CAF’s Popcorn! Film Festival Celebrates Its Third Year of Shorts

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The drive-in movies of yesteryear may be nothing more than a distant memory for most of us, but that certainly doesn’t mean that a good flick can’t still be enjoyed outdoors. Case in point: Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum’s annual Popcorn! Outdoor Short Film and Video Festival. Now in its third year, Popcorn! captures all the cultural fun and creative whimsy of a normal CAF exhibit, but boasts the added benefit of, well, being outside. Since getting its jumpstart in 2005, the fest has been gaining steam-and capturing the interest of filmmakers around the world.

This year, the event’s organizers and curators, filmmaker Bob Pece and Arizona State University museum curator John Spiak, found themselves on the receiving end of more than 350 entries, including submissions from 24 different countries. From there, the duo screened, evaluated, and compared the works, concluding their search with a list of 16 flicks-all of which will be screened this Saturday, July 26, when CAF brings Popcorn! to the outdoor plaza at Samy’s Camera. The chosen few include shorts that range from the poignant to the downright insane, jumping genres and mediums to create a diverse and awesome melange of cinematic snippets. Below is a short-but-sweet breakdown of some of the night’s offerings.

And as for the event itself, CAF is offering up a promising concoction of live music, great movies, and, of course, theater-inspired refreshments. The films will be screened between 8 and 11 p.m. and tickets are $5 for members, $10 general admission. Guests are encouraged to bring blankets and low chairs, and to arrive early to claim their spots. Santa Barbara spin master DJ Magneto will be on hand to dish out the tunes.



Los Angeles-based director Maurice Chauvet’s flick provides a nice little look into the semantics behind video store rental policies-and the absurd lengths to which people will go to save a buck (or three). Here, the story’s leading man is a lying slacker of a twenty-something who gets a startling look into his future by way of some oddly Big Brother-like video store clerks.

The Lemon Tree

The Lemon Tree

Another startling entry from the City of Angels is Will Campbell and Anh Vu’s three-minute masterpiece The Lemon Tree. The story, a short tale about a young boy’s warped, voyeuristic obsession with a man he never knew but admired from afar, is told through a monotone monologue over dazzling animation. But the artwork is what truly shines here, as Campbell and Vu visually explore the idea of warped perceptions through a layered combination of green-screened live action, 3-D models, watercolor paintings, and exquisite pen-and-ink drawings.

Kuna Ni Nanang (My Mother Said)

San Francisco moviemaker Jessica Sison’s affecting look at the life of 99-year-old Philipino immigrant Elena Bautista is probably the closest thing to a tearjerker that this year’s fest has to offer. The nearly five-minute-long short is a collage of old pictures, recent video, and an audio track of narration provided in Bautista’s frail, non-standard English. It’s a harrowing, yet inspirational look at an elderly woman confronting death that resonates long after the credits roll.

You Can Awesome

On the other end of the Popcorn! spectrum is director Michael Mohan’s whacked-out take on children’s television. Made to look like an infotastic kid’s program from the 1980s (sort of), You Can Awesome mixes a nonsensical lesson in mathematics with some truly off-putting break-dance moves and awkward raps, including one that gives a shout out to fruit salad. Add to that the number of youngsters involved in this project, and you’ve got a short that straddles the not-so-fine line between hysterical and straight up disturbing.

Shuteye Hotel

Shuteye Hotel

And what’s a short film festival without a selection from the well-recognized-and epically talented-Bill Plympton. The Portland-born, New York-raised animator, best known for his work with Santa Barbara resident Don Hertzfeldt, is back to his old tricks in this beautifully crafted flick. Here, Plympton employs his distinctive, hand-drawn style to tell the tale of a cheap (and creepy) hotel that’s being stricken by some sort of evil force. The Dick Tracy-esque jazz tunes guide the otherwise silent flick and solidify Shuteye’s neo-noir feel. Think Psycho for the animation generation.

… Almost Like One of the Family

Possibly the most inventive and visually thought-out entry in this year’s festival is Swedish filmmaker Astrid Garansson’s animation. Here, the faceless Anna moves from her father’s farm to a new, “better” life in the city. But what she doesn’t realize is that her new home-and life as a live-in maid-is no substitute for her real family. Still, what makes Garansson’s piece so magnificent is not the storyline, but the way in which it is displayed. The choppy pen drawings of Anna and her surroundings fluidly shift from one form to another through intricate and minute frame-by-frame transitions. Likewise, the fact that the entire tale begins and ends as a mural on a wall-which in between comes alive-is one of the more fantastic animation tricks concocted of late.

The Execution of Solomon Harris

The Execution of Solomon Harris

Last, but most certainly not least, is the Juror Award-winning entry by directors Wyatt Garfield and Ed Yonaitis. The high-quality live action piece is one of the more gruesome of the bunch, focusing on a botched electric chair execution and one warden’s struggle to maintain control in the face of unimaginable human suffering. It’s a cinematic digression on the power men can have over each other-and a grizzly look at the underlying truths about capital punishment.


Contemporary Arts Forum’s annual POPCORN! Outdoor Short Film and Video Festival takes place on Saturday, July 26 from 8 to 11 p.m. at Samy’s Camera, 614 Chapala St. Admission is $5 members/$10 general. For more information, call 966-5373 or visit


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