fit anywhere else.

"Orange County is considered so conservative—and it is in so many ways—but when you're in a conservative area, it's your chance to rebel even further. I think people are wanting something gritty, something hard, something different, after just being bombarded with these soft images," says Carlton. He pauses. "I don't know if that's true, but it sounds right, doesn't it?"

It's something local filmmakers in Carlton's position—fresh out of film school, brimming with energy and with maybe a few awards under their belts—would probably agree with. Thanks to digital video, it's easier now than ever before to make a "real" film, unfettered by mealy mainstream concerns. But thanks to all those new films, it's also harder than ever to stand out.

"It seems like every festival these days has 30,000 shorts submitted," Carlton says. "You can get in, but it's a stroke of luck if you do. There's not enough venues—so why not create a venue for yourself?"

Enter Stages, right? Carlton and Stages producing artistic director Brian Kojac have a close working relationship stretching back to 1995, before Carlton had blossomed into the "little Orson Welles" he is today, Kojac says. The short-film festivals they'd held at their old Anaheim location won enthusiastic response, and now that Stages is securely ensconced in college-y downtown Fullerton, the time and place seem ripe for lights, camera and, naturally, action.

"We're trying to get people into the theater who may not come in to see a regular play," Kojac says. "How do you deal with The Importance of Being Earnest anymore? College kids couldn't give a shit—they were forced to read it in high school."

So when the Carlton-directed production of The Elephant Man was slated to include a video screen and projector, Kojac and Carlton organized the Stages Short Film Exposé—"'Festival' implies some sort of competition," explains Kojac—to provide several local filmmakers, including Chapman University graduate Carlton, with a place to show their work.

"People normally can't see these kinds of projects," Carlton says. "They're a little riskier, or the stories aren't typical, or the style is just completely different from what most people are used to at the cineplexes. So adding this into the mix might be really nice."

The films, many by Carlton's fellow Chapman grads, are a wildly diverse group of shorts, arranged in two approximately hourlong programs. Between murders intentional and accidental, taut morality plays, out-there avant comedy and even a little based-on-a-true-story drama, Carlton says, "there's no danger of someone being bored."

Besides shorts Fuga (by Zac Boggs, an experimental short about the chaos of the city) and Monochrome (by Neil Thibedeau, about a blind painter suddenly granted sight), Friday's program features two award-winning films by Carlton and one by much-lauded commercial director Thomas Richter.

Carlton's The Doctor, crafted to resemble a 1940s foreign film (complete with made-up pseudo-language and subtitles), tracks the torment of a physician forced to choose between preserving his integrity or preserving his people, while Bliss follows another tortured soul into the almost-as-foreign rave scene. Richter, a longtime filmmaker who, says Kojac, is currently generating some intriguing rumblings out Hollywood way, turns in Tasteless, a pitch-black comedy about a dinner party gone —in true cinematic fashion—horribly, horribly awry.

Saturday's program matches Bogg's Fuga with Chapman alums Chris Levitus' Is Small Problem (about building a foundation for a relationship while trying to dispose of a pesky corpse) and Olatunde Osunsami's Ét At, a historical drama about 1970s Nigeria. Carlton will also be showing his own Hammurabi's Code, a more-than-a-little-political piece about serial killers sentenced to the mercy of their victims' families that won an award at the New York Student Film Festival.

It's still in the baby stages, says Kojac, with most of this batch of filmmakers informally drawn from Carlton's film-school buddies, but he'd like it to grow up into something else. "There's interest out there," he says. "Let's cultivate it, damn it!"

"The key is that it's not just about OC, it's about getting it out to the rest of the world," says Carlton. "Exposure is the best thing. The more people who see it, the more people will know about you and the more people will know about your films. And who knows who's watching?"

Stages Short Film Exposé at Stages, 400 E. Commonwealth Ave., Ste. 4, Fullerton, (714) 525-4484. Screens Fri.-Sat., 10 p.m. Through March 2. $5.

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