The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

On the frustration of watching a brilliant short film

with 11 comments


Watching a short film on a big screen is frustrating. At least if it’s a good one.

Every year around this time I get to experience as they’re running an international short film festival in my hometown.

About 300 films are screened over the course of one week. Far from all of them are brilliant. To be honest, I find many of them so-and-so: low-budget attempts from young men and women at film school, who still are in the stage of experimenting and looking for their own voices. I honestly feel a bit sorry for the jury that made the selection for the festival. This year 7 000 short films were submitted to the festival. Considering the uneven quality of some of the films that made it into the program, watching through the 6700 that didn’t must have been a bit of a nightmare.

There’s certainly no shortage of shorts out there. The question is how to match them with an audience outside of the festival circuit. When was the last time you watched a short film in a theatre that wasn’t either one about Wallace and Gromit or one of the shorts that comes with Pixar’s movies as an appetizer?

The hidden gems
And there is where my frustration comes from. Because among all the lacklustre short films you get to see in a festival like this there are also hidden gems, films that are absolutely brilliant and deserve to get a worldwide distribution and a large audience. When I see one of those I want to shout it out from the little rooftop that is my blog. I want to discuss that film with other bloggers who have watched it. I want to spread the word and I want to see it climb the ranks in the box office of short films – if there was such a thing. I want to see it go viral. But this never happens.

What will happen is that I will say: “I watched the film named X and fell in love with it. You have never heard of it and you’ll probably never get to see because it hasn’t got any distribution outside of the festivals and it’s not on YouTube. Sorry.” And that will be it. No one will comment on it, very few will even read the post, because very few care about short films. It’s just not something we talk about a lot in the social circles where I dwell.

I can understand why film makers don’t post their short films on YouTube for free to be seen by anyone. Regardless of the length of your film, in the end of the day you need to pay your bills. It’s reasonable that if you want to watch a short film you should pay a little something for it. Not as much as you pay for a full length feature film, but a couple of dollars would be reasonable. And actually iTunes does offer some short films at 3 dollars apiece. However there are so few of them that the chances are slim that they have the particular film you wanted to recommend to others.

I can’t help wondering: for who are those shorts made? Are they only intended as samples of work, made as stepping stones on the way to bigger projects? Are they happy with an audience consisting of family, friends and festival visitors?

I think it’s a shame and that’s why I always watch my favourites at the festival with mixed feelings: the enjoyment of getting the chance to see something special and the annoyance that I can’t share it with anyone apart from those few who were in the same cinema.

My favourite this year
A couple of years I fell in love with the Norwegian short Skallamann (Baldguy), an upbeat miniature musical about a young man’s coming out of the closet process. Two years later it’s still not easily available as far as I can tell. Only the trailer for it. And no pointer to where to go if you want to see all of it.

This year I’ve found another favourite, the Slovakian animated short Pandas (original title Pandy), which tells the story about the evolution of pandas from dinosaur time and far into a distant future. It’s imaginative, funny and truly original and it was only right and fair that it was awarded twice at the festival, by the audience and by the jury.

Apart from a short trailer, there isn’t a lot of information available about the film or its director, Matúš Vizár. All I know is that he’s quite young, telling from this filmed interview. Sadly I don’t understand a word of what he’s saying. Feel free to share, if you happen to know this language.

There is a ray of hope though: since Pandas already has won several awards in festivals, it might be eligible for an Oscar nomination, which no doubt would make it more accessible. I will keep my thumbs crossed when the short list is announced in a few weeks.

But Oscar nominations can’t be the solution for all good short films to reach out. We need something else, a brilliant idea for business and distribution, if shorts are going to become more than just something to pimp the portfolios of upcoming filmmakers.

My fellow bloggers in the Swedish network Filmspanarna also visited Uppsala Short Film Festival. Here’s what they made of it:


Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord

Moving landscapes

Written by Jessica

November 1, 2013 at 8:00 am

11 Responses

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  1. I was also pondering the availability issue. Linked the movies I could find on Youtube in my post, not being sure if they’re there legally or not. But I wanted to spread the word and share, just as you say. Maybe this should be a business that’s completely state (or otherwise) funded, in order to give filmmakers the chance to prove their worth? Then they can move on to do stuff that might actually make a profit.


    November 1, 2013 at 8:38 am

    • Yes, exactly my idea too. You can’t expect this to be financed the same way as full length films.


      November 2, 2013 at 1:30 pm

  2. I share the frustration on this, especially Skallamann. I could buy it as part of a Norwegian shorts collection but with international shipping it would be extremely expensive and the I’d probably have DVD region incompatibility.

    The most optimistic I can get about the marketability of short films are the omnibus films like the apparently terrible Movie 43 or so many horror anthologies like V/H/S. This displays at least some potential for well matched short film collections to be released as a bundle.

    The film movement series pairs a short film with each of its art house films, but even those are excluded when the film is offered for streaming.


    November 1, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    • Since there is so little money in short films anyway I think they might want to not be too picky about keeping it locked. Why not offer it for free but try to find sponsor/ads and letting it go viral?


      November 2, 2013 at 1:28 pm

  3. You pose some interesting questions here. I’ve also been thinking about how to market short films or if there is a need to. As you say, maybe short films are just a way for film makers to get into the business, marketing themselves.

    The short films I see, I see either on Swedish public tv or as prefilms at film festival screenings. It happens from time to time at the Sthlm Filmfestival, either at the festival or when they have prescreenings during the year.

    Also, I know that the cinema Zita in Sthlm have something they call Kort & Gratis (Short & Free), and as I understand it, they show a bunch of short films for free.

    I was thinking about authors. From time to time the release anthologies of the short stories. Maybe this can be done for movies as well. Problem is how to bundle them. In the world of films a director doesn’t do 10 shorts that can be bundled the way short stories can be in book anthologies. There horror anthologies as Bondo mentions but nothing more really. Well, sometimes we see things like Lumière and Company or that Paris themed anthology.


    November 2, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    • Short film anthologies isn’t a bad idea at all. Thinking of it, isn’t that what Roy Andersson does? What are his films if not collections of short films, even though they’re not presented as such? Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love last year was actually a few short films, where the only thing that hold them together was that they took place in Rome. But I suppose it’s harder if you’re not already established.


      November 3, 2013 at 1:21 pm

  4. Went to watch a Flemish short movies assemblage last week, first time I went to see short movies. It was a collection of 5 of the best of the past year, including the oscar nominated one with Matthias Schoenaerts.
    I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of them.

    But who they’re for? Good question. I assume it’s a lot easier to get the budget for a short movie than a full one. Plus, as you mention, film students have to make one. A great way to make a first impression and get into the movie business (how many film students actually get to direct a movie?).


    November 3, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    • Bah, kind of lost my name tag.


      November 3, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    • Matthias Schoenaerts can do no wrong. I’m sure it was great!

      It is a shame it’s so hard to find an audience for them outside of the inner circles. One day maybe someone will come up with a distribution model that works.

      And I figured it was you since you mentioned Flemish!


      November 3, 2013 at 9:02 pm

  5. You’re so right, Jessica. I’ve had similar feelings when I’ve seen really great short films at local showings.


    November 3, 2013 at 11:04 pm

    • I hope they’ll come up with something at some point. It feels a bit sad not to be able to share and discuss it the way we do with full length movies.


      November 3, 2013 at 11:06 pm

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