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by Cristina Cacioppo, Director of Programming

We’re all still smiling in the days following this year’s Shorts Festival. Back towards the end of 2022, as we were digging into the 500+ submissions we received, Desmond, John and I knew it was going to be challenging narrowing it down to the 60ish films we would ultimately include. We spent a lot of time piecing each program together, viewing all on our big screens. So when we finally found ourselves prepping for Opening Nite, we felt confident that the audience and the filmmakers would be happy with what awaited them.

One new addition to this year’s festival also made its big screen debut. Looking to engage past filmmakers of the festival, we commissioned an original bumper to open each show of the festival. We tapped filmmaker Leah Shore, who had both animated and live action pieces in the 2022 festival (Launch and Puss). The concept: I asked my father to pitch a short film and Leah used the audio, cutting it down and animating it to bring the vision to life. Leah’s work knocked us all out – they created something hilarious and unique in the short 1.5 minutes run time. The audiences really got a kick out of it, and it was the perfect way to introduce each program.


Cristina Cacioppo and Leah Shore

Over seven shows to almost all full houses, we watched each program play to laughs, tears and applause. Many filmmakers attended, some NYC based, others traveling in. On Opening Nite we were giddy with excitement when we realized the cast of The Singles Retreat – a World Premiere by Jo Firestone – were all in attendance. As I said in my introduction to the program, we spend months watching these films, so when we meet the filmmakers and the cast, sometimes we get starstruck. This was definitely the case with The Singles Retreat, a charming comedy about seniors on a weekend trip with romantic potential. (I had also recognized one of the actresses, Bibi Elvers, in David Byrnes’s 1986 film True Stories when we showed it in January).

Jo Firestone and the cast of The Singles Retreat

The Q&As with filmmakers following each show gave insight into the films, providing an opportunity to learn more about the origins of the work, challenges of producing on a small budget, and how casts and directors worked together. It was an amusing surprise to hear from director Alex Spott that her film No Other Gods But Me was based on her realization early in her religious upbringing that the figure of Jesus was kind of a hot guy.

With parties for both Opening and Closing Nite, we had complimentary cocktails courtesy of Campari, named after a few of the shorts (The Singles Retreat, Super Happy and Hang Out 2Day) with DJs spinning records and our signature Queso fountain flowing.

The Closing Nite party was also the chance for us to announce our prize winners. Jury members programmer/writer Monica Castillo, Factory25 distributor Matt Grady and filmmaker Amber Schaefer made up the main jury, with entertainment lawyer Alex Threadgold awarding the Music Driven prize and actress Jessica Pimentel selecting the Midnite winner. A full list of winners and prizes can be found here.

Rebecca Rajadnya learning she won the Jury Prize for her film Balikbayan

Tij D’oyen, winner of the Midnite prize for his film Lollygag, with programmer Desmond Thorne

We’re grateful for the whole Nitehawk team for all of their efforts in bringing the festival to life; to our sponsors MUBI and Heard City for support as well as all of the prize sponsors. And of course we feel so lucky to have gotten to know these filmmakers – we can’t wait to see what they do next!