For those unfamiliar, the Gong Shorts is a Kimberly Suta-organized film festival inspired by Tucson’s First Friday Shorts. This is how it works: Films 15 minutes or under are screened for three minutes and paused. At this point, viewers can either yell out “gong!” or “continue.” Gradually, those that are allowed to continue are narrowed down to three, with the night’s winner chosen based on, again, crowd response.
For some, the Gong Shorts represents pure hell. Who wants to have their movie heckled by a bunch of pricks closer to Monday Night Football than Sundance? It’s for this reason that more established filmmakers frequently choose not to participate, leaving a bunch of mostly horrible films in rotation, meaning even the best ones don’t stand a chance (it’s the director who brings in the most — and loudest — friends who wins here).
At least that’s exactly what happened Thursday at the Alamo Drafthouse Park North. After a series of mostly bad films were allowed to continue in a respectful atmosphere, it came turn for an entry called The Mission. Directed by John Quest, who brought what sounded like two dozen screaming linebackers on beer and Red Bull with him, the film boasts terrible sound, bad acting, and a collection of the worst Mormons ever put on screen. But it didn’t matter: it was obvious the movie was going to win. So I left. And the movie won.
The worst part: Gong Shorts is not a bad idea. The ability to have your film screened at a real movie theater and witness an audience’s reaction to it is a great thing, especially when you don’t have to pay for your submission. But it must be done right, and it requires serious film enthusiasts participating to keep the assholes from running the show (and I don’t mean Suta; I mean the Tony Romos).
For Gong Shorts # 3 (not scheduled) Suta and her team should make it perfectly clear that: a. only the words “gong!” and “continue!” are allowed at the three-minute mark, after which the movie that was allowed to continue should be seen with no interruptions; and b. directors will only be interviewed after their films are screened (to introduce a nine-year-old director conditions the crowd to let the movie continue, even if it deserved to be gonged). Oh, and while comedian/emcee Jade Esteban Estrada was funny, witty, and energetic, he should stay away from commenting on how “interesting” any of the scripts are.
Finally, all you decent local filmmakers out there (like Ponderous Productions and Sam Lerma, who contributed this night) keep submiting your movies to help this festival succeed. Contact Suta at firstname.lastname@example.org and find out how.
Give the Gong Shorts a chance.