Don’t Sell Them Short


Something we at the F3 were surprised at finding after we established the festival is the vast number of short films that are being produced. For completely arbitrary reasons the F3 considers a short film as anything under 60 minutes; anything 60 minutes or more is considered a feature.

Shorts have a long cinematic history, many of the first “features” were really short films….as the technology improved, the films got longer. But for a long time, shorts ruled and were part of the movie-going experience for a long time. For several decades every film you attended had a newsreel, a cartoon, and maybe another non-fiction short (sort of a mini documentary, or an investigative report).

All those Warner Bros. cartoons you watched on TV if you grew up in the 60s, 70s, and early 80s (“Overture, curtain, lights/This is it, we’ll hit the heights”) were theatrical shorts when your parents went to the movies. As a result, you see very plainly that these were quality productions aimed, not necessarily at kids, but at an adult, movie-going audience.

The reason shorts are not considered very often…the reason we at the F3 were surprised with the number of short submissions…is that there is no real venue for short films anymore. In the early days of cable TV there was a show called Night Flight on the USA network that would highlight short films. MTV was a refuge for music videos (remember those?) which were essentially short films. Some feature length movies have tried the “multiple stories” motif where the film is essentially a collection of four or five short films (“Creepshow”, “New York Stories”, “Four Rooms”), but as a rule, these are made with the intention of being included in the larger film.

The availability of venues and markets for short films is very, very small (though it is nice to see the last few Pixar films starting out with a short film unrelated to the larger film or a previous feature film) and therefore film festivals that include short films are targeted by short film makers all over the world. For that reason, the F3, that not only include short films, but highlights them, has received an amazing number of very high quality short films from a broad range of talents.

This is true for feature films we have received as well but, unlike shorts, there are many outlets for feature films and a very large number of film festivals that accept only feature length films and not short films. While we were excited that first year of the F3 to bring a block or two of short films to our festival, we admit that we probably focused on the feature films that year.

Until we started getting feedback after the festival was over. People loved the feature films we screened which were compelling and entertaining (if a little dark that first year, we admit it). But what surprised us was how many people loved the short film blocks. Some even saying the short films were some of their favorites.

Deeper examination found that those who went to the short blocks liked as many as they disliked, but, unlike a feature film they didn’t care for, they didn’t leave the theater. Why? Because these were short films…if they didn’t like this one, they’d maybe like the next one which will be along…shortly.

After that, in the F3 years following, we paid a lot more attention to the short films we brought in. We even started a children’s film festival that is nothing but shorts (we showed 66 short films in one day at the 2013 Maryland International Kids FilmFest).

The shorts we have shown since that first year have been internationally acclaimed films, films with Oscar nominations and Oscar wins, and quite frankly, some of the best animated films in the world.

So, what to expect with the short films at the 2013 F3? Well, we’re nowhere near finished selecting them, but, at this writing, we have selected and announced the First 10 which is a fantastic cross section of what to expect from the short film selection we’ll have at this year’s festival. (The next block of films, the First 4 Features, will be announced on March 25)

Animation finds fertile ground in the short film format and the First 10 has 4 animated films. The short format animated film makes sense when you consider the economics of making an animated film with each frame being rendered carefully in traditional animation, and even computer animation requiring arduous and painstaking construction.

The First 10 contains a stop animation feature (using real people) called Luminaris; a more traditional, experimental piece called Ashes; and two computer generated shorts, Devils, Angels, and Dating and Nullarbor. The four films couldn’t be more different yet if one were forced to categorize and market these films one would likely be forced to do so under the heading “Animation.”

Fortunately we, the F3, are not bound by such conventions. Sure, they’re all animated, but they all move in quite different directions. Comedy, drama, narrative. There’s no real way to categorize them except to say that we selected them because we though our audience would enjoy them because good work is good work.

Speaking of comedy, we have noticed that the short film format also a thriving breeding ground for comedy. The reasons for that are deceptively simple. “Dying is easy, Comedy is hard.” In other words, it’s very, very hard to sustain a joke over a long period of time, especially a single joke. Saturday Night Live provides us with weekly proof of that (or, worse, nearly any feature length film made from a six-minute SNL sketch). Very often…VERY often…the joke is the joke. Anything more than that takes away from the power of the joke. True comedy is dependent on timing, and part of that timing is knowing when to stop. The format of the short film makes comedy “easier.”

Indeed, when I talk to people who have attended previous years’ festivals, about half remember a dramatic feature or documentary that impacted them in some way. The other half mention a comedy short that not only hit them, but that they remember the “punch line” for. I’m certain there’s a big psychological examination of the nature of comedy and how we remember it, but all we here at the F3 know is that the shorts impact in the same way as the features…especially the comedies.

And the First 10 has a nice representation of comedies with an international flavor. Il Lucchetto (The Padlock) from Italy, El Rastrillo Se Quiere Comprometer (Rake’s Commitment) from Spain, Bollocks from the UK and what could only be defined as a “romantic comedy”, Love at First Sight from UK/Spain/India. The longest of these runs about 15 minutes…the shortest only a minute and a half. Enough time to provide the comedy and then stop. It looks easy, but trust us, it is not.

Finally, going back to the newsreel roots of shorts is the documentary film. Short documentaries are not uncommon. The F3 has shown documentary shorts since the first year. Generally, these films are designed to provide knowledge of the issues at the heart of the documentary, not necessarily to give an comprehensive overview of the issue. Something to stimulate further research, not render it unnecessary.

The 2013 F3 will have a number of these, and in the First 10, this genre of shorts is represented by the film Eddie Kirkland: Born With It,  a short insight into the life of a highly influential,  but not well known, musician filmed shortly before his death. A great example of the format and one that is sure to stir more research into who Eddie Kirkland was.

The Frederick Film Festival is proud to bring both features and shorts to our audience. If it sounds like we’re loving on the shorts a bit much in this post it’s primarily because we haven’t written the blog post on Feature Films yet, but also we wanted to give you an idea of our level of surprise at the quality and the sheer number of great short films. At the F3, not only do we have blocks of short films every year, we also highlight short films from Frederick’s own 72Fest and a program of short films from regional high school students.

So, in short (see what I did there?), we have shorts. Lots of shorts. We go to great lengths for shorts. We think you should too. Research the shorts we select and figure out which ones you’d like to go to. Give as much thought to them as you do the features. Don’t give them short shrift. Geeze…I’m leaving on that one…


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2 Responses to Don’t Sell Them Short

  1. Great article. I love shorts. They’re much fun, especially during a festival because one gets to see so many different stories and ideas. I’ve entered one this year. Now that selections are currently being picked, it will only be a short time before I learn if my short gets accepted for one of the short blocks screening at this year’s F3.

  2. Pingback: First Four Features | inside The F3

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