Last month a well-known left-wing, liberal, pro-arts UK newspaper published a blog post dismissing short films as “derivative, soulless and humourless”. The piece, which complained of a lack of compelling storytelling, was a deliberate provocation focused on a prestigious British awards shortlist. Yet the author made wider generalisations and assumptions, such as: good filmmaking must have a traditional dramatic narrative; short films are made only to indulge students practising their craft and for technical experimentation; shorts struggle to find an audience because they’re not worth watching.
Unfounded as these statements are, it’s interesting to see the strong reactions they incited, as the short film community leapt in to point out the abundance of high quality, intelligent and entertaining short format work. When it comes to shorts – mostly labours of love for which the creators get little remuneration – people can’t help getting a little defensive.
From the point of view of a leading competitive short film festival which has been established for almost 20 years, all of this is both proof of the continued need for events like our own and a worrying indication that we’ve not yet found the recipe for success in terms of bringing great shorts into the mainstream. Although evidence actually shows that shorts are finding strong audiences online and at festivals, they are still seen by far too many as a niche product.
So what are short film festivals for anyway? Well, despite the good work of curated websites such as Daazo, Short of the Week and Mubi, for the average user online content can be a confusing jumble. High quality work benefits from a physical platform, as well as contextualisation through thought-provoking and innovative programming. Call us purists, but there’s also nothing quite like the collective experience of watching films on a big screen and participating in live debates with the artists. Shorts festivals contribute to diversity in the exhibition sector by enriching cinema screening schedules and bringing audiovisual work into new spaces. They provide film education for audiences young and old, and are a major port of call for organisations seeking resources and content.
Short film festivals are also evolving and taking on new roles, expanding with funds, residencies and markets (the Cannes Short Film Corner is a prime example of the latter). In many ways this connecting of the dots between exhibition and parts of the development, production and distribution chain makes sense, as festivals have their fingers firmly on the pulse when it comes to the needs of the industry. For Encounters, a fundamental aim has always been to provide a breeding ground for emerging creatives. This is done not only through our internationally recognised awards but also opportunities to network, pitch projects and gain knowledge via workshops and masterclasses. We even create training programmes to address existing skills gaps, such as in creative animation production and film journalism.
In discovering, highlighting and aiding the development of great short films, festivals are a key player in opening up horizons for audiences and for filmmakers. The talent is out there, you just have to know where to look for it…
written by Jude Lister, Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival
The 19th Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival takes place in Bristol, UK, from 17-22 September 2013. The Call for Entries is still open until 3 June for films completed this year.