The Gong Shorts Annual Mini Film Fest Gets Educational

Gong Shorts 2013 winner Dane Berkshire with host Jade Esteban Estrada - COURTESY
Gong Shorts 2013 winner Dane Berkshire with host Jade Esteban Estrada

Though The Gong Show wasn’t claimed as a primary influence on SA’s Gong Shorts, the NBC program surely is an unruly ancestor of this week’s mini film festival. From 1976 to 1978, NBC ran this absurd showcase of non-talent, with B-list celebrities judging campy acts, nixing rough ones with a monstrous gong and granting a useless prize to the winner at show’s end. The midpoint between America’s Got Talent and Tim and Eric, it was just dumb enough to catch daytime audiences cruising channels between soaps. “I definitely relate the idea to The Gong Show,” says Gong Shorts developer Kimberly Suta. “I grew up watching that.”

The Gong Shorts owes its direct inspiration to a similar contest in Arizona, despite the homage in name and percussive instrument to the ’70s farce. “I was visiting a friend who lives in Tucson, Arizona, and they have a monthly event there called the First Friday Shorts,” says Suta. “It’s a very similar concept, though theirs is a hell of a lot more rowdy.”

The first year of the Gong Shorts aimed for that raucous feel, but it didn’t feel right. “We’ve spent the last few years tweaking it so that ours has become more supportive and nurturing,” says Suta. “You can still call out for the gong, but we discourage heckling and name-calling.” 

Still, as SA’s only non-curated panel, it’s the Wild West of the city’s film scene, unfiltered by critical opinion. “We don’t have a panel that goes through the submissions,” says Suta. “We literally accept the first 20 films and that’s it.”

At the three-minute mark, Gong host and Current contributor Jade Esteban Estrada pauses the short flick. If it’s worthy, the audience keeps the reel rolling. If it’s nonsense, the audience calls for the gong and the film is stopped. “That’s part of the fun, that the audience decides if it’s worthy or not,” says Suta.

Though the gong could be a traumatic tone for some filmmakers, Suta considers the festival as a resource for student and amateur aueters. “It’s a good way to figure out, ‘well, maybe my film isn’t grasping audience attention,’” Suta claims. “We always offer that people can rework their films and reenter them.”

To boost the education-by-fire, Suta and Estrada have brought in San Antonio actor Jonathon Joss, who plays Chief Ken Hotate on Parks and Recreation and voices John Redcorn on King of the Hill.

“He’ll be speaking on the film industry in general, and his experience breaking into Hollywood and branding yourself,” says Suta. “It’s another layer of the Gong Shorts evolving. It’s not just a silly competition, but trying to really be something that can support the film community.”

Gong Shorts

6pm Wed, Oct 1
Alamo Drafthouse Park North
618 NW Loop 410
(210) 667-8500

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