“Before I worked here, I was trying to work on movies as an editor,” says J.J. Giddings of The Loft Cinema. “So much work goes into making a film, even a not so good film, that you deserve a chance to see it on the big screen.” Gittings is marketing director for Tucson’s nationally acclaimed art house cinema, and producer of the theater's monthly gong show for new works, Friday Night Shorts.
First Friday Shorts offers any local filmmaker-manqué a chance to show a work up to 15 minutes long on the 50-foot screen in the Loft’s newly renovated main theatre. If the audience loves it, a film can run until it ends. But things end badly if the audience hates it; at the three-minute mark, they’re invited to try to get the emcee to gong the film and shut it down.
Either way, the audience feedback is an education the auteurs could never buy. “It's a platform for filmmakers where they can go and just get real feedback from live bodies in front of the screen,” says comedian and KXCI DJ Brigitte Thum, who co-hosts the show with her husband, comedian Mike Sterner, a former writer for Bill Maher’s Politically Correct.
There is no telling what an audience will see. Filmmakers begin delivering their work to the Loft on Friday morning, and the first 15 in the door are shown. Recent entries have been documentaries, music videos and animated films. “There's always going to be something really goofy,” Thum says. Giddings adds, “Comedy usually goes over well, because it's just a simple idea to get across. Drama is a lot harder to communicate.”
Sterner and Thum keep the mood light and fun, trading spontaneous quips with fimmakers and each other. Thum covers the theater with her wireless mic, interviewing filmmakers about their work. “It kind of gives humanity to it,” she says, “like, this is a film made by a person. their blood, sweat and tears. This is the filmmaker you are gonging.”
Sterner offers low-key, practical tips, like, “You might want to get a tri-pod.”
First Friday Shorts takes place at 9 p.m., on Jan. 5, and the first Friday of every month. Admission is $6; $5 for Loft members; $1 more for online reservations. There is no fee for entering a film. Each month the audience picks a winner to receive a $200 check. All the year’s winners are screened in May to compete for a $1000 prize.