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Jason Stuart has taken on a lot of different roles in his career. As of this writing, he has 145 IMBb.com acting credits listed, going all the way back to 1980.

One of his latest credits is the titular role in the short film Hank, which will be screening at the Palm Springs International Shortfest as part of the “Coupling and Uncoupling” program on Wednesday, June 19, at the Palm Springs Cultural Center.

The Hongyu Li-directed short features Stuart as the main character, Hank, who is feeling down about the desire of his husband, Tommy, to open up their relationship. Tommy is a gorgeous musician, while Hank is overweight and bald. Over the course of a day, Hank feels even more alone and alienated as he tries to deal with the predicament.

During a recent phone interview, Stuart—who has also made a name for himself as an openly gay comedian—talked about how he was approached for the role.

“I had done another film called Tangerine a couple of years ago, and it was the first (feature-length) film to be shot on an iPhone,” Stuart said. “It was directed by Sean Baker, and it was written by Sean and Chris Bergoch. This Chinese kid (director Hongyu Li) saw this movie and said he wanted me to play (in Hank),” Stuart said. “I got this part of this sweet, kind, middle-aged gay man who didn’t have a voice but gains his voice through the film.”

I asked Stuart if he felt the short-film format was restrictive.

“In the old days, I would agree with that. When you do an independent film, you want people to be able to see it, and that’s important,” Stuart said. “Now, it seems like everything is every size, every length: You watch things online, and it doesn’t matter what it is.

“The world over the past five years has changed so much. I would love for it to be in the theaters, and I hope it gets a decent release. That’s what you care about these days. In every film that I’m in, I ask, ‘How do you get people to see it?’”

One of Stuart’s biggest roles came in the 2016 film Birth of a Nation, playing Joseph Randall, a plantation owner. He said that while the film was disturbing to many, it has important historical context.

“That is probably one of the top 10 things I’ve done in my career. It changed me completely,” Stuart said. “I think that it’s the antithesis of Black Lives Matter. It’s the antithesis of saying, ‘Hey, we’re not going to take this anymore,’ and the antithesis of paying it forward in life—to the worst of consequences.”

Surprisingly, he said it was easier to play Joseph Randall than it was to play Hank.

“When I did Hank, I had just broken up with a boyfriend,” he said. “ … It was one of the hardest roles to play, because he was a different character to me. People say, ‘Was it hard to play a plantation owner?’ I say, ‘Not as hard as it was to do Hank, because I worked on (a character like the plantation owner) in a different project in my acting class. I worked on it years ago when I was cast in something about Vietnam that was never made. (The plantation owner) was kind of a show-off and a guy with an odd sense of humor. In Hank, I had to be so quiet. I had to actually ask the director to cut the dialogue down, because I thought it would be better that he didn’t have a voice.”

Stuart said he was impressed by working with Hongyu Li.

“He had a bit of a challenge with language, but he was so open,” he said. “… What was really interesting was his youth: He’s only 25. That was wonderful, and I couldn’t believe that he had so much intelligence for that. I think he would love to do a full-length film, and I hope that he does.”

Stuart continues to act and do comedy—he’s slated to appear at Oscar’s here in Palm Springs on Aug. 1—but he’s also excited about his soon-to-be-released autobiography.

“It’s pretty exciting, given I’ve never written a book or even thought I could get a book published,” Stuart said. “It was really an exciting thing, because (the publishers I went with) weren’t the only people to say yes. The book is called Shut Up, I’m Talking!

He said the personal reflection required for the book was not easy.

“It was fucking awful!” he said. “The first chapter is all about my dad leaving Poland running away from the Nazis, and it was really difficult. The second chapter is about me. My mom also has a chapter in the book, and I really love my mom a lot. My mom is 82, and she still shops at Forever 71. She, very much so, gave me the title of the book, because the original title was supposed to be I’m Not Barbra Streisand because of a story that happened to me as a child when I went to see Funny Girl. As a kid, I see this woman on a stage, and she’s funny on the outside, but sad on the inside and looks like someone from my neighborhood. I’m attracted, just like her, to Omar Sharif, and if I’m attracted to Omar Sharif, who is left for me to be attracted to?”

Hank will be screened as part of the Palm Springs International Shortfest at 1:15 p.m., Wednesday, June 19, at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, 2300 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $12 to $13. For tickets or more information, visit www.psfilmfest.org.

Published in Previews and Features

The month of June brings the Palm Springs International ShortFest—the largest short-film festival on the continent.

