The Power Of Short Film

In Features by Samuel Love

With York’s fantastic Aesthetica Short Film Festival now over and Edinburgh’s equivalent picking up almost straight away (11th-22nd of November) there’s clearly still a huge demand for cinema shorts. In fact with festivals, dedicated awards shows, and even an Oscar for the year’s Best Live Action Short Film, ‘shorts’ are more popular now than they’ve ever been. But just what it is about these little pieces of filmic art that make them so darned appealing?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences defines a short film as “an original motion picture that has a running time of 40-minutes or less, including all credits”. Most short films are screened at festivals and are often made to gain experience and potentially earn funding for future projects, rather than as a money-spinners in their own right. For example, Damien Chazelle’s Academy Award-winning Whiplash started as an 18-minute short which, thanks to success at 2013’s Sundance Festival, garnered the financial support to make a complete film. So, yes, short films are a good way to learn the ins and outs of filmmaking and attract financial support. But there’s much more to it than that.

At the Aesthetica Short Film Festival in York, filmmakers gave their impressions of what the short film means to them.

“I love that a short film can take you on a simple, intimate and compelling journey in ways that a feature film simply can’t. For the filmmaker this offers a freedom but also an incredible challenge to hold the attention of a demanding audience without resorting to gimmicks or shock tactics, to hold your nerve and strive to tell a story with subtlety and attention to detail.” RUTH GRIMBERG, ACROSS STILL WATER

As an audience member, I’m expecting that the short will make me travel into a story or a universe for a few minutes. And this is what I try to do as a creator. From the first second, it has to be catchy. And this is, for me, the power of the short. It’s another way to tell a story. It’s a different exercise than the feature film.” BENJAMIN BOUHANA, WHO’S UP

In a sense the appeal of short film stems from the fact it allows more creative space for experimentation. Smaller budgets (and non-financially driven intentions) are a part of the reason, but I think the other main reason is inherent in their form. Due to being ‘short’, shorts very often avoid the triteness of being plot-driven: they can have a story, of course, or encompass a situation, but overall they are freer to experiment and create a new universe, or a new logic from scratch. That’s why there’s so many great animation shorts: they are the epitome of experimentation and pushing boundaries.” LAURA SPINI, YOU ARE WHOLE

“I love short films because they are not contained. They capture moments in time that begin before the film starts and continue even as the credits roll. As an audience member, short films allow you to dip your feet into a character’s life and feel something with them – whether for a weekend, one night, a single hour, or even a few tense minutes. As a creator, short films present a unique challenge because you have less time to engage audience members and inspire emotion. It is up to you and your team to create that window into a life. Short films are great exercises in creative economy. Often made on small budgets, short films allow filmmakers to sharpen their skills. And it is much easier to get people to give up a few minutes of their time to watch your short rather than a mediocre feature.” CHAD KING, WILLIAMSPORT

The logic for shooting a feature should never be applied to making a short film. The nature of a short film is not to project the internal depth of a character, or to fabricate an intricate plot. What makes a short film powerful is to focus on delivering one concept, creating one moment, constructing one distinct perspective, or establishing one conflict. Concept, amongst all of these elements, is the most essential. If the core concept can be established well in a short film, it has the foundations to reach its audience.” TIAN GUAN, DRAMA 

“For me personally, making a short film presents the opportunity to craft a story into its purest form – when making The Tie I decided to set myself limitations such as no dialogue or voice-over, and a limited colour palette.” AN VROMBAUT, THE TIE

So there you have it. Directly from the mouths of those who make short films. The power of short film means something different to everyone – just as the power of feature film, music or books would. It seems you cannot put a label or a description on this power, and that’s okay. As long as audiences continue to enjoy watching these films and filmmakers enjoy to continue making them, they will always be here. That’s the most important thing.

And remember, tomorrow’s Academy Award winner for Best Director is probably making a short film today.

The Edinburgh Short Film Festival is on now. Visit:

Image screenshot from Vicious Circle (Dialelo), 2015. Directed by Miriam Albert Sobrino (Also Sisters), Spain/USA. Artists’ Film in ASFF 2015.