Short films are an artform unto themselves, as valid and as open to discussion as any feature film. If you can express all there is to say about an idea in 10 minutes, why bother with 100? If a filmmaker wants to explore a tone, a moment or a singular image, a short film may be the best bet. Most filmmakers don’t expect short films to make any money for them, according to Elliot Grove, the founder of Raindance film festival. So why not use them to set your voice free, to experiment and imagine? The lower average budgets, especially today, mean that production costs are manageable for many filmmakers, and the risks are low. “If you make a ten million-dollar film and you mess it up, no one’s ever going to give you ten million dollars ever again. Whereas if you make a short for a thousand dollars and it’s a bust then the only thing you’ve lost is maybe five or ten days of time and a thousand dollars,” argues shorts filmmaker Michael Litwak. He’s right.
Short films and their purposes have evolved over time as the technological capabilities of cinema evolved. Most of early cinema was of course short-form, playing largely to carnival crowds. When films began to regularly reach feature length in the early 20th century, shorts began to subside in terms of popularity. Newsreels and documentaries developed into their own format, providing audiences with news bulletins before feature films. As radio and TV began to proliferate, this format too died down, and the short film format arguably began to be pushed towards the fringes of public consciousness.
And yet, they have long been at the forefront of experimentation in cinema ever since the medium advanced enough to make feature-length films. Un Chien Andalou, that maddening surrealist tract put together by Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel is probably the most famous short film of all time. When the plethora of avant-garde art movements in the 1920s in Europe took on cinema—the French Surrealists, the Dadaists, and the Italian Futurists—they invariably did so via short films, using the medium’s smallness and briskness to blow holes into what was then already crystallised forms of conventional filmmaking.
Within pretty much any avant-garde filmmaking movement, you will find short films being used as part of the movement’s overall mission. Chris Marker, a key director of the Left Bank movement (affiliated with the French New Wave via its connection to the film journal Cahiers du Cinema, but more experimental and cerebral), made one of the all-time great films in La Jetée. Made exclusively using still photos with a voiceover narration overlaid on the top, the film tells the story of a prisoner in a hellscape dystopia being sent back in time to try and stop World War 3. If the plot bears similarities to Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys, that’s because the latter is a direct remake. The original film retains a unique mystery, a beguiling and chilling atmosphere, ruminating on humanity’s impending doom and despair. That it leaves such a huge imprint in under half an hour is testament to its power. This is short film, but its impact is anything but.
In previous decades, one might have struggled to see short films on a regular basis. As Killian Fox at The Observer wrote, “not long ago, if you wanted to catch short work by exciting new filmmakers, you had to travel to a festival, hunt down a compilation on DVD, catch a charitable showing on TV or, if you were uncommonly lucky, before the main feature at the cinema.” Aside from the fact that regular short films before a film at a cinema instead of the string of trailers would be an absolute treat, the fact is that nowadays short films are easier to view than ever. Youtube, Vimeo, and all other such sites make short films within easy grasp for anyone with a decent internet connection. If filmmakers are willing to use that potential audience to create meaningful work in a short form, then the possibilities are endless.
That then leads us full circle. With so much out there, it is difficult to know where to begin. Most obsessive cinephiles have a cabal of critics whom they turn to for recommendations, or circles of friends and like-minded voices. Most of the energy these voices expound however, is on feature films. The world of short film, for the most part, flies under the radar, leaving unique, expressive, brilliant voices unheard.
This is where Film Curiosity comes in. We are standing at an ideal crossroads in the cinema’s development as an artform. Audiences have choice like never before, and although the old hegemonic studio structures still exist, overshadowing the brightness and expression of independent voices, with so many avenues with which to view a film we now have more power than ever. By uncovering and exploring the world of shorts, we hope to bring you the best of what they have to offer. A rich medium in its own right, we also hope to identify the brightest talents, bringing them the exposure that they need to build an audience. Welcome to Film Curiosity.