This leads to a common question: “What makes a film a short?” The answer: No, it has nothing to do with the height of the director. Instead, a “short film” is any motion picture not long enough to be considered a “feature film.” The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences defines a short film as “an original motion picture that has a running time of 40 minutes or less, including all credits.” Sometimes, the synopsis may seem longer than the actual movie.

Lili Rodriguez is the festival director of the Palm Springs International ShortFest. Festival organizers receive more than 4,200 submissions for about 325 slots, organized into 90-minute themed screenings—and the nature of the films submitted often reflects the social and political issues of our time.

“This year, we’ve seen a lot of films about race relations in the United States, as well as about migration,” said Rodriguez.

So, how does a film make it into the festival?

“Films go through a selection process that includes a screening committee of around 20 people and four programmers,” Rodriguez explained via email. “Programmers select the final films that will play, and our goal is to have a balanced program that includes talent from all over the world and films with different perspectives and across many genres.”

Short films, like feature films, come in a variety of genres, including documentaries, fiction films and animated films. Many directors have honed their skills using the short format; Wes Anderson, Sam Raimi and Neill Blomkamp are just a few who did. The films are sometimes shown at the theater before a feature—usually the case with Pixar films, for example—or via avenues like AdultSwim.

I asked Rodriguez what she felt the festival’s goal is. “ShortFest is a platform meant to discover and nurture talent,” she said. “Our goal is to provide emerging and established filmmakers a space where they can learn and network—a space where short form is king.”

The festival also includes the ShortFest Film Market. It’s is the only short film market in the U.S., and includes more than 3,500 titles. Unfortunately, the market is not open to the public, but just to industry insiders and professionals. This is one reason why many sales people, distributors, filmmakers and others come specifically to the Palm Springs International Shortfest.

Originally, shorts were included as part of the Palm Springs International Film Festival—until organizers realized the shorts deserved a festival of their own.

“Shorts used to get programmed with feature-length films in the January festival, the Palm Springs International Film Festival, but in 1995, it broke off to be its own thing,” she explained. This is a good thing: I volunteered at the Palm Springs International Film Festival this year, and I can’t imagine where they could even try to fit in short films.

The Palm Springs International ShortFest will take place Tuesday, June 20, through Monday, June 26, at the Camelot Theatres, 2300 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets for individual screenings are $13, and six-packs of tickets are $69. For tickets or more information, call www.psfilmfest.org/2017-shortfest.

Published in Previews and Features

The Palm Springs International ShortFest included a great compilation of lesbian shorts—and I don’t mean flannel boxers!

The nine short films in the “Gay!La (Hers): LesbiaNation” program on Thursday, June 19, were well-made and smart—and not one of the lesbian characters was struggling with her sexuality.

There was a married mother having an affair with a lesbian. The married woman felt guilty about the affair, but there was no mention of her sexuality. There was an alcoholic mess of a hot lesbian—but no hint that her lesbianism caused her alcoholism. Brava, my kinda films!

All of the movies were very intimate, rounded out with humor and light and darkness. There was old love, new love and borrowed love. The only remotely blue content came from The Gay Agenda, a cute three-minute doc from Australia about a hysterical art show that quoted some of the most horrifically inaccurate accusations made by the Christian right about the “gay agenda”—and then included hysterical yet beautifully staged images showing what those statements would look like in “reality.” This film was also the only one that really took a direct look at homosexuality.

My favorite short was Disaster Preparedness, a film about one night with two lesbians in their New York apartment during a hurricane. Fast and funny, sad and real, smart and close to the bone, the short brought the viewer all the way into this couple’s life. It was impossible not to fall in love with both characters as they argued through an amusing storm of their own.

The Q&A after the shorts was great, with filmmakers present from as far away as Australia and Lebanon. The host asked the panel: “What is your least favorite cliché in gay films?” Almost all of the filmmakers said that it was the painful coming-out story. Several of them expressed that they had set out to make films in which the characters who explored engaging situations just happened to be gay.

I have to admit that I’ve heard similar statements in the industry for years; they often meant that people didn’t want the characters to be so gay. But that’s not the case any more: These characters were entirely gay. It’s just that processing the process of processing the gay aspect is not the focal point.

One director said, “It is time for queer film 2.0.” Of course there is still a place to focus on the shame and struggle and joy of coming out—but now we can pioneer our way to the stories beyond those beginnings. The Gay!La program showed how filmmakers are now doing that, in a universally translatable way.

