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Two prominent features at this year's Sundance Film Festival — "Keep the Lights On" and "Love Free or Die" — spotlight the LGBT experience. "Lights On" examines a decade-long relationship between two men in New York City, while the documentary "Love Free" focuses on the journey of Gene Robinson, the first openly gay man to be elected to bishop in the Episcopal Church.In addition, three shorts also offer poignant LGBT stories that also work to tell universal stories. The Tribune talked to filmmakers of "Dol (First Birthday)," "Fourplay: Tampa," and "The Thing.""Dol (First Birthday)" • Writer, director, producer and editor Andrew Ahn made this 11-minute film as his thesis for his MFA degree in film directing from the California Institute of the Arts. But it also served to communicate with his Korean-American family."This is how I came out to them," Ahn said. "I had to make a thesis film, and I wanted to make it in a really personal way."The decision to tell his parents was difficult, not just because he had previously been secretive about his sexual orientation, but because his parents are cast in his film. To his parents, the film was about Nick, a gay Korean-American man living in Los Angeles' Koreatown who attends his baby nephew's dol, a traditional Korean first birthday party. What Ahn didn't tell his parents was that the film was really about Nick's closeted relationship with his partner, Brian, and how the familial scenes of the party clashed with what he wanted in life.Ahn's parents wanted to see the film as it developed; instead, Ahn put them off until it was completed. Then, Ahn showed it to them at their home, with scenes that clearly delineated the main character's sexual orientation. When the credits rolled at the end of the film, Ahn's parents didn't understand that Nick represented Ahn. "They were in such denial," Ahn said. "The power of denial is so strong. It was a very long conversation."In the end, Ahn's parents accepted him for who he was, but there are still many people in Ahn's large extended family who don't know that he is gay, he said. That might change soon."The Thing" • Once you see this 15-minute short, you realize what "The Thing" is and why that old cliche about the journey being more important than the destination might be true.At least that was the intention of director and co-writer Rhys Ernst, a transgender person who, like Ahn, developed this film as his thesis for his MFA at the California Institute of the Arts.It's the story of a young couple, Tristan and Zooey, who reach multiple crossroads while on a road trip seeking a cryptic roadside attraction known as "The Thing." "Because of who I am, I'm committed to representing the transgender and queer community," Ernst said. "[But] I'm not trying to make a 'Transgender 101' film."Ernst said the story and situations can represent any couple trying to come to terms with what the future holds. The setting of a car, Ernst said, symbolically stands for "two people who are going forward without looking at each other."Ernst knows Ahn well from their program at Cal Arts. "Why not?" said Ernst of his colleague decision to come out to his parents via film. "At one point, it was dishonest, but it was very honest in the end. It's a really touching story.""Fourplay: Tampa" • This 17-minute short is the second installment in a planned four-part anthology directed by Kyle Henry. It's gaining some advance attention due to executive producers Michael Stipe, of R.E.M. fame, and Jim McKay, who among other projects has directed several episodes of "Big Love."Henry, whose feature narrative debut "Room" premiered at Sundance's New Frontier and Cannes' Directors Fortnight sections in 2005, teaches film production at Northwestern University. "What we want to do is start a conversation," says Henry of his short that has a film-ending twist that's likely to be controversial for filmgoers. "It's like a spark plug in a car. Sometimes, you have to jump-start it."The humorous short follows a nervous late-twenties man who ventures to the local mall, hoping for a quickie in the public restroom. Without giving the ending away, the man finds a gratifying sexual experience after several awkward and unsatisfying experiences. "Comedy is a great lubricator, pardon the pun, to start the conversation," Henry said. Stipe and McKay were intrigued by Henry's ambitious plan to shoot four films that taken together would present a unique perspective on what it means to be gay in America in the 21st century, Henry said.

Screenings of 'Shorts Program III'This program includes "Dol (First Birthday)."Friday, Jan. 20, 6:30 p.m. • Redstone Cinema 8, Park City (waitlist only)Saturday, Jan. 21, noon • Broadway Centre Cinema 6, Salt Lake City (waitlist only)Tuesday, Jan. 24, 11:30 a.m. • Prospector Square Theatre, Park City (waitlist only)Thursday, Jan. 26, 2:30 p.m. • Prospector Square Theatre, Park City (waitlist only)Screenings of 'Shorts Program V'This program includes "Fourplay: Tampa."Friday, Jan. 20, 9:30 p.m. • Redstone Cinema 8 Park City (waitlist only)Saturday, Jan. 21, 9 p.m. • Broadway Centre Cinema 6, Salt Lake City (waitlist only)Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2:30 p.m. • Prospector Square Theatre, Park City (waitlist only)Friday, Jan. 27, 1 p.m. • Holiday Village Cinema 4, Park City (waitlist only)Screenings of 'Shorts Program IV'This program includes "The Thing."Saturday, Jan. 21, 6 p.m. • Broadway Centre Cinema 6, Salt Lake City (waitlist only)Sunday, Jan. 22, 9 a.m. • Yarrow Hotel Theatre, Park City (waitlist only)Wednesday, Jan. 25, 8:30 p.m. • Prospector Square Theatre, Park City (waitlist only)Thursday, Jan. 26, 10 p.m. • Holiday Village Cinema 4, Park City (waitlist only)

— David Burger