On the frustration of watching a brilliant short film
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.