The Palm Springs International Shortfest continues through Monday, June 23. For tickets, a complete schedule and more information, visit www.psfilmfest.org.

Published in Previews and Features

The Palm Springs International Shortfest accepts submissions from filmmakers around the world—so it’s always special when a local filmmaker joins in the fun.

Therefore, it was a lot of fun to see Desert Magazine editor Mary Silverman’s film, Hollywood in the Desert Sky, included as part of the “Extraordinary People” program at the Camelot Theatres on Wednesday, June 18.

The festival continues through Monday, June 23.

Hollywood in the Desert Sky is a 17-minute short on the life of local photographer Michael Childers. Childers’ work has been featured in the Natural Portrait Gallery, among other museums. He was a contributor to Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine and was a photographer on the sets of Terminator, Grease, and Coal Miner’s Daughter.

Silverman told the Independent that the interview she did with Childers several months ago offered her an opportunity.

“I’ve been making documentaries for my entire career,” Silverman said. “I’m currently the editor of Desert Magazine, and I did a story for my January issue on Michael Childers. It was a pretty extraordinary opportunity, and I didn’t want it to pass by without getting it on tape. I worked with a local production company to do a three-camera shoot, and from there, we had a documentary—and got it into the Shortfest.”

Silverman said Childers is a perfect subject for a documentary.

“Michael Childers has a pretty extraordinary story,” Silverman said. “He has a long career as a photographer for print and for many different magazines in Paris, London and the United States. He was the longtime partner of John Schlesinger, who directed Midnight Cowboy, and his images are iconic of 20th century culture.”

The shoot for the documentary was done in one unbroken interview, Silverman said.

“I didn’t stop, start, do retakes or any of that. It was shot as if it were running live. It was a sit-down interview and a candid walk-and-talk interview. I don’t know how long the interview was, but I’d say we had cameras rolling for about an hour.”

How do you turn a one-hour interview into a 17-minute short?

“I knew going into it exactly what my story was going to be,” Silverman said. “I knew that it probably wasn’t going to be more than about 20 minutes long. I’ve been doing this for about 25 years—actually longer, if you consider my academic career before that—and you just know what your story is going into it. … Your fine-tuned experience helps you edit it into a piece.”

She said that Childers’ images and the score helped the film become truly special.

“We had access to a treasure trove of Michael’s photographic images. It was just the best of all worlds,” Silverman said. “I also reached out to a dear family friend, Harry Gregson-Williams, who is a very well-known film composer. I asked him if he might be interested in helping me out in this piece. Harry was very gracious to compose something.”

She said she was surprised the film was selected.

“Some filmmakers have submitted to the festival prior, so they have a very finished piece to submit. Mine wasn’t, and it was just a surprise to me,” she said. “I didn’t even think about it. It was Michael Childers: I showed him the cut, and he was the one who suggested I turn it in for the festival.”

The hard work paid off. During the screening on Wednesday, the short was well-received. In fact, Silverman said she may turn the film into a feature-length documentary.

“It screened perfectly,” Silverman said. “You don’t know how it translates when it’s shown on the big screen, and it was beautiful. We had a very large crowd; we were in Theater 1 at the Camelot, which is the largest theater. … We received a very nice response and great comments from people afterward.”

The Palm Springs International Shortfest continues through Monday, June 23. For tickets, a complete schedule and more information, visit www.psfilmfest.org.

Published in Previews and Features

Comedy

Kathy Griffin

The famous, profane and controversial comedian brings her comedy and D-list fame to the desert for two shows. 9 p.m., Friday, June 6; and 8 p.m., Saturday, June 7. The Show at the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage. 888-999-1995; www.hotwatercasino.com.

Wayans Brothers Live!

In 1990, the world of comedy welcomed an irreverent sketch comedy that changed the playing field. In Living Color debuted to critical acclaim and adoration by millions of American fans. Leading the charge was trailblazing creator, writer, director, producer and actor Keenen Ivory Wayans. He and his brothers take the stage together. 8 p.m., Saturday, June 21. $29 to $59. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway. 760-342-5000; www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

Film

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is the only science-fiction film produced by Walt Disney himself and remains one of the most highly regarded live action films of Walt Disney Productions. Infusing fresh life and color into the Jules Verne classic, the film doesn’t shy away from the challenges of its ocean setting, featuring outstanding underwater sequences, a legendary special-effects battle with a giant squid, and a regrettably “true to the text” depiction of “cannibal island.” 5:30 p.m., Friday, June 13. Free. Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert, 72567 Highway 111, Palm Desert. 760-322-4800; www.psmuseum.org/palm-desert.

