If you tune into film press, you’ll find article after article covering the continued delays of major Hollywood films, cancellations of film festivals, and alarm about the future of feature filmmaking. The Covid-19 pandemic has wrought havoc on industries around the world, and the film industry has been impacted to a devastating effect. Yet, through the tragedy of others, rises the hopes and dreams of a cinematic brethren that’s rarely given the essential spotlight it deserves in modern cinematic discussions: short films.
For the longest time, short films have been treated as aspects of film festivals that are the amuse bouche to the feature films, or the part of the Oscar ceremony that you go to the toilet or make a coffee, with only the shorts made by established filmmakers getting the spotlight. Yet, during this time of isolation, with film festivals pivoting online, short films have found a welcome audience that may have otherwise ignored their existence.
Take the great St Kilda Film Festival which highlighted some of the finest short films from around the world for its online 2020 festival, from Australia’s Audio Guide to Canada’s The Fox and the Pigeon, and as such, pushed the spotlight onto the power of a short film. And what power! The mastery of a short film is in how the collaborative creative team manage to distil a complex story into an under-40 minute runtime, often taking the audience on an emotional ride that many feature length films struggle to attain. And, while quantity isn’t always a must, being able to explore grand stories from around the globe in a short period of time helps immerse you completely into a wealth of quality. A night with a catalogue of short films is a night well spent.
Or, take the Gold Coast Film Festival (see the next page), who are taking the chance to celebrate Queensland films via the online festival, Screensland, from Friday July 3rd to Monday July 6th. Available to all via Facebook or their website, Screensland will highlight eleven films from Queensland filmmakers. The WA Made Film Festival did something similar pre-pandemic, with two short film lineups that celebrated the wealth of great short films made in Western Australia, many of which I’ve not been able to shake from my mind – such is the power of a well told story.
For me, short films have opened my eyes to narratives that would feel exhausted by being squashed into a feature length. I’ve championed the work of Indianna Bell and Josiah Allen before, highlighting how brilliant Call Connect. is, and having sat with their work for a period of time, I’ve noticed how masterful they are as a collaborative team in being able to craft a narrative that fits a shorter runtime wonderfully. And I’ve never missed the opportunity to push Lost & Found into the eyes of those who have never seen such the wonderfully animated film.
Additionally, through services like Omeleto, I’ve been able to explore Australian short films that I’ve missed, or alternatively, may not have heard about at all.
For example, Victoria Wharfe McIntyre’s great short film, Miro. Featuring an excellent performance from the always reliable Mark Coles Smith (seriously Hollywood, when are you going to stand up and pay attention to this guy?), this is a short that takes a look at a slice of Australian history that seems so eagerly ignored: the conscription of Indigenous Australians to fight in a war that they never asked to fight in.
Forced to leave his family, Miro (Smith), is dragged to a battle he shouldn’t be fighting, only to be whisked back to Australia once it’s all over, his land stolen from him, his family relocated to a horrifying place, being subjected to abuse and horrifying acts of racial torture. Where white soldiers are given a heroes welcome, Indigenous soldiers were denied the rights of drinking in a pub with their fellow ANZACs, and it’s here where Miro turns into a revenge tale of redemption, with Miro fighting to get his family back.
Originally released in 2016, I watched Miro in a time where the Prime Minister of Australia denied the existence of slavery in this countries history, a mining company destroyed 46,000 years of continued culture for First Nations people, and Spike Lee’s excellent Da 5 Bloods landed on Netflix, addressing the forgotten history of Black America in the Vietnam War. This short addresses systemic racism, highlighting a history that society has long been denied the opportunity to learn from.
While Miro does dissolve into action film heroics as it concludes – akin to Lee’s use of action in Da 5 Bloods, subverting a genre so often lead by white heroes liberating marginalised communities – it echoes the importance of knowing history. Without that, we can never fully understand the countries we live in.
And, it does it all in under a half hour!
Sure, I want to say ‘I can’t wait to see what Victoria Wharfe McIntyre does with a feature length film’, and understandably, that’s the goal of many filmmakers, but if these directors and writers can craft such brilliance with short films, then we as the film loving audience need to celebrate and recognise that talent immensely. Just because a short film doesn’t screen at a cinema, or might be a little obscure to track down, doesn’t make it any less valuable. In this digital age, let’s move towards a greater future where all aspects of cinema – from the one minute long Meat Love, to the seven and a half hour epic Sátántangó – are celebrated.
If the complaint from the many is that films are too long nowadays (they aren’t, a good film is as long as needs to be, and a bad film is never too short), then find comfort in short films, momentary dalliances in short narratives that fill you up completely. While Quibi intended to bring the short format to life, it did so when there was already a catalogue of films around the world doing just that.
And to my fellow writers and critics, shine a light on short films more! Talk to short filmmakers, review them, write up about their existence, amplify their purpose and value, and highlight how many great ones there are. Sure, it’s easy to applaud a new Jonathan Glazer film, or a Don Hertzfeldt short, but look past those titans and you’ll find a hungry field of filmmakers eager to entice viewers with their tales.
The magic of short films means that these kinds of necessary aspects of history can be digested and given the space to breathe, almost like a hyper-focus on one item. As I highlight Omeleto once again, I want to encourage viewers to subscribe to their Youtube channel and to watch the films they push out to their wide audience. Not only are they free to view, but they also carry a wide array of films from around the world. And, if your local film festival is putting on a short film showcase, make sure to check it out. You might just find the best film you’ll see that year on the lineup.
And, as an aside, if you’re like me and you fell in love with Chris Elena’s Audio Guide, then be excited for his next film, Refuse Classification, a new short currently seeking funding via the Australian Cultural Fund. Invest in the leading artists of tomorrow now.