Earlier this month, Airbnb, which is a sponsor of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, held a contest inspired by the idea of #OneLessStranger. The entries were short films—two minutes or less—that explored the notion of connecting with strangers. The winners were flown to Park City, Utah, for the festival, which wraps up on Sunday.
We caught up with both winners of the “When Strangers Meet” contest to get to know them a little better, as well as find out more about their films.
Talk about making the best of a situation. Canadian filmmaker Christina, who was staying with her parents while recovering from ACL surgery, was “bored because I had been locked up in my room recovering,” she recalls. “I just wanted to make something creative—I was itching for it.”
So when she heard about Airbnb’s contest, she asked her mom to drive her around to film some people the next day, which also happened to be the deadline for submission. She captured her subjects in her cousin’s store and at a party, focusing on strangers as much as possible.
With a limited amount of time, she kept the concept simple: “I feel like the first initiation to meeting someone is to make them smile, and to make that connection,” Christina explains. She asked each person to smile, which yielded “awkward smiles that weren’t very genuine.” Then she attempted to make them laugh. “I’d tell them a joke, or if I kind of knew a little bit about them, I’d tell them a story or make fun of something silly about myself. And then you could see the more genuine laughter come through.”
The evolution from smile to laughter is documented in Collect Smiles. “I just thought that it would be a cute way to make other people smile when they watch the video—and that was kind of the whole point,” she says.
While in Park City, she has taken advantage of the Sundance programming, catching the film Mistress America and attending a panel featuring female cinematographers. Christina has been involved in the industry since she was 18 years old and landed a PA job on a film her first month of college. In her work as a director and cinematographer, she has relied on Airbnb for more than just accommodations: “We actually rented a place in Vancouver to shoot a short film,” she says. “And we talked to the owners and they were so excited, they hung around to see the filming.”
Reflecting on the contest and the prize, she shares an observation: “It makes me laugh because I’ve done so many things for film. And the quickest, simplest thing I ever put together got me to Sundance.”
To Your Place or Mine?
Germany-based Sylvia and her director of photography, Claire Jahn, met at a two-week cinematography workshop in Poland in 2008. “We live 40 kilometers from each other [in Germany], but we had to go to Poland to meet,” laughs Sylvia. This is the fourth short film that the pair has collaborated on.
(Note: You may want to watch the video below before reading on.)
It took Sylvia and Claire a few days to make the film, which highlights two strangers who encounter each other in a dance club. Says Sylvia: “It’s about this classic question: To your place or to mine? I think everybody knows it, all around the world. I mixed things up, with this idea of [the protagonists] swapping their keys.” This twist allows them to get better acquainted through their homes. “The place where you live is so personal—it reveals so much about a person, about a character, even more than a one-night stand or a Facebook account.” According to Sylvia, the concept for the film was inspired by her own experiences as an Airbnb guest, acquainting herself with her hosts through their interiors.
Since arriving in Park City last Friday, she and Claire have taken in two Sundance screenings: Z for Zachariah and Ten Thousand Saints. The local hot springs are also on the agenda before they return to Germany. But they’re hoping that this isn’t their last time in Park City.
“What is funny is the reaction to the film,” says Claire. “A lot of people have told us, ‘Oh, it’s such an interesting idea, I want to try this.’ We should make a documentary about all of the people who try. That can be our next film.”
Adds Sylvia: “Hopefully we can come back to Sundance with our first feature—that would be great. I would really love to be part of this festival. I love the style—it’s not too glamourous, more understated, but really good movies. And people are really warm and treat you in a nice way, very kind.”
This is a guest post by Anh-Minh Le who is the editor in chief and cofounder of Anthology Magazine, as well as a regular contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle and SFC&G. She is also an Editor at Large for California Home + Design. Travel and design are among her passions, and browsing Airbnb listings never fails to give her a serious case of wanderlust.