The Austin Film Festival’s marquee screenings feature highly anticipated movies such as “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Hyde Park on Hudson,” but the festival is also the proud home to an underrated facet of cinema: short films. Not often cited in the day-to-day, short films should not be put in the back burner as something less than their feature-length brothers. Shorts are just as valid a form as longer-length pieces, and often pack a great story with great production value in less than 20 minutes.
Short films have been around since the dawn of filmmaking. When film technology was in the process of being wrangled and tamed at the start of the 20th century, people’s projects would typically be a lot shorter, like Georges Mélies’ “A Trip to the Moon” (1902). People were interested in seeing the wonders of cinematic technology, and thus were excited to see screenings no matter their length.
That changed later, as filmmakers gained a better understanding of technology and story structure. The industry was opposed to making longer films, afraid that people would not pay attention for a whole hour or two. But directors came onto the scene with longer works, like D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” (1915) and these garnered the most merit and attendance from audiences.
Shorts stayed alive through the rise of the feature film, screened alongside some features, newsreels and even becoming propaganda during wars. Today, we know short films best as music videos, film festival material, and artsy works, perpetually on Vimeo.
But why watch a 20-minute story instead of a two-hour epic? Is the story better developed in longer films? Not exactly.
Matt Lefebvre, producer of the short film “Asad,” the winner of the Best Narrative Short award at AFF, said “[the short film form] ... can capture and create an essence and feeling that could only be done in a short film.”
A.J. Sheeran, the writer/co-director/co-producer of the AFF-selected short “The Treehouse” also defended short-form films.
“To be honest, at any given time I would rather watch a feature ... [But] I think that there are things that short films can do that a film can’t. You can drive a point home clearer and more coherently with a short,” Sheeran said.
UT filmmakers Kevin Harger and Chris Bourke, who had their short film “Love, Emily” screened at AFF as well, said that as an increasing number of people get their hands on today’s easily accessible film equipment, shorts are an important way for wannabe cineastes to hone their skills into something presentable.
“I think it’s, like, 12,000 shorts that are made each year now,” Bourke said. “And that number’s getting bigger and bigger because more and more people want to do film, but at the same time they don’t want to spend the money that it would take to make a feature, so [shorts] are a good way for them to [practice their skills].”
The rise of the Internet as a publishing tool has been a blessing to filmmakers trying to get some viewership, however little, of their work. However, the market still favors longer films and TV seasons over short films. People are barely willing to spend $15 on a feature movie, and thus shorts often remain stuck either in festivals or in the deep crevices of YouTube and Vimeo.
“I really really wish there was a market for shorts,” Sheeran said. “I think there should be and I don’t know why there isn’t because short form is much more proper on things like Netflix. ... people go on Netflix and watch TV episodes that are 22 minutes, so why not shorts that people can just watch and then go back to work, go do something, watch another one?”
Printed on Monday, October 22, 2012 as: Short films alive at Austin festival