Horsetooth International Film Festival puts art above issue

Scott Powell

There are few events so profound and so moving that you end up buying a T-shirt at their merch stand on your way out. 

The Horsetooth International Film Festival’s short film segment, held this past Saturday, was an evening of aliens abducting botoxed Palm Springs country-clubbers, badass bar babes moonlighting as assassins and an acid-laced tea party so ludicrously yellow it would literally kill Charlotte Perkins Gilmore. 

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The evening began with an exhibition of five films by exclusively Colorado-based filmmakers. Although not the afternoon’s strongest lineup, these films were enjoyable in their own right.

“ALM,” for example, is a trippy, “Black Mirror”-esque psycho-drama that follows a young woman who, while recovering from the recent death of her friend, turns to the ever-damning world of technology (in this case, a text messaging app that allows you to talk to a simulated version of your deceased friend) for support. 

The film itself was well made, with strong acting, solid production design and captivating cinematography. One shot in particular, in which the camera lingers on a GPS tracker of a car careening off the side of the road, was especially brilliant.

Its “Black Mirror” roots showed through a little too clearly at times, to a point where it sometimes felt like the film was just a condensed remake of one of the episodes, but the thought provoking premise still made it an enjoyable watch.

More information about the Horsetooth International Film Festival can be found on their website

The evening then moved on to a showcase of shorts from filmmakers across the United States, of which the clear winner was “Mellow Yellow” — a smashing, psychedelic romp that looks as if it just leapt straight from the mind of Tim Burton and Homer Simpson’s coke-snorting love child.

A man and a woman — both decked out in full yellow and gold attire — sit across from each other at a tea table. The man continues passing the woman increasingly more bizarre accessories, until at last he inflates a bundle of yellow balloons that the woman pops with a very fancy looking golden hypodermic needle, releasing a slurry of confetti that showers the two players as the credits roll. And that’s the end. It’s surrealist nonsense at its very best. 

The film was a beautiful display of all the aesthetic fluff that usually makes the cane-waving, ultra-traditionalist in me get up and start shouting at the screen about how back in the good ol’ days, movies actually told a story and weren’t just a parade of artsy smartsy nonsense. 

However, in this instance, that aesthetic was remarkably effective. The whimsical sets and costumes coupled with the pitch-perfect synchronization of music and editing made the film a delightful piece of eye candy. 

While the American films were admirable, it was the foreign films that really stole the show, with “Gothic Springs” and “Man Eaters standing out among the rest.

“Gothic Springs,” a John Waters-style suburban cringe-fest with a “Stepford Wives”-esque twist, told the story of young, angsty teen Blair, who, on a visit to her grandma in Palm Springs, discovers that the entire beach community has been overrun by aliens inhabiting human bodies.

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The premise is unique, and the gags are unforgettable. One scene in particular sees the lemonade-sipping locals’ passive-aggressive comments toward Blair’s outfit captioned with subtitles relating to their intergalactic mission. It’s a funky and subversive take on a classic trope, and it provides a brief, but nonetheless vivid, glimpse into a world that can’t exist anywhere apart from the silver screen.

  • Top Four Short Films at HIFF: 
  • “ALM” 
  • “Mellow Yellow” 
  • “Gothic Springs”
  • “Man Eaters” 

What “Gothic Springs” accomplishes in weirdness, “Man Eaters” accomplishes in sheer, over the top, blood-spattered Quentin Tarantino-level action.

The setting is a bar. Typical enough. Two women sit at the counter nursing their drinks, arguing over who gets dibs on a man sitting across the room. Typical — or maybe not so much. These women aren’t your standard cocktail sipping bar bimbos; they’re a couple of deadly assassins, and the guy across the room isn’t their next lay, he’s their next target. 

“Man Eaters” is one of those films that revels in its own fun. Every element is crafted purely for the sake of enjoyment, without any hoity-toity intellectual fluff. It’s pure adrenaline.

Like “Gothic Springs, it doesn’t build up to any particularly thought provoking, mind-bending conclusion, but that’s what makes it, and the Horsetooth Festival’s lineup as a whole, a welcome diversion from the usual film fest fare.

Their focus is capturing and recreating an emotion (in this case, wild, cathartic excitement), then letting the viewer do with that feeling what they please, rather than attempting to explain the feeling to them in a manner that affirms some pre-established belief or idea of the artist.

It’s the focus on filmmaking as an art rather than as social commentary that sets this festival apart from others like it. It’s very easy for festivals of this nature to descend into kitschy imitations of more established exhibitions such as Telluride or South By Southwest.

However, with its unique Front Range flair and smashing lineup of shorts, the HIFF holds its own and is well on its way to carving out a spot in the festival circuit.

Scott Powell can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @scottysseus.