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Shorts Programmer Profile: Todd Luoto

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Sundance Institute

The 2011 Festival may have come and gone, but you’ve still yet to meet all eight of the Sundance Film Festival shorts programmers. Todd Luoto has worked as the Los Angeles in-house programmer since 2006. If you’ve called asking a random shorts question, you probably talked to him. Todd is also responsible for the programming of Sundance Institute’s ShortsLab and for coordinating the shorts team on deadlines, communication, and this here blog.

1). Tell us a bit about your background?

I’m a Chapman University graduate, and as a result, will be in debt until I’m somewhere around 70. As a ‘working’ professional,  I’ve worn several hats since then: from subtitling old television shows to building colonial homes, stalling Rolls-Royces as a really terrible valet to writing articles for the Kodak company. Most of all, in my spare time, I try to do enough work that still allows me to tell others I’m a filmmaker. As a result,  I plan to shoot a feature next spring, a western rock opera set in Wichita and voiced entirely in Aramaic.

2). What is the role of a programmer in your opinion?

The overly simplified version is that we watch movies for a living. However, there’s a lot more to it than that. I believe the role of a programmer is not only to discover, discuss, and debate new talent and projects, but to provide a platform and a support system to filmmakers as they send their films out into the world, We’re lovers of stories and storytellers, and huge supporters of both new and seasoned talent. For a shorts filmmakers fighting the good fight, programmers are kind of like the best ‘corner men’ you can have.

3). What attracts you to the short form?

I love, love, love, love, love, love, love short film. Features often get all the hype, but shorts are where a lot of innovation and experimentation is truly happening. Once upon a time, not too long ago, in a magical place called ‘Not Europe,’  the short form was looked upon as a one-way route to getting your feature financed or as second-tier storytelling. However, thanks to festivals, the internet, and limited attention spans everywhere, it’s globally become a legitimate art form, one that truly showcases some of the most talented and adventurous creative minds out there.

4). What advice would you give filmmakers who are about to put their film out in the world?

Don’t be too protective with your work. There’s definitely money to be made in some places and opportunities to be had in others, but no one makes short films to get rich. Thousands of eyes on your work will sometimes go a lot further than hundreds of dollars. As a filmmaker, you know what’s most important to you, but just because a free platform such as Vimeo or YouTube doesn’t (always) pay you big bucks, doesn’t mean there isn’t great value for engaging a completely new audience or helping audience members spread the word. A public online link is sometimes the perfect complement to a successful festival run.

5). Best Festival experience (can be any festival).

It had to be my most embarrassing, which happened at my first Festival in 2007. It was my first SFF intro and naturally I was a little nervous. When I introduced myself on the mic, I said, “Hello, I’m Todd Luoto and I’m a short programmer.”  People started to laugh…they realized, as I did, that I was missing an ‘s’ somewhere in there. Didn’t help my anxiety that I was 5’7” till I was about 19 either. I was pretty mortified at the time, but in hindsight, I think it’s pretty funny.

6). What was your highlight from the 2011 Festival?

Beating [Director of Programming] Trevor Groth in bowling at the Shorts Awards and Party. And meeting Dave Eggers.

7). Biggest pet peeve when it comes to your shorts screening experience (top clichés…or things to avoid)?

This should sum it up: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TwgwqMoRM7A.

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Sundance Institute Piloting Direct Individual Support for Mediamakers Through the Sundance Institute | Humanities Sustainability Fellowship

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic upended life in general, and halted production and distribution for many creatives, the nonfiction field was plagued by issues of sustainability. For several years, sustainability has been an urgent and vigorous topic of study, debate, and organizing, as more and more filmmakers find it difficult, if not impossible, to make a living solely on the basis of their creative work. 

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