The dilapidated but charming warehouse at 2nd St. and 5th Av. SE. in Minneapolis known as the Soap Factory is empty on a Thursday afternoon in mid-June, save for one office where three judges, huddled around a large Mac desktop screen, are reviewing films. Very short films.
"I like it," says one of the judges, Katherine Rochester. She's referring to a short titled "The Hotel San Jose Pool Bee" by local filmmaker Gene Pittman. The title says it all: This is a story about a bee floating around in a pool. That's it.
"Yeah, kind of a 'Moment of Zen,' " adds Chris Pennington. "Kind of a nice conclusion -- little bit too long," he adds.
With a running time of 20 seconds, "The Hotel San Jose Pool Bee" is perhaps too epic for the fifth annual Ten Second Film Festival, which returns to the outdoors near the Minneapolis riverfront this July 4th.
"Can't use it," says Rochester, program manager at the Soap Factory and new curator of the festival.
"We get mad if it's too long," says Pennington, the festival's creator and former curator.
Obviously, brevity is key at the Ten Second Film Festival, which has grown each year both in popularity (a reported 3,000 people attended last year) and in submissions. This year, 218 short films were entered.
Throughout their long review session, the staff will come across everything from Britney Spears cartoons, to car crashes, to slapstick humor. They even saw a film of a man picking his nose. Think of the Ricky Fitts character from "American Beauty," finding beauty in almost anything shot on video.
Rochester has two pet peeves: when people submit home movies of their kids ("This is not 'America's Funniest Home Videos,'" she says), and people pulling 10-second clips out of other, longer movies they've made. They say they can always tell when this happens. "The point of the 10-second time restriction is to challenge people to think within an accelerated framework. No cheating!" she says.
This year, a few rules have changed. Filmmakers were allowed to make edits and use actual video-camera equipment, something previously prohibited. Most contributors use alternative video technologies such as cell phones or still cameras with a video function.
One hundred films will be shown at the fest, divided into 10 categories. Rochester isn't sure yet what all the categories will be this year, but with oft-repeated categories like "What the hell am I looking at?," "Funny Ha Ha," the Kubrick Award, "Under the Influence" and the aforementioned "Moment of Zen," she will have no problem setting up the slate. There are two good approaches to winning a category, according to Rochester: Either go for funny, "Candid Camera" style moments, or take on the challenge to see how much you can pack in to tell an interesting story in 10 seconds. Some people even script their films.
"The key is the punch line," Rochester says. "There's got to be a punch line."
Back in 2004, Pennington noticed how accessible video equipment was becoming, appearing on cell phones and digital still cameras. He found an appreciation for this new technology, even though it was "uniquely crappy" and very pixilated. Knowing the technology would catch up sooner than later, he created the festival to mark that particular time and quality in videomaking.
It's about participatory art, says Pennington. But really, it's about having a good time "getting buzzed on beer and watching the weird shit your neighbors record with their cell phones." Pennington is also quick to add that people produce interesting, noteworthy stuff for the festival -- a little bit of everything.