Movies in the Park: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2

Bring chairs, kick back and enjoy the start of summer! The movie will begin the second the sun goes behind our mountains. 5 p.m., Friday, June 13. Free. Thousand Palms Community Park, 31189 Robert Road, Thousand Palms. 760-343-3595; apm.activecommunities.com/desertrecdistrict.

Palm Springs International Shortfest and Film Market

Palm Springs International ShortFest is renowned worldwide for the extraordinary community of filmmakers it attracts, and for the quality and scope of its programming. ShortFest 2014 will present more than 300 short films from more than 50 countries. Tuesday, June 17, through Monday, June 23; times, prices and venues vary. General public sales begin June 10; www.psfilmfest.org.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is a mystical, surreal and challenging film exploring questions of memory, reincarnation and the afterlife. On the edge of the florid jungle lies a man on the edge of death, who begins to recall his past lives in the company of his deceased wife and son who have returned in non-human form to usher him into the afterlife. 5:30 p.m., Friday, June 6. Free. Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert, 72567 Highway 111, Palm Desert. 760-322-4800; www.psmuseum.org/palm-desert.

Music

America

America created a sound of their own with their flawless blend of contrasting genres, consisting of pop rock, folk-jazz and even Latin-leaning rhythms. Since the 1970s, America band members Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell have been producing inspiring music that has brought them chart-topping success. 8 p.m., Saturday, June 7. $35 to $55. Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella; 760-775-5566; www.spotlight29.com.

Art Laboe Summer of Love Jam III

The show features El Chicano, Rose Royce, MC Magic, Amanda Perez and Club Noveau. 7 p.m., Saturday, June 14. $35 to $65. The Show at the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage. 888-999-1995; www.hotwatercasino.com.

Christina Bianco

Drama Desk and MAC Award-nominated actress, singer and impressionist Christina Bianco has become a worldwide YouTube sensation thanks to her diva impression videos going viral. Christina also just sold out a critically acclaimed extended run headlining at London’s famed Hippodrome. 8 p.m., Saturday, June 21. $20 to $40 with a two-drink minimum. Copa, 244 E. Amado Road, Palm Springs. 760-322-3554; www.coparoomtickets.com.

Hot as Hell Pool Party With Zulluu

Zulluu is an Anglo-African fusion band/theater group, pioneering a new trend of blending world beats and sounds into a mix of theater, music and dance. They are highly vocal, singing lyrics in both English and the African language of Zulu. Bring your swimsuit! 7 p.m., Monday, June 2. Free. Sidebar Patio and Circa 59 at Riviera Palm Springs, 1600 N. Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-327-8311; www.psriviera.com.

Special Events

Desert Chiefs Football Presents Desert Bowl

Battle for the ball, 7-on-7 football tournament. All sponsorship proceeds go the DHS JAA Football and Cheer. 10 a.m., Saturday, June 14. Free. Desert Hot Springs High School, 65850 Pierson Blvd., Desert Hot Springs. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Juneteenth in the Coachella Valley

The event promises good food, exciting entertainment and an atmosphere that inspires community unity and support. All proceeds will directly benefit the Family Health and Support Network foster-care program. The evening will include a performance by special guest artist and renowned vocalist Ms. Alfreda James. 6 p.m., Saturday, June 14. $65; $85 VIP. La Quinta Resort and Club and PGA West, 49499 Eisenhower Drive, La Quinta. 760-340-2442; www.juneteenthcv.com.

Visual Arts

California Dreamin': Thirty Years of Collecting

The exhibit includes art works purchased by the Palm Springs Art Museum with funds provided by the Contemporary Art Council and other contributors since 1984. The acquisitions were created by contemporary artists who worked in California or were influenced by spending some time in California during their artistic careers. This is the first time these artworks have been on exhibition together. The exhibit is a celebration of the commitment of the Contemporary Art Council to growing the museum’s collection of significant contemporary artists, and is a survey of art in California since the 1980s. On display through Thursday, July 31. Included with museum admission (free to $12.50). Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. 760-322-4800; www.psmuseum.org.

Submit your free arts listings at calendar.artsoasis.org. The listings presented above were all posted on the ArtsOasis calendar, and formatted/edited by Coachella Valley Independent staff. The Independent recommends calling to confirm all events information presented here.

Published in Local Fun

What makes short films interesting? Why should people go see them?

