Why it’s time to start taking short films seriously

The medium once described as “anti-cinema” is pushing the boundaries of the artform.


Sarah Jilani

Despite the ubiquitousness of social media and various self-publishing platforms, exposure is still a major concern for short filmmakers. There is almost no theatrical or digital on-demand platform for short films that is as accessible or far-reaching as your local multiplex or streaming services such as Netflix. The father of the enviably cool and inscrutable French New Wave, Jean-Luc Godard, famously theorised short film as “anti-cinema” in December 1958’s ‘Cahiers Du Cinema’, describing it as an impure art form that, “does not have time to think” and is thus useful to the filmmaker as a kind of target practice.

Yet the state of short film today is anything but doom and gloom. Providing both an indispensable platform for young and established filmmakers to practice and hone their craft and creativity without a feature film’s financial risks, short films transcend traditional modes of cinematic storytelling. It’s a way for filmmakers, festivals and distributors to experiment, as evidenced in the 13th London Short Film Festival which returns to the ICA and Hackney Picturehouse from 8-17 January.

In the past few years, feature-film festivals like the East End Film Festival and the Royal African Society’s Film Africa have also allocated shorts more space in their programmes, providing short filmmakers fantastic opportunities for exposure. It’s not all happening in London either – York’s Aesthetica Short Film Festival is fast becoming a UK heavyweight, recently earning BAFTA-qualifying status. Meanwhile US film festivals continue to help launch the careers of emerging talent: the Palm Springs ShortFest boasts Ava DuVernay and Jean-Marc Vallée among its recent alumni. The same holds true for developing countries with dynamic economies and a rising interest in the arts, where private and corporate support of short film is keeping festivals like Istanbul’s Akbank Short Film Festival and Seoul’s Asiana International Short Film Festival running into their first decade. Audience response, exposure, awards and networking: festivals are here to stay, and they are welcoming short filmmaking more than ever.

Champions of short film are also cropping up in unlikely places. The internet may have enabled a barrage of free video content, but it has afforded countless short filmmakers the opportunity to experiment with different ways of reaching their audience while maintaining almost full rights over their own work. Tens of thousands of YouTube views on your first online release is now a greater bargaining chip with Hollywood execs than film school credentials, and new online services such as Distribber are even removing the industry middleman from the equation completely.

If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed, it’s that nothing is as intimidating as a blank page (or storyboard template). To that end, today’s short films are more than delivering on inspiration: winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, Indie animator Don Herzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow was the director’s first venture into digital animation after years of hand-drawn animation. The resulting mix of stick figures and vector art grabs the heart of its audience with its child protagonist and sci-fi themes.

A recent winner of the Short Film Palm d’Or at Cannes was Simon Mesa Soto’s Leidi, set in the barrios of a mountainous Colombian town and masterfully walking the line between documentary and feature to tell the story of the women in this community. A desperate son reconnects with his father in the hilarious A Reasonable Request by Andrew Laurich, which premiered online for free but will still hit screens at Sundance this month. Whether through wit, humour, hard-hitting realism or bold experimentation, these films not only prove that the medium is alive and well but are rapidly shaping the future of the artform.

Published 8 Jan 2016

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