Mick Hannigan asks why short films are so diregarded – continuing Film Ireland‘s ‘Sounding Off’ section – the place for debate and discussion on the topics that you find most compelling.
What is it about the lack of regard for short films? Sure, they’re considered useful in providing hands-on experience in learning the craft, and they can be ‘calling cards’, whatever that means, but in being regarded as ‘art’, why the neglect?
Unless cultural production is written about, analysed and critiqued, as an art form, it just doesn’t exist. Look at the Cinema section of any bookshop, – try the bookshop in the Irish Film Centre even – you will look in vain for any book on the aesthetics of the short film. You will find books on making shorts, or marketing shorts, but will you find books on the history of the short film, an anthology of writings on shorts or critical papers on the short form? Not a bit. Nada! There are books about directors and actors and editors, on film theory, film history, on movie stars, on documentary, animation, and digital art. Why this lack of commentary on a significant area of cultural production? Every other art form seems to have its literature. Even the most outré cultural activities receive intelligent critical commentary!
There have been a couple of BFI monographs on exceptional shorts, like Un chien andalou and Un chant d’amour, for example. The work of Richard Raskin of Aarhus University on the short fiction film is admirable, but, shamefully, there is little else. There is also one other notable exception in Cinema16’s series of short film DVD compilations, but this is an exception to the rule.
Consider how many shorts are produced each year. Cork Film Festival looks at over 2,500. Only a tiny number would be considered works of genius but each year, in creativity, in imagination and in exploration of the possibilities of cinema, many outclass most of the feature films on offer – and yes, I include the ‘art house’ sector here as well.
There are an ever-growing number of festivals devoted to the short film. The problem is that many see their function as supporting the (mostly young) filmmakers who make shorts as opposed to giving a platform to the best productions. The best festivals serve as filters of the immense number of productions each year as well as mounting retrospectives of classic shorts and championing artists who work in the short form. I am proud of the work of Cork Film Festival in this regard.
It always surprised me that at a time when shorts were produced on 16 mm that the screenings at Cork Film Festival were not thronged with film funders, producers or advertising executives searching for new talent and new approaches to filmmaking. The short-film world is the R&D dept. of the industry! This is where the experiments are being made, where new styles and cinematic approaches are essayed, where exciting new talent is on display. Thankfully with show-reels now available on DVD or on Vimeo, filmmakers can more easily get their films viewed by prospective funders, however, a live screening in front of an audience is still the optimum viewing experience.
Take one example. Some years ago we received a number of films directed by Ken Wardrop and produced by Andrew Freedman. We were so impressed by the creativity of these short documentaries that we devoted a whole programme to their work. It’s not that we were especially perspicacious, one would have had to be myopic not to see the quality of their work. It is rare for a film festival to mount a retrospective of the work of two guys straight out of film school, yet other then the great support given by IADT there was no response to this from any sector of the industry. No one wondered what the fuss was all about! A couple of years later, the only Irish film in any of the official sections of Cannes was Wardrop’s Undressing My Mother, screening in International Critics Week. It had won at Cork, at Tampere, and also won Irish and European Film Academy awards for Best Short!
So shorts are important. One of the paradoxes about the form is that despite, or because of, the restrictions of money and experience there is an abundance of inventiveness. To use a slogan of the Hamburg Short Film Festival: ‘minimum resources, maximum imagination’. Short films occupy an imaginative strand in the history of cinema. Quite simply, shorts are art. They deserve better!
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