Production Reality vs. The Law – German Short Film in Numbers

Analysis

The last extensive study of German short film  was published in 2006, with films from 2003 and 2004 as its basis. At that time, about 2,000 short films were being produced annually in Germany. This current analysis shows that by now more than 2,500 short films are being made each year – representing an increase of 25% within ten years.

The new survey assessed productions in relation to their genres, lengths and languages – criteria which to some extent play a crucial role in the awarding of funding. The basis for this was the submissions from 2012 to 2014 to the following German festivals: Filmfest Dresden, interfilm Berlin, International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, International Short Film Festival Hamburg and the International Short Film Week Regensburg. All of the German productions and coproductions submitted to the above named festivals were included in the survey. Doing so, the almost 13,000 data sets were adjusted so that films which were submitted to several festivals were only counted once. This resulted in just under 7,000 films which formed the basis for the evaluation.

The submissions to the above named festivals account for slightly more than 2,300 different films per year of production. These are added to further films which are only submitted to and screened at smaller and regional festivals, as well as at so-called genre festivals (e.g. fantasy film festivals). In total, they result in the 2,500 short films mentioned above. This figure does not include any advertising films, image films or even short YouTube fun films.

There is no claim that the results of the survey are comparable to that of a scientific study. It proved difficult at times to compare the data from the various festivals, such as for instance the details on the genres. For which reason, despite follow-up research work, a series of films could not be taken into consideration here. Likewise, the details on the languages in the films were not always complete, so that it was only possible to include slightly more than 4,600 films in the basis for calculating the language version percentage shares.

Overall however, the surveyed numbers certainly do provide some interesting facts on short film in Germany and permit developments and tendencies to be recognised in terms of the genres, film screening lengths and language versions.

Genres

Few changes were found in the genres compared to 2004, when the weaknesses in the survey process described above are taken into consideration. However a far more interesting picture emerges when the number of genres in all the films submitted is compared with those solely running in the main competition sections. While the proportion of fiction and documentary films is lower in the competitions than in the submissions, the proportion of animated films in the competitions (30%) is clearly higher than in all of the submissions (13%). Likewise, experimental films have a somewhat stronger representation in the competitions than in the submissions. As none of the festivals surveyed consists of a purely animated or experimental film festival, the high proportion of these genres in the competitions attests to the high quality of animated and indeed experimental films especially in Germany. And exactly these films can look back on a long tradition, while also enjoying high regard internationally.

Film Screening Lengths

More than 72% of the films have screening lengths of up to 15 minutes. This figure is somewhat lower than in the previous survey. The group of films up to 5 minutes in length still remains the largest (33%), even if this figure has also diminished somewhat. More than half of all the films are still shorter than ten minutes (55% compared to 61% in 2004). At the same time, the number of films with a screening length of more than 15 minutes has increased to 28% (2004: 23%).

It is perhaps interesting to also have a look at the length of the films which were then ultimately selected for the main competitions at the festivals: The proportion of films under 15 minutes has not changed overall, but a significantly lower number of the very short films up to 5 minutes are being screened there (22%), probably also because hardly any music videos are shown in the main competition sections. By contrast, the films with a screening length of between 16 and 30 minutes are more powerfully represented numerically in the competitions than their proportion in the submissions.

Despite the discussion about films becoming increasingly longer and the moaning and groaning about this, the increase in the lengths has not occurred as powerfully as it is generally perceived by the industry. And when we look at the competition participants, it seems that the long short films have even gained qualitatively as they are still represented so frequently despite their often problematic lengths for the programme makers.

But these figures show once more that the definition of a short film in the German Film Funding Law of maximum 15 minutes is not in line with either the reality in film production or the submission criteria and screening practice at national and international short film festivals. Most of the national festivals on the currently valid list of short film festivals  accept films up to 30 minutes in length, while the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen takes up to 45 minutes. Almost all of the international festivals note lengths of up to 30, 40 or 60 minutes in their submission criteria. With short film prizes, the lengths range from up to five minutes for the Short Tiger Award to 40 minutes for the Oscar and Student Oscar. And even for the German Short Film Awards, screening lengths of up to 30 minutes are accepted. Other European film funding bodies and institutions primarily define short film as a film with a screening length of up to 60 minutes.

Languages

21% of the films surveyed have no dialogue at all, while 62% or almost two-thirds have German dialogue or voice-overs. English was detailed as the language in 11% of the films, while 50 different languages – ranging from Albanian to Yoruba – can be found in the remaining 6%.

While the quite high proportion of German language films may be surprising perhaps, 17% of the films still have “non-German dialogue”. However this is completely irrelevant for both the festival organisers and their audiences, especially because most of these films are even screened with German subtitles. Thus, for the filmmakers it is a reason why they are excluded from film funding at times.

The German Film Funding Law (FFG) stipulates having a German language version (original or dubbed into German) of a film as a precondition for access to funding, with German subtitles being insufficient for this purpose. The German Short Film Association has criticised this stipulation for years. The requirement to express yourself artistically solely in German represents a grievous constraint on the contextual and aesthetic further development of German film overall and short film in particular, and is also radically out of touch with reality. Society in Germany has undergone a complete transformation, with migration, the coming together of Europe and the consequences resulting from this leaving their impact on it. Germany is and should be an open country, with artists from across the planet enriching our cultural landscape. 9% of all German films are coproductions, while this even accounts for 13% of the films selected for the main competition sections  of the above named festivals. And these facts also need to be reflected in the German Film Funding Law (FFG).

Furthermore, dubbing frequently changes the overall character of a film and thus represents a grievous intrusion into artistic freedom. Language is an essential component of film – and often functions as an expression for conveying the actual message of a film. In many films, cultural and linguistic associations play a major role, however they frequently cannot be translated, just like dialects or wordplays. In addition, for an actor or a voice-over artist, their voice represents one of their most important instruments. It should be possible to present and receive film as an art form in the way it was created and intended for the audience.

It can be said in conclusion that the German Film Funding Law (FFG) urgently needs to undergo a reality check when it comes to the production and exploitation conditions for short film in Germany. This concerns for instance an updating of the definition on the screening lengths of short films, together with an end to the outmoded requirement for having German language versions. However the survey also indicates that a majority of the filmmakers organise and produce their films in line with their own artistic intentions and ideas, even if they suffer from disadvantages within the German funding system as a result.

1“Kurzfilm in Deutschland – Studie zur Situation des kurzen Films/Short Film in Germany – Study on the Situation of Short Film”, (http://cdn.ag-kurzfilm.de/kurzfilmstudie.pdf)

2Ibid.

3By which is meant the competitions specified in the list of festivals for the reference funding as per the German Film Funding Law (D.7 Guideline for Short Film Reference Funding)

Jutta Wille studied business management before working as  a  production  manager  on  various  film  productions.  Since  2003, she has worked for the German Short Film Association. In 2013 she  assumed the management of the federal German association together with Jana Cernik. 

This article was first published in “SHORT report #6” by AG Kurzfilm – German Short Film Asscociation, Dresden, November 2014. The “SHORT report” can be ordered as a print version from AG Kurzfilm and it is also available for download at www.ag-kurzfilm.de. 

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