Short films are a unique genre for filmmakers. You think they might be easy, because they're, well, short. But in some ways, that makes them more difficult, says Tracy Sunderland, who is producing "Shorts in Winter," a showcase of several Idaho filmmakers' work at Boise Contemporary Theater.
"Making a short that's not just a condensed feature is a uniquely beautiful experience," Sunderland says. "I'm so excited to see and be able to show what everyone is doing."
Most film festivals define a short as a film of 45 minutes or less. Most filmmakers agree that 20 minutes or less is better. Still, in that time the film must have a beginning, middle and end, character development and all the story elements that make for a good feature.
This one-night festival will feature films from Sunderland, Andy Lawless, Zach Voss, Travis Swartz and a few surprises, Sunderland says.
A seasoned actor with Idaho Shakespeare Festival and BCT, Sunderland is a new filmmaker.
"I'm still learning the craft," she says. "It's very different from the vocal medium of theater."
Sunderland took a break from the stage a few years ago to attend the London Film Academy.
There she played all the major roles in a film crew - from director to camera operator - and worked on six short films, including co-writing "Nicoleta," a short that did fairly well on the film-festival circuit, earning screenings at Houston, Boston Palm Springs, Calif., and other places.
She will screen her latest film, "Breakaway," at "Shorts in Winter." It's about the tenuous friendship between a military war widow and an Iraqi refugee kid who wants to be a cowboy.
It's been through many levels of editing to get to its 20-minute length. Though she only took out 6 minutes from its original form, they were the right 6 minutes that distilled the story and "revealed the real story hidden inside."
Filmmaker Andy Lawless' passion for celluloid began in his family's Boise basement.
"I basically hijacked my brother's Super 8 camera," Lawless says. "I was taken over by the magic that happens when you look at life one frame at a time."
A fan of claymation and live-action stop-motion, he landed a job at Colossal Pictures in San Francisco after college. The company produces titles, animation and effects for television and film. He worked on films such as "James and the Giant Peach" and "The Life Aquatic."
Eventually, love and a yearning for what he describes as a better life brought him back to Boise. In 2006, he moved home to marry Belinda Bowler and see what he could as a filmmaker here.
"It's always a trade-off between quality of life and the stellar career one might happen upon if you live in L.A. for years," he says.
So far, it's been a good deal, he says.
"I've been damn lucky living here and doing what I do," he says.
Lawless works as a freelance filmmaker, cinematographer and editor. He produces projects at Boise Contemporary Theater, and is a general camera for hire, working on projects with documentary filmmaker Karen Day.
It was on their project in South Sudan in 2011 that Lawless shot footage he is crafting into "Cattle Camp Serenade," the 2 1/2-minute film he will show at "Shorts in Winter."
"It's a doodle, really," he says. "It's something I put together when I was supposed to be working on something else."
Lawless captured life in a South Sudanese cattle camp at the time that country won its independence from Sudan.
"It's just a moment really," he says. "It's not trying to be anything more than that. I'm just letting the moment speak for itself."
Zach Voss came to Boise State from Pocatello to major in art. There he discovered a connection between his passion for filmmaking and his interest in drawing illustrations.
While still a student, Voss produced multimedia projects for BSU Media Services, and Web content and videos for the BSU weekly newspaper The Arbiter. That experience helped him launch his film career.
Going from visual art to film was a natural evolution because the creative process is similar.
"I find I have the same aesthetic value on paper and on film, but film allows me to expand my ideas and take them farther," he says.
Voss drafts his own storyboards for his film projects, such as "Mandrake Estates," which he will screen at the festival.
It is a 23-minute comedy shot in Idaho that takes place at an elite golf course. When the groundskeeper gets fired, a new landscaper takes control and the repercussions ripple through the Mandrake's culture.
He wrote the screenplay for "Mandrake Estates" in his screenwriting class and created its budget and shooting plan in film production class. He used that material to win the Idaho Film Office grant that he used to produce the film in summer 2012. "Mandrake Estates" premiered at the Sun Valley Film Festival in March.
The "Shorts in Winter" will mark its Boise premiere.
Since graduating, Voss has started his own company, Retroscope Media. He does film projects for ad agencies such as Mitchell + Palmer, produces videos for groups such as Idaho Shakespeare Festival and Treefort Music Fest, and he recently traveled to New Jersey to produce a recruiting video for Rutgers University.
His newest projects include a documentary for a Boise 150 grant about local inventor Gregory Allen, who makes electric tricycles from scrap materials.