Why short films matter: Roisin Mullins on her FEDS placement at Aesthetica Short Film Festival
Our FEDS scheme (supported by Creative Skillset) gives five trainees from underrepresented groups the opportunity to gain on the job experience at top exhibition organisations. Here, Roisin Mullins, whose placement is at Aesthetica Short Film Festival in York tells us why short films are not just a stepping stone in filmmakers’ career, but are an amazing art form in their own right.
The world of short film gets some momentary attention during awards season but soon after, interest dwindles. Film critics don’t review short films and (most) cinemas don’t show them. But modern viewing habits cater well to the short form; vast swathes of the public consume video content on mobile devices and if any medium has benefited from the advent of VOD platforms, it’s certainly the short. However, it still fails to garner the same prestige as the feature film and is largely seen as its low budget, inexperienced younger sibling, despite being the genesis of it all – the visionary works of Thomas Edison and the Lumière brothers brought thousands to marvel at the flickering magic of the moving image. So why is it that short film is so seldom celebrated?
Before I continue, I would be remiss not to mention that mine isn’t an unbiased opinion: I have an agenda. During my FEDS placement, I have had the pleasure of working at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival, an enriching and enlightening experience that has highlighted to me the unique value of the short film. This being my first experience of working at a film festival, I didn’t quite know what to expect when I started this traineeship and the truth is, there’s a lot more admin to it than I would’ve thought. My day to day consists of emails, phone calls and endless spreadsheets and the first office in-joke that I was privy to was about database blindness: the sensation of not being able to distinguish between the lines in an Excel document.
Sometimes it easy to forget the end goal when the mechanics of your job seem so far removed from it. The constant pitter-patter of fingers on keyboards, the repetitive ringing of phones and the faint electrical hum of computers can trick you into think you’re doing any old office job; but after watching some of the official selection of last year’s ASFF I started to really understand the importance of film exhibition and the privileged position I’m in as a FEDS trainee.
Cherie Federico founded Aesthetica magazine back in 2002, and part of the inspiration behind it was born out of a wish to create a centre for arts and culture outside of London. Following its success and wanting to expand on the range of arts covered, in 2010, Federico launched a short film competition to which the response was overwhelming. Although only a very small number of films were to be included on the winning DVD, the unprecedented amount of submissions highlighted a problem within the film industry that persists. In spite of there being a wealth of talented filmmakers creating innovative and inspiring shorts, there remains relatively few outlets for these works to be shown.
The following year saw the inaugural edition of the Aesthetica Short Film Festival. Initially a three-day site-specific event showcasing the work of international filmmakers, it now takes place over an unprecedented five days, has grown to be recognised as a festival of national significance by the BFI and is BAFTA-recognised (meaning shorts that play the festival can qualify for their best short film award). Over the past eight years, ASFF has become a destination for emerging talent and has dedicated itself to the lofty task of elevating the status of the short form. The thousands of submissions to ASFF each year, which are carefully examined in the judging phases, further underscore the momentous impact that a festival like Aesthetica can have, simply by giving filmmakers a space to show their works.
This year, to subvert the normal juxtaposition of a shorts strand in a feature film festival, ASFF has been accepting feature-length submissions. But what is the significance of a short film festival showing features?
The short film presents an opportunity for young filmmakers to cut their teeth in the industry, developing a style and creative voice, their works become their calling cards. Short films enrich the cinematic landscape purely by virtue of the experience that can be gained on a short film set. But short filmmaking doesn’t belong solely to students and emerging artists, it is an art form in its own right. It’s true that the director Steve McQueen made many short films before his first feature, but he has made many more shorts since all met with the same praise and critical acclaim. Whether they be branded content or artists’ films, his works are always breathtakingly beautiful with a poignant sense of urgency or a melancholic malaise. They are standalone masterpieces no matter the length.
Similarly, Wes Anderson had made many successful feature films before he made his short film, Hotel Chevalier (2007). A romantic vignette detailing a troubled relationship, the film served as a prologue to The Darjeeling Limited (2007) and allowed Anderson to expand on a relationship only alluded to in the feature film. The two films work together to form a more complete diegesis than either could accomplish alone. So if short film was merely some stepping stone on the road to the distinguished feature, why would these two prominent and noteworthy directors be regressing back to the short?
The advent of digital photography means that filmmaking has become relatively inexpensive when compared to its analogue predecessor and is therefore much more accessible. Having a considerably smaller budget and fewer people attached to a project, allows more scope for creativity and experimentation, two of the cornerstones of great art. Showing a feature film at a short film festival attempts to put the two forms on a par with each other, begging the question of why the feature is so highly regarded and the short all but ignored? It’s the age-old question: does size really matter?
To answer this, let’s broaden our horizons and look at the world of fine art. Da Vinci’s The Last Supper stands at 460 cm tall and 880 cm wide whereas his Mona Lisa is just 76.8 cm tall by 53.0 cm wide. Of the two, it’s the smaller Mona Lisa thathas been described as the best known and most visited artwork in the world. But does that diminish the beauty and significance of The Last Supper? When comparing the two, there are so many fascinating angles to take – technique, style, form – that to compare them by their size alone feels not only arbitrary but also unjust.
A university lecturer once explained to me why he had such an intense love for film. To him, film is the opposite of death; cinema is to film as funerals are to death. When we go to a funeral, we see a physical manifestation of a person, their body, but there is no life. In cinema, there is a metaphysical manifestation of a person, with no physical body. So if film is the art of capturing and preserving life itself, what is the value of a life? Is a long life more valuable than a short life?
To read about other FEDS career experiences, click here.