We Like ‘Em Short was started in 2009 as a very small local festival featuring local and American filmmakers. Since 2012, it started to showcase more international films and has seen it’s share of award winning shorts and hosted talented directors including Chel White, Doug Lussenhop, Benjamin Morgan and Joanna Priestly in recent editions of this four day festival. WLES is centrally located at the historic Eltrym Theater, in downtown Baker City, Oregon. All shorts are screened on Theater 1’s giant screen through a Christie Digital Projector.
I recently sat down with Brian Vegter to talk more about the festival:
Matthew Toffolo: What is your festival succeeding at doing for filmmakers?
Brian Vegter:We Like ‘Em Short showcases animation and comedies from around the world with workshops and presentations from some of the best known directors and animators working in short form in the Northwest. We provide funding to the local high school’s Film Arts Club and have brought filmmakers into work with them during the festival and the school year. Because of our format of 20 minutes or less, the films we screen will only be on the festival circuit or the internet. By screening them at WLES we are providing filmmakers the chance to have their work on the big screen, in front of an audience, and share all the creativity that went into the projects.
Matthew: What would you expect to experience if you attend the festival?
Over the four days of the festival, attendees can see over 50 short films from around the world by award winning directors and emerging filmmakers alike. Special presentations and workshops from directors and animators. Nightly live music at multiple locations that you can walk to from the home base of the historic Eltrym Theater. All in the breath taking Baker Valley nestled between the Elkhorn and Wallowa Mountains.
Matthew: What are the qualifications for the selected films?
Brian: We consider all animated films of any genre or style under 20 minutes in length and for live action films they must be comedies. Our selection committee looks for great story telling as the main strength of each selection. Production value is very important as is our desire to showcase up and coming talent.
Matthew: Do you think that some films really don’t get a fair shake from film festivals? And if so, why?
Brian: We watch everything that gets submitted to WLES and base our decision on the quality of the directors storytelling. In 2012 we had a film submitted by director Charles Roseberry who promised he’d come to the festival if we accepted his film called “The Bell”. It wasn’t my favorite film we had received that year by a long shot, but we receive funding from the county’s lodging tax fund and so they want us to bring in as many people from out of town as possible, so we included his film.
When Roseberry showed up, he had a crew with him doing a documentary about the selection process that films went through and it became pretty clear he was making a film about how to get a film like his into festivals. While he wouldn’t admit that, in front of the audience, I could tell by the extra big smile on his face during the Q&A after we screened “The Bell” I had caught him. So it’s true that in some cases because of funding, decisions about art can be influenced. Just ask Chuck.
Another thing that helps some filmmakers with the selection process is the relationship they develop with festival directors. If we’ve seen great work from someone in the past I’ll contact them to see what they are up to near the end of our submission period and possibly add it to our schedule. One because I like their work and because they’ve developed a following with our audiences.
Matthew: What motivates you and your team to do this festival?
Brian: We’re motivated to showcase unique short films in our rural community in Eastern Oregon because it adds something different to the arts scene here. We have many working visual artists here and the festival came about after a monthly art film series known as Thursday Art Night began in 2008. Every month on the last Thursday, films about artists and the arts have been the focus and WLES grew out of that. We wanted to give local filmmakers a chance to be part of that event and it’s grown into the festival we do now.
Matthew: How has the festival changed since its inception?
Brian: Since 2009 we’ve gone from a festival that lasted one night with only 13 films, all local, to a festival that receives submissions from all over the world. We’ve had as many as 180 submissions in one year since we started accepting films through FilmFreeway and WAB online.
We’ve added workshops, special guest screenings and live music to the festival as well. WLES is now a multi-day event with up to seven screenings through out four days.
Matthew: Where do you see the festival by 2020?
Brian: I see us celebrating our 12th anniversary. Cake will be served. More seriously, the growth of our workshops and to see more filmmakers make the trip to WLES where they can connect with other talented people. We have become a resource to production crews that come to the region and I’d hope we can continue that as well.
Matthew: What film have you seen the most times in your life?
Brian: Blade Runner and Twelve Monkeys are the two films I’ve seen the most.
Matthew: In one sentence, what makes a great film?
Brian: The use of beautiful and dynamic images to tell the story.
Matthew: How is the film scene in your city?
Brian: The history of Baker County films includes the cult classic “Paint Your Wagon” staring Clint Eastwood and more recently “Light of Mine” by director Brett Eichenberger and the TV show “Ghost Mine” was filmed here as well. It’s a fantastic well preserved historic place to film and has been on Rand McNally’s list of America’s Most Beautiful Small Towns. The film production community is small and so most productions bring in their entire crew with them.
Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.