Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sal Mosca, Sung

Film Festivals are the last real forum for short prestige films, but the internet represents an untapped frontier. Youtube might already be the go-to pace for quicky moron movies, but the potential of online distribution for quality shorts has attracted the attention of some film festivals.

This year, the Jackson Hole Film Festival established the Online 2 Onscreen competition, in which the winners in each category of short films posted online received a real life festival screening. In a nice turn of events, the winner for best documentary was James Lester’s Sal Mosca, Unsung a profile of the under-recognized jazz pianist.

Mosca, who passed away last year, often shunned the spotlight and declined offers of road gigs, preferring life as a family man and his studies with jazz great Lennie Tristano. It is clear his mentor loomed large in Mosca’s life, as we see his framed photo occupying a place of honor in the pianist’s music room. We can also see and hear Mosca’s skills remained undiminished, when Lester lovingly focuses on close-ups of Mosca’s hands in performance.

Though short by design, Lester shoehorns in a fair amount of context and interview segments, giving audiences a reasonable sense of Mosca’s career. The story of his bandstand encounter with Bird and Miles alone should be enough to fortify Mosca’s street cred.

Unsung looks great, even on a monitor, and what music we hear sounds fantastic. It compares well to other nonfiction shorts I have seen on the festival circuit, despite its online pedigree. You can check it out here.