When the Paramount Theatre opened in 1930, local newspapers hailed it as “West Texas’ most perfect theatre – embodying modern construction.” Although “modernity” is a term long since abandoned to describe the Spanish-Moorish interior architecture, domed ceiling and cozy seating capacity of this Abilene historic landmark, the word can still be used to describe the purpose and content of the multipurpose venue.
Since it began 12 years ago, the 24fps International Short Film Festival has embodied this synthesis between preserving the past and pushing forward to the future.
The festival and competition, which received over 550 film submissions this year, was born from small beginnings, said Barry Smoot, director of the 24fps International Short Film Festival and the Paramount’s artistic director.
After the popularity and success of the horror documentary, Blair Witch Project, directors at the Paramount wanted to provide local filmmakers the opportunity to create and showcase similar films based on local legends or hauntings. In 1999, the Paramount hosted its first Film Festival screening such shows.
“We had such a great response from that initial idea, the next year we just expanded it,” Smoot said. “It went from being localized to statewide to regional to international about seven years ago.”
Now a truly international event, the festival accepts submissions running under 20 minutes from any country and in any genre or language. Some have already gained acclaim, such as the Academy Award-winning French animation, Logorama. Other films have made appearances at widely-recognized festivals like South by Southwest, the Cannes Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival.
Smoot and a few others narrow down the immense number of submissions to 30 films that will run over the course of three viewing sessions this weekend. These films have already been viewed and scored by six remote judges (each selected for his or her presence in the professional film industry), as well as a panel of regional judges from around Abilene who collectively cast one vote in the final judging.
“It’s a little bit mind-numbing,” said Robert Leeper, the Paramount’s media consultant and one of this year’s regional judges. “When you get to this level, it gets hard to pick out which is best.”
Smoot said because of the wide range of films submitted, it’s important to view the entries from both a broad base and each film’s individual merit. He also said judges cover an array of perspectives in order to make sure no film is unfairly critiqued over another.
“We tell judges to elevate a film that speaks to you,” Smoot said.
Leeper, a self-proclaimed gearhead, said the technical filming aspects are what mostly attract his attention.
Both Smoot and Leeper agreed that many of this year’s selected films carry somewhat of a satirical edge.
“There seems to be a lot of turmoil all over the world in the last year,” Smoot said. “I think that’s reflected in the demeanor or the voices of these young artists.”
Smoot said while the dark humor that pervades films like the American short Successful Alcoholics leads viewers to laugh at situations when they really shouldn’t, it still leaves viewers with a meaningful message.
Yet shorts like Joshua Weigel’s The Butterfly Circus balance the dark humor with a sense of inspiration and beauty.
The festival itself is an interesting mix of contemporary subject matter and a historical backdrop, which helps elevate the profile of 24fps and the Paramount Theatre.
“We’re pretty continually surprised by the geographic spread and the quality of people that are finding out about the festival,” Leeper said.
While the three screening sessions are not categorized within any particular genre, the 2 p.m. Saturday matinee will show only family-friendly shorts. The 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday evening sessions may contain some adult content. Tickets for each screening are $8, and a pass for all three is $15. To see all 30 films, viewers will need to attend each session.
For more information on the festival and the films being screened this weekend, visit 24fpsfest.com.