Even in the film-mad Bay Area, the San Francisco Shorts Festival is unique. “We’re the anti-niche festival,” says festival co-founder Mike Coyne. “We don’t have an agenda or a theme. We pick films from all levels and all genres if they surprise us in a meaningful way.”
The Shorts Fest also has no set number of slots. “If we only get 30 great films in one year, we only show 30” Coyne says. Culled from 1,114 blind submissions, this year’s festival offers 50 short films in seven programs, running Wednesday through Saturday at the Victoria and Red Vic theaters.
The shorts are broadly diverse in style, content, ethnicity, sexuality and country of origin — nearly half are international, from 14 countries plus the United States.
Being mixed rather than organized by explicit themes or genre, the individual programs are another unique aspect of the Shorts Fest.
“Themes emerge from the work we’ve chosen, we don’t choose by theme,” Coyne says. “We look for films that kind of ‘talk to’ each other in putting together a program,” he says, noting that two films on the same topic will not necessarily be shown together.
“It’s kind of like an album — all the individual songs add up to a greater whole than the parts.”
Formerly a maker of short films himself, Coyne’s work on Web films and television commercials has earned him industry awards from the Art Directors Club and the Cannes Lions Festival.
Coyne co-founded the Shorts Festival three years ago with friend Jim Kenney; via his InterStitch Films design studio, Kenney has contributed to numerous films, including Gail Dolgin’s Oscar-nominated “Daughter from Danang.”
“Many of the shorts I saw at other festivals left me empty,” says Kenney, who also is an assistant professor at the California College of Arts & Crafts. “Many of them seemed to be about punchlines or grossing people out or shocking them or showing off technical wizardry, and not much of that matters to us.”
Coyne agrees: “We don’t care if you’re black or white or gay or straight — Jim is gay, I’m straight — or a celebrity or a first-timer, we’re just looking for films of quality of under 30 minutes. If a film makes us angry,” he says, “that can be a sign that it will get in, because it’s evoked a strong emotional response.”
“It comes down to story and character,” Kenney says. “We look for something that rings true.”
If You Go
San Francisco International Festival of Short Films
WHERE: Red Vic Movie House, 1727 Haight St.; and Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St., San Francisco
WHEN: Wednesday through Saturday