Why are short films so important? Guest blogger Holly Barnard asks this burning question to filmmakers and finds out why the short film format is so universally loved and what we need to do to keep them being made.
The medium of short films has had a tumultuous history, particularly in comparison to the feature-length film. Short films predate feature films by over a decade and have been the chosen format for advertising, music promos, technical films, gallery installations, and amateur cinematography.
There is a beauty in being able to tell a story in a short space of time, to be able to strip away the unnecessary content and be left with what’s most important. The beauty is in the skill of keeping everything succinct but visually stimulating. And as with all good things, creating a short film can be a challenge.
Of course, the Down Under Berlin Film Festival is no stranger to the beauty of the short – we are incredibly excited about what’s in store for this year’s festival. Short films have always been a fundamental part of Down Under Berlin, and will continue to be a central part of this year’s festival.
Last year, we showcased Australian filmmaker Genevieve Clay-Smith’s short film Kill Off, as part of the Australian Short Film Today reel. The film explored themes of disability and the refugee experience. Clay-Smith spoke of her interest in the human connection and what inspires her: “The genre I work the most in is family, and dramedy" she says. "Though with amazing films out there like Get Out, It Follows and Babadook as well as Black Mirror on Netflix that do so well to explore deeply human themes and zeitgeists”.
But at the centre of her artistic practice as a filmmaker is ‘inclusive filmmaking’, ensuring there are opportunities for all both in front of and behind the camera.
Audiences enjoy the unexpected, and that is what a short film does: It throws you into the deep end of a story without giving much context. A short film can’t fit in the same amount of plot and character development as a feature-length film can, so it’s up to the filmmaker to create unique ways to grab the audience’s attention. Queue some visual experimentation, some creative editing styles, an unknown actor slash director and there you have it. You’ve got yourself a film.
Down Under Berlin's short film winner of 2016, was Australia’s The Disappearance of Willie Bingham, by Matthew Richards. He believes that his method of filmmaking was learned through his way of seeing the world. “I will say that in order to create a film that has merit, that is strong and resonates I believe that you need to be growing as a person. You need to be willing to look at the uncomfortable things in yourself and your relationships that you are afraid of and that can be very challenging but also cathartic.”
So why are short films so important? There are two monumental factors. Number 1: They create a platform for emerging filmmakers to get noticed and to progress their style. Number 2: They encourage innovative ideas and experimentation when it comes to filmmaking. Funding for short films is limited and as a result, the short film industry relies on funding, film lovers and film festivals like us to get the word out there. “It’s about communicating an idea, tone, theme or feeling,” says Matthew Richards “And not every one of those things needs a 90-minute duration to make its point.”
Limitation can drive creativity and inspire better thinking, so when it comes to creating a short film, boundaries are pushed whilst embracing constraints. Richards goes onto say that “it’s a fantastic way to try out new cameras, techniques and work with new people, I love the time frame of the short-film process and how it means capturing a very current idea that you have.”
So what can we do to support short films? Perhaps get short films back into cinemas. Genevieve Clay-Smith urges people to see as much as you can. “Watch shorts online and comment, share shorts on social media and just generally be an engaged short form audience member!”, and Matthew Richards encourages us not to be afraid to ask questions to filmmakers. “Go to short film programs at film festivals to see what storytellers are thinking about. If they are there doing a Q&A ask questions, make a point of trying to chat to them after about it, it will encourage them to keep going. It's not easy.”
Moviegoers can also attend film festivals and screenings to support up-and-coming filmmakers. It’s certainly an exciting time to be creating films, whether they are short or feature length. I hope you’re all ready and waiting for some pretty exciting films coming your way this September for the Down Under Berlin Film Festival. Whether they’re short, medium or feature length, there’ll be something there for everyone. See you there!
But short films are not inferior, just different. I think the short gives a freedom to film-makers. What's appealing is that you don't have as much responsibility for storytelling and plot. They can be more like a portrait, or a poem.
New Zealand screenwriter, producer, and director.
Left: Jane Campion's short film An Exercise in Discipline: Peel (DUB 2018)
Header image Kill Off by Genevieve Clay-Smith.
Holly Barnard is a London born theatre maker and content writer based in Berlin. She is the Artistic Director of her own theatre company, Cold Dinner, and works for several theatre company’s in both London and Berlin.