Evie Hughes argues that the short film allows for more creatively liberating projects from filmmakers.
Distinctive style, limitless potential, minutes to captivate: all features of the short film. In a world of 3-hour long feature films, the short could not be more appealing.
Whilst few short films enter the mainstream box-office, film festivals such as the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival help to secure their success, recognition and accessibility for wider audiences. In light of recent releases, more and more filmmakers are attempting to tackle the short, Jonathan Glazer and Paul Thomas Anderson to name a few. Yet what exactly is so appealing to both modern cinephiles and filmmakers? What does the short film offer that cannot be done in the traditional 90-120-minute feature film? Perhaps the short film prioritises precision and sheer blunt force, something potentially obscured in mainstream feature-length cinema.
Within the realm of conventional cinema, the short film is thought of as a stepping stone usually funded by film grants, sponsors, non-profit organizations or personal funds, presenting the opportunity for experience. They provide a chance to prove oneself in the hopes of appealing to private investors, film studios and other entertainment companies. This perception certainly holds true when looking at the origins of cinema: the first films typically lasted a maximum of 20 minutes. Films were short in the early 20th century mainly due to the economic and technological restrictions of the time. Thus, the transcendence of the short into 21st century screens must be evidence of its strength and power.
In its exclusion from mainstream typicality, the short, when crafted well, is a call for change.
The short film offers complete artistic freedom. Filmmakers are left to their own devices, sourcing funding, equipment and creativity all with the end goal of producing something meaningful and unique in a few short minutes. For filmmaker Luis Bunuel, the short film presented an opportunity for social change. His surrealist film Un Chien Andalou shocked and horrified audiences of the early 20th century. Whilst the film was certainly limited by technological immaturity, the short duration packed a powerful punch. The quick succession of graphic and disturbing images (a notable favourite being the slicing of an eyeball) attacked the complacent viewer.
While the short film medium grants amateur filmmakers the experience to later produce longer texts, the artistic form allows more than that. The short film demands to be seen as more than a stepping stone. In its exclusion from mainstream typicality, the short, when crafted well, is a call for change. In the same way literature and other artistic mediums provide an outlet for societal struggle, the short film has often been associated with a political agenda. Jonathan Glazer’s 2019 surreal film The Fall is evidence of that artistic protest. Said to be inspired by a photograph of Eric and Donald Trump Jr on a hunting trip, the film shows a masked mob’s persistent chase and attack of a singular masked man. Speaking of the film and recent political affairs, Glazer described the “abdication” of individual “responsibility” amidst a mob-mentality; the ever-present fear pertinent in today’s society. What most directors struggle to convey within a 2-hour long feature film, Glazer achieves in a total of 5 minutes.
The short film offers a glistening chance at complete and individual innovation.
Brevity certainly adds appeal to the short film. Not only does the short offer escapism, a breath of fresh air from the ever-increasing duration of mainstream cinema (cough, cough Avengers Endgame), it also provides the emotional engagement of a feature film in a fraction of the time. Film’s success economically, emotionally and socially is dependent upon its reception. Engaging with a text and having an emotional response is what makes art poignant. Good short films do this in a concise and coherent manner: Nick Rowland’s 2014 short film Slap powerfully condenses character Connor’s struggle with identity and his search for self-acceptance into a mere 20 minutes. Director Olly Williams amplifies tension with a graphic yet comedic 5-minute wait alongside an anxious getaway driver in the 2015 short The Fly. In her 2017 coming-of-age drama Apples, Maida Baginskaite explores Zac’s struggles navigating loss, isolation and turbulent family relations. Essentially, the short offers a window into the imaginative.
Whether a seasoned and experienced film crew, a band of aspiring filmmakers or even a group of kids on an unoccupied weekend, the short film offers a glistening chance at complete and individual innovation. Perhaps what’s most enticing, for the audience and crew, is not the breath of fresh air or the subtle homage to cinema’s origins, but the potential to create. The possibility to present something purposeful and engaging within a snippet of seconds, without facing the demands or authority of a production company. The short film, in its purest and most exposed form, remains an art untainted by consumerist objectives.