In talk with Alessia Gasparella & Tom Kiesecoms
Why shouldn’t we be sharing the resources then, and collaborate?“
Since 2016, the Short Film Competition has been an essential component of the Slash Film Festival, however adjustments to its size and shape were made in 2020. Eva Krenner was joined by her now co-curator of Vienna Shorts’ Late Night selection, and together they have been rapidly extending the short film program through a series of carefully planned sidebar screenings. The winning short films began competing against all other Méliès d’argent short film winners for the Mélies d’or in 2021, which brought about another change. The dark comedy You Are Dead Helen by Michiel Blanchart got the nomination in 2021, while Fredrik S. Hana’s portrayal of extraterrestrial life on Earth, From Beyond, was selected in 2022.
This year’s edition of Slash Fim festival marks the first international collaboration between the Slash Shorts and another fantastic festival, which brought the programmer Allesia Gasparella of TOHorror (Turin, Italy) to Vienna to present their joint selection called Fantastic Flings. Seven titles were presented to the audience: Yuchen Liu’s Gman: A Quixia in Space (CN 2022), Clara I Aranovich’s Murder Camp (US 2023), Balász Turai’s Amok (HU 2022), Laura Seay’s The Coupon (US 2022), Sandeep Gill & Sarah Lamesch’s What? (UK 2022), Zach Siegel’s “You Can Stay If You Want” (US 2023) and Carlos Segundo’s “Big Bang” (BR 2022).
Ubiquarian met with Gasparella and Kiesecoms during the festival to discuss their shared passion for short genre movies, about the selection process and new projects to come.
How did this collaboration come to life and what was the idea behind it?
Tom Kiesecoms: Alessia and I spoke yesterday about how we got to know each other. During the virtual Torino film market in 2021 we started communicating in the chat room. We were informally introduced to each other, but since we are both programmers we were chatting about various films, sharing our opinions. This is how we realized that we often were on the same page.
Alessia Gasparella: Initially the whole project was kicked off on a personal level between the two of us. As pen pals, as I like to call us. Pen communication between programmers.
Tom Kiesecoms: Regrading Fantastic Flings and how that came about, it happened organically and gradually with time. Last year we had a short film programme Queer Curiosity at Slash, which was in line with the retrospective that the Artistic Director Markus Keuschnigg had curated. We wanted to do something similar this time around, so initially we were widely brainstorming about the eco-horror and nature-strikes-back films as the idea pitched to us by Markus. Eva (Krenner) and I did a lot of research and came up with a couple of titles that we were not over the moon about, and that is when we got back in touch with Alessia to see if she had additional recommendations. This is how our partnership started.
Alessia Gasparella: Even before that, we exchanged ideas for the Queer Festival in Aosta (Italy). Eva and Tom also helped us with the Halloween marathon last year, and this is how our contact deepened.
Tom Kiesecoms: It wasn’t so much about help as about the actual exchange of films between the festivals. For instance, for the Halloween maraton the half was ToHorror selection and the other Slash favourites.
Alessia Gasparella: Exactly. The Queer Curiosity programm travelled to Italy last year. We started doing an exchange.
Tom Kiesecoms: We decided to make it more official this year.
Alessia Gasparella: For the Slash collaboration we came up with a nice name. We wanted to concentrate on relationships, because we didn’t find enough of the satisfying eco-themed movies. We changed the direction, and in retrospect that was the right decision, or so I think. The programming is also per se a strange kind of relationship, as is the relationship between festivals in general. But at the end we turned out to be a perfect team open to many readings as we dealt with romance, friendships, weird relations, imaginary friends and stuff like that. We were open to all kind of movies.
Film still from Sandeep Gill & Sarah Lamesch’s “What?” (UK, 2022) from the “Fantastic Flings” programm
From the seven titles, only two are from 2023, and not all of them had a physical premiere on a film festival. “What?” was released on the internet. Can you tell us about the parameters for the selection?
Alessia Gasparella: Since we already knew that the programm wasn’t going to be included in the competitive section we were free to do whatever we wanted. It was really something special. When we knew what the theme was and knowing each other well enough, it was easier to decide which movies fitted in. We didn’t have any rules regarding the production year. The whole thing started as something else, but Markus agreed that the project doesn’t have to align with the retrospective and he gave us open hands.
Tom Kiesecoms: We didn’t have any time frame. We could have even chosen something from the previous decades and we did actually come up with a couple of titles, but decided against it and began looking into new options. For instance, Eva and I were both rooting for Yuchen Liu’s “Gman: A Quixia in Space” (2022) but we didn’t feel it fitted in Fantastic Shorts. The film has a unique spin on the superhero-villain relationship. In this case a superhero actually happens to be a total psychopath. It’s a toxic relationship between a psychotic superhero (an abuser) and the ‘villain’ (Ghead) who in fact is the abused one in their warped dynamics. When you start thinking about it, you realize how original that take on a relationship though a genre lense is. So, Fantastic Flings is a collaborative partnership between two festivals, but it is imagined as a temporary love affair.
Alessia Gasparella: I don’t believe in exclusivity. We are polyamorous.
Tom Kiesecoms: I was actually joking about it before we announced the programm. I wanted to write in its description something about Slash loving to be one of the most polyamorus genre film festivals. We will continut to live to the name of Fantastic Flings, and continue to explore the topic of relationships but with other film festivals. We were approached by many of them who wanted to establish some kind of a partnership with Slash and present “the best of”. Although that sounded interesting, we opted for collaborations instead.
What is the thing that came out of this project?
Alessia Gasparella: I think that it’s very important to maintain communication between genre festivals. The network is of great significance since it is already very difficult to find the real gems. The fact that we are communicating and cooperating is esential. Every time I see something that I know Tom would like, I adress him with the question if he knows it. He is doing the same with us. Most of time time we get similar submissions, but not always.
Tom Kiesecoms: The festivals are so far apart that there is no sense of competitivness. Why shouldn’t we be sharing the resources then, and collaborate? It is also interesting to find films that did well with the audiences in other places.
This is the first year that Slash shorts fill the cinemas. The audience seems to have developed curiosity for them.
Tom Kiesecoms: Actually, we already noticed a significant increase in ticket sales last year. 2020 was a pandemic year, and we had a limited capacity (every second cinema seat had to be vacant). Slash was miraculously able to do the physical screenings, and in 2021 it came to a slight recovery. Eva and I were really glad with the ticket sales so far, but already last year we were heading in the right direction. Other than Fantastic Flings one of our special initiatives is Fantastic Futures. We already it had before, but it adapts every year. We had it as a focus programm in 2021 with spotlight on Joséphine Darcy Hopkins, and last year we had a focus on first time filmmakers and student films. That was a special edition because we nominated a number of films that screened in selected cinemas within diverse programms, and this year they are in the competitive selection as well. There is a cash prize of 500€ involved as well. We have four out of eight filmmakes as guests in Vienna for their movies’ International or European premieres. So, I am very excited that we also have such initiatives, and that we are doing more for students.
What I would like to add is that this doesn’t mean that we will automatically follow up on that concept and always include the student shorts in the Fantastic Futures. What Eva and I have been doing since 2020 at Slash is carving the thematic programms, so in Fantastic Short Chapter I last night, we had two student short films as well.
Alessia Gasparella: I am going to steal that idea.
Tom Kiesecoms: It’s not stealing, it’s an exchange.
Alessia Gasparella: Most of the time, student films are very special because filmmakers do not have a preassure coming from a production company. They are free to go lengths and do their own thing.