“In many ways, I believe the great short film is harder to make than the great feature film,” said Darryl Macdonald, the executive director of the Palm Springs International Film Society, which is putting on the 2013 Annual Palm Springs International Shortfest, starting on Tuesday, June 18. “You have a very, compressed, limited amount of time to tell a story that really touches people, ideally on all three levels—emotionally, viscerally and intellectually. It’s a staggering feat to accomplish that.”

And which of the 330 films stand out at this year’s festival? Macdonald points out a 27-minute film from England called Walking the Dogs, which features Emma Thompson as Queen Elizabeth and tells the true story of a man who broke into the queen’s bedroom in 1982 while her royal guard was out walking her dogs.

Macdonald also cites Penny Dreadful, an 18-minute American comedy about a kidnapping gone wrong.

The festival features different programs representing various genres.

“A very popular program is our Award-Winning Documentaries. That show is always packed,” said Macdonald. “We’re also doing, for the third time this year, a kids’ show, called Kid Stuff, for kids aged 6-12. Artistic License, which revolves around stories related to art, is also very popular. Our LGBT programs are also very popular and sell out.”

Here are some highlights:

Programmers’ Picks (Camelot Theatres, 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, June 19): Programmers’ Picks features six shorts—you guessed it—assembled by the people with the Palm Springs International Shortfest. These are films that don’t fit in elsewhere, but are still notable. Fallen, a short from Germany, tells the story of three soldiers returning home from Afghanistan who are unable to deal with the losses they suffered. Listen is an Ethiopian short about a musician who has an inspiring encounter that leads to new compositions. The Telling is a thriller from Australia about a psychiatrist’s patient who tries to convince the doctor that the end of the world is near.

LGBT—Like Me (Camelot Theatres, 5 p.m. on Wednesday, June 19): There are two locally produced documentaries in the four-film LGBT—Like Me block. A Family Like Mine is from a student in Idyllwild, and it focuses on the subject of children brought up by gay parents. The Pride of Palm Springs is a documentary on the Palm Springs High School Marching Band’s participation in the Palm Springs Gay Pride Parade. Given the local contributions, this one’s a must-see.

Amazing Animation (Camelot Theatres, 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, June 20): For fans of animated shorts, this program of eight films has plenty to offer. The Collector’s Gift is an American short about a young girl who loves to collect objects and stumbles upon an old inventor’s house. Forty Hymns of Faith, from India, features stunning animation that is set to the Hindu devotional song “Hanuman Chalisa.”

After Hours (Camelot Theatres, 4 p.m. on Friday, June 21): A program of seven films about strange things in the night, After Hours sticks out as one of the best of the festival. The program includes an American short called Help Wanted, a comedy film about a convenience-store robbery during the graveyard shift. Elle Fanning stars in Likeness, a short about alienation directed by Rodrigo Prieto, cinematographer of Argo, Brokeback Mountain and Babel. One short that grabbed my attention was Honk If You’re Horny, from New Zealand, about a cab driver who gives a passenger a “ride from hell” while the passenger talks about his sexual escapades from the night—all as cops are chasing them.

Horrors! Thrillers! Mysteries! (Camelot Theatres, 7 p.m. on Friday, June 21): Locked Up, an Australian short, is about a storage security guard working on the night shift when he notices a crying woman going into her unit; his curiosity leads him into a mysteriously creepy situation. Night and Suddenly is a Spanish horror film about a woman home alone in her apartment when she receives a visit from her desperate upstairs neighbor, claiming his apartment is being broken into. Reset is a Swedish film about a little girl getting mysterious letters—with one of them triggering strange events.

Out … and Definitely “Out There” (Camelot Theatres, 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 22): This LGBT category features eight films. Chaser, an American short, is about a young schoolteacher who feeds his urges through self-destructive cruising. It’s Consuming Me, from Germany, focuses on a man who discusses what he loves and hates about his ex-lover. On Suffocation, a silent short from Sweden, is about two gay men who face criminal punishment for their relationship. Sufferin’ Till You’re Straight is a three-minute long animated musical short in protest of Proposition 8.

The 2013 Palm Springs International Shortfest takes place from Tuesday, June 18, through Monday, June 24, and includes various programs, forums, masterclasses, parties and more. Passes range from $54 to $200; individual screenings are $12, or $11 for matinees (starting before 3 p.m.). For a complete schedule, visit www.psfilmfest.org/festival/index.aspx?FID=68.

Published in Previews and Features