Short film is an important element at the Biennale’s Orizzonti section, an international competition dedicated to films that represent the latest aesthetic and expressive trends in international cinema. Daazo has asked Alberto Barbera, director of the Venice Film Festival, about the short film programme and the selection process.

Film festivals often get a reputation for favouring a specific type of film. It is said that, for example, Cannes is the place for arthouse cinema, classic dramas are big in Locarno, while experimental films do well in Berlin. Would you say that over the years, Venice has developed a taste for a favourite genre or topic?

When selecting shorts for Venice, no particular genre or format is preferred over others, even though the majority of films selected over the past two years have been “narrative.” With respect to other festivals, greater attention is perhaps paid to first films or, at any rate, to debuting filmmakers, even though this is not the norm.

Tell me about the process of the Orizzonti short film selection. How does it happen? Who is in the selection committee? How many people are there in the selection committee, and how do they work?

Just like for feature films, the Venice Film Festival selection process for shorts is conducted by a selection committee with the collaboration of foreign correspondents, divided into geographical areas. There are six selectors for the Venice Film Festival.

Can you give me some statistics? How many films have you received this year, and which countries do they come from ? How many hours did you spend selecting the films? What is the average length for shorts?

Approximately 1,500 shorts were viewed for the 2013 Festival. The selection process began in February and ended on July 19th. In order to be admitted for selection for the Venice Film Festival, shorts must be no longer than 20 minutes; the average length of those presented is about 16 minutes.

Do you make sure that every country is represented equally – do you try to be politically correct, or is it solely the quality that matters?

The selection committee’s decision is based on the quality of the film. Nonetheless, in an international festival, a certain balance must be maintained among the geographical areas represented. Countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Australia and Italy, which have a strong tradition in short films, are evenly represented. There was great participation from Latin America, in particular Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, at the 2012 Festival in the short film category, but that has diminished this year in favour of an increase in short films from India and Southeast Asia.

Can personal taste be excluded and only objective points be considered in the evaluation? Is objectivity important while selecting the films?

Objectivity is fundamental in a selection process. Nevertheless, a committee of selectors is much more efficient when it is composed of people with different empathies and tastes, and this can certainly influence the choice of films. It is up to the director to integrate these tastes for the final selection.

Are there other festivals whose selection the Venice selection team are interested in or get inspired by?

We pay great attention to the selections of festivals dedicated exclusively to shorts, such as those in Clermont-Ferrand, France, and in Oberhausen, Germany. But we aren’t necessarily inspired by other programming choices.

What is the Orizzonti short film selection’s main aim: do you want to launch careers, so that your selected short film makers return to the Biennale with their feature films, or do you want to take short films to another level?

The objective is to give shorts the same artistic dignity as feature films, and it is no coincidence that the same jury judges all the films in Orizzonti, regardless of their length. Thus, shorts are not relegated to a “reserve,” but are a full-fledged element of the section’s programming.                                                                

Is there a particular emphasis or focus on any topic or issue this year that you can observe in the submitted films (e.g. any political or human rights issue, or any existential or philosophical point of view) – and does it get reflected in the final selection?

We have noticed that many films, regardless of their provenance, centre around stories about children and adolescents. The final selection reflects this focus.

interview by Zsuzsanna Deák