I attended LA Comedy Shorts Film Festival recently, and while I had zero expectations heading in, it turned out to be one of my most enjoyable film festival experiences in a while. Held at Downtown Independent Theater and Hilton Doubletree nearby, the festival is a mix of short comedy film screenings, timely panel discussions with comedic talent and business-minded experts, and lots of funny people having a blast for a few days.
Now in its fifth year, LA Comedy Shorts Fest brought out known funny people like Key & Peele, Wayne Brady, Billy Gardell, Wendy Mclendon-Covey, etc., as well as lots of funny emerging comedic talent from around the world with films in competition. Gary Anthony Williams ("The Boondocks", "Weeds", etc.) serves as Artistic Director, and his hilarious and friendly presence seemed to permeate the entire event. He's also one of the best improvisers I've ever witnessed; his troupe The Black Version left a packed house laughing out loud for two solid hours with a live (black!) version of Aladdin set in 1980s Memphis.
For a variety of reasons, LA Comedy Shorts Fest stood out as a really enjoyable film fest that I'd absolutely attend again:
-Proximity. Unlike most larger film festivals, it's all contained in two downtown LA venues, only a block away from one another. I've loved Downtown Independent Theater since I first premiered my own film there a few years back. It's one of the best places to discover and view independent films of all lengths in LA.
-The Staff. Like an idiot, I lost my iPad after the first panel discussion Friday morning. Thinking it was gone forever and almost ready to throw in the towel on the whole damn event, a staffer managed to find it and save the day. From PR to concession workers to the festival directors, everyone I had the pleasure of meeting was friendly, warm and accommodating.
-Not overwhelming. I find it easy to get overwhelmed at larger film festivals that have tons of events, screenings, red carpet events, etc., all occurring at the same time and bombarding me at once. The schedule has one solid track. Either attend what's going on or don't. I already had a few unrelated events to attend, so I was only able to squeeze in the festival at select times. Not having to choose between A, B, C, etc., etc. at every possible hour was nice. When I was free, I attended, and everything from the film blocks to the panel discussions were all worthwhile to excellent. It was refreshing to be left wanting more rather than experiencing a paradox of choice.
-Panel discussions. I attended three and all were excellent. Both "Wheelers and Dealers: Comedy Producing and Development" and "Digital Doubledown: Making New Media Work for You" reinforced the current reality that comedic content creators need to be CREATING CONTENT, not just writing it, from nearly every conceivable angle. "Get Lit: Comedy Writing Panel" featured insights from Academy Award winner and "Community" dean, Jim Rash as well as an agent-writer debate that bordered on hostile and left the audience riveted. I love a great panel discussion and LA Comedy Shorts Fest delivered, for me, panels on par (if not exceeding) those at South by Southwest.
In short, LA Comedy Shorts Film Festival is a damn good way to spend a weekend in April if you're at all interested in A. Laughing or B. Creating stuff that makes others laugh. With short form video more prevalent than ever, I'm confident this festival will continue to stick around and get bigger... though hopefully not so big it's no longer the same shorts fest.