Firstly, some key notes to help you understand the event. This is year four for Toni Ross and her crew and since it began, it's expanded further into the surrounding area. Jerome is still the most awesome venue for a film festival I've yet encountered (and I've screened movies on the stage of the Saloon at Old Tucson Studios). I've been to screenings under stores, above the fire station and even in the parking lot next to a haunted mine more than a mile up in the hills. It's impossible to keep that sort of atmosphere down the hill in Clarkdale or a little further away in Cottonwood, but Old Town does have its charms and the primary venue this year is certainly not without its own character. This year also marks a return to the Verde Valley Railroad, which is a joyous place to spend four hours, chatting, drinking and watching movies.
Day one was yesterday, Thursday, but that didn't involve screenings, just the opening night's event at Four Eight Wineworks in Clarkdale. Films began this morning and we were only a few minutes late into the one I wanted to see most today, a documentary called The Hollywood Shorties.
The Hollywood Shorties (2016)
This was everything I want from a documentary. Its only obvious downside was that it loses its way a little at the very end and could have been edited maybe ten minutes shorter. I still enjoyed those ten minutes but I'm not convinced they shouldn't have been extras on the DVD. Maybe I'll reevaluate when I re-watch because I want to see the beginning of the film.
I knew a little about the subject, but not a lot, just enough to pique my interest when I realised that Ryan Steven Green had made this documentary. The Hollywood Shorties were actors, stuntmen, little people who made a living from the inside of cheesy monster suits in cheap sci-fi movies. This isn't a documentary about that angle of their lives, though I'd happily watch one. I didn't even recognise all the films used here in montages, though many brought back good memories! What this is about is the other life many of them built as professional basketball players, touring around to challenge high school teams in battles that were half real sports and half comedy routines. Think the Harlem Globetrotters without players over five feet tall.
I learned a lot, because Green had the right access to the right people, asked the right questions of them and did his homework to back up his interview footage. I especially appreciated how much work he and his crew put in to track down archive videos and other ephemera to illustrate the film. It brought this overlooked era home wonderfully. The editing shone too, even when used to manipulate our emotions because it was done so well.
It's also a real story, unlike the fluff that's used as subject matter for some documentaries nowadays. It's a story of great depth that speaks to more than its heroes, the Hollywood Shorties themselves, to a time and an attitude that isn't here any more. Times have changed and this is fascinating insight to a history that's not long passed but feels like a different era entirely.
This was a great way for us to kick off our Jerome viewing pleasure. We took care of other business during the day before attending Industry Night, but we'll be watching a lot more on Saturday and especially Sunday. Watch this space!