Catherine Hill, El Inde Arizona
The lights dimmed, and the first of many films played. Short films about sharks, cowboys, horror, comedy and social commentary graced the big screen at the November installment of “First Friday Shorts.”
After three minutes, a red spotlight illuminated the infamous gong. Audience members loudly booed as they shouted “GONG!” The host reluctantly reached for the mallet, adhering to the audiences’ discontentment, and cut the film short before it reached the end credits. Audience members jeered as the first film of the night was gonged.
First Fridays at the Loft Cinema is a monthly event showcasing a variety of short films created and submitted by community members to gauge real-time community feedback for aspiring filmmakers.
Antonio Piccillo won the November contest, with his film “Tucson Murder Mystery.”
“It felt strange because I’d never won the first Friday shorts before,” Piccillo said.
Piccillo was awarded $200, the monthly prize amount, and will be entered into the “Golden Gong Showdown,” the annual contest of all monthly winners that’s held in May with a grand prize of $1,000.
Piccillo has submitted this film to “First Friday Shorts” before. On the second go-around, Piccillo expanded the multiverse of this series thorugh his social media.
Piccillo, 24, is taking film classes at Pima Community College and has over 500 subscribers on Youtube and more than 4,000 followers on Tiktok. He’s working on another film, “The Vampire Who Loves,” which he plans to publish on his YouTube channel.
According to J.J. Giddings, founder of “First Friday Shorts,” the very first event was held in May 2005.
“Once we had the idea we just went for it,” Giddings said. “(We) had no idea what the response would be.”
Giddings said that they hosted 20 films and the event lasted late into the night. People brought their films in on mini-digital video cameras, VHS tapes and DVDs.
“I don’t know that we were totally prepared for how tricky it would be to switch between the various formats and get films up on screen quick enough,” Giddings said.
Giddings had just bought a mini digital video camera earlier that day and hadn’t tested the equipment out prior to the inaugural event.
“The most obvious thing we needed to change after the first show was the voting,” Giddings said.
During the first event, audience members lined up by their favorite filmmaker to vote. This was changed to cheering from the seats during the second event the following month. The very first prize was $100.
The gong was implemented after taking inspiration from “Open Screen Night” at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas. Max Cannon, creator of the “Red Meat” comic strip, hosted the very first “First Friday Shorts.”
Bridgitte Thum is the current host at the Loft Cinema. Thum became host after the East Speedway art film house was remodeled in July 2017. The remodel ushered in a new era of change; “we’re more mindful with gonging now,” Thum said.
“It’s a great place for a first date,” said Thum, who met co-host and future husband Mike Sterner at “First Friday Short” nights. Together, they wrote and produced a five-minute music video capturing their wedding ceremony, and screened it at the Loft Cinema, as part of the series and wasn’t gonged.
There are a few filmmakers who got their start from “First Friday Shorts.” Writer and director Alex Italics has since gone on to win awards for his short films in international film festivals. His film “Sheltered Love” was awarded “Best Student Film” in the 2014 Rainier Independent Film Festival and “Best Short” in Delta International Film and Video Festival that same year. Italics has since worked with big names in music including They Might Be Giants and Jon Spencer. Entertainment Weekly and PopMatters magazine have described him as “intriguingly unsettling” and “devilishly funny” respectively.
“You never know what you’re going to see,” Thum said.
The final “First Friday Short,” of 2023 was Dec. 1. “First Friday Shorts” will begin again in 2024, starting Friday, Jan. 5, at the Loft, 3233 E. Speedway.
(Host Bridgitte Thum, left, and co-host Mike Sterner present December 2023 award, photo courtesy of Loft Cinema Facebook page.)
Antonio Piccillo, (right) receives the monthly award for November 2023, after winning this month’s contest and stands beside First Friday Shorts Host, Bridgitte Thum (left). Photo Courtesy of Antonio Piccillo.
Early Advertisements for First Friday Shorts at the Loft Cinema. Photo Courtesy of J.J. Giddings.