Filmmaker Kurt Kuenne has garnered plenty of attention recently for his documentary Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father, a very personal and intense account of the aftermath of the murder of Kuenne’s friend Andrew Bagby. But Kuenne has been working for years as a narrative filmmaker, and this week the Dam Short Film Festival (continuing through February 14) will showcase four of his comedic short films, Rent-a-Person, Validation, Slow and Phonebook, which feature interlocking stories and a shared cast of characters. Rent-a-Person and Validation have both played the DSFF in past years to considerable acclaim. Kuenne will also be on hand after the screening to chat about the movies.
What is the appeal for you of short filmmaking versus feature filmmaking?
I do both. I started this particular series that they’re showing—it wasn’t supposed to be a series, I was just doing the first short film in what is now the series, Rent-a-Person, just as something fun to do between bigger projects while I was sort of waiting for them to come together. And Rent-a-Person ended up being so popular that I thought, well, why don’t I do another one of these? That was kind of fun. And I decided that when I did the next one, that it would be about a completely different character, but it would cross paths with the story from the previous film.
And then I did that, and I came up with an idea for another one, an idea for another one—the thing just started becoming a monster. But it’s just something I’ve been doing sort of between bigger projects. I just finished last year a fairly heavy, serious documentary that I’d been working on in my spare time for a long time, and it was really nice to have these films as a counterbalance to that, as something light and fun and audience-friendly and uplifting to a lot of people that I could go spend time with at festivals as sort of a nice balancing act to what I was doing with the feature project.
Given the success of these shorts, do you think they could be adapted into a feature at some point?
Well, right now all four of them together run one hour, which is what they’re showing at the Dam Short Film Festival. My plan is I have three other stories in mind—and I don’t know when I’m going to have time to do them, because I’m gearing up on another feature project right now—but there’s three other stories about characters that are sort of smaller players in the other films that I would like to do to round the whole thing out to about 80-90 minutes, and then try to put that out as an anthology feature.
Are people who are only familiar with Dear Zachary surprised to see these comedic short films?
It’s funny, because occasionally this past year I’ve had both the documentary and Phonebook or Slow play the same festivals, and people have been kind of confused. They walk in and see my name on Phonebook, and they’re like, “Oh, that was really funny. That was the guy who made that really heartbreaking film? Oh, okay.” I’ve seen some people get kind of confused and think I have a split personality or something.
I personally really like the fact that I’m able to have some balance. It’s interesting, because the two types of films definitely appeal to completely different audiences. But that’s in a way kind of neat, because I’m going to festivals with Dear Zachary that I would never be going to with the short-film series, and I’m going to a lot of festivals with the short-film series that didn’t want to play Dear Zachary.