by Jutta Wille
Even if short film only receives low amounts of funding when compared to the overall film funding situation in Germany, it has made a decisive contribution to the reputation of German film in general thanks to the successes it has had on the international festival circuit. Short film funding represents more than just support for up-and-coming filmmakers and the fostering of material suitable for cinema release films. It is also a vital investment in the development of the language of film and the art of story telling as well as of stylistic models within the whole film industry. It cannot be emphasised often enough that short film is “a medium of innovation. […] There is barely any innovation in the aesthetics film of which was not first ‘discovered’ and tested in short film. However this is mostly overlooked in texts on the history of film or by the film critics due to a lack of appropriate research and knowledge in this regard. There, innovations seem to be viewed like an unexpected ‘revolution’ or they are happily attributed to some genius (even though a little short film may perhaps really be behind them). Whether it is stop-motion, big close-ups, jump cuts, direct cinema, non-linear narrative forms, hybrid film, handheld camera or the dogma style – all of these first occurred in short film and were absorbed through osmosis by and into the mainstream to
become its own innovations”¦”1
At the start of 2012, the official debate began on the forth coming amendments to the German Film Funding Law (FFG). Those respon sible for film policy on a political level and the various film associations exchanged their opinions about which aspects have proven themselves and which ones should be changed. Doing so, the to some extent extremely varied interests of the individual associations clashed. In this respect, the German Short Film Association believes it is its task not only to maintain the diverse and manifold short film scene as a creative and essential component of the German film industry, but to also strengthen it. Aspects of several of the most important positions that the German Short Film Association takes vis-í -vis the new German Film Funding Law are outlined below, with the intention that they can or should trigger off a discussion with colleagues and filmmakers both in Germany and beyond.2
The short film reference funding3 is based on a points system that is calculated on the basis of festival successes (participation and prizes) and the receipt of renowned short film awards. The current law envisages that any film which is shorter than one minute or longer than 15 is excluded from the reference funding, even if it is able to prove that it has had a successful festival run or been awarded prizes. The only exceptions in this regard are film school or debut films. This restriction to a maximum length of 15 minutes does not correspond to either the reality in the production area or to the submission criteria at most of the national and international short film festivals. In this respect, the system for ascertaining the success and quality factors needs to include the widest possible range of short film productions. The aim should be to determine the creative potential in the short film area in the best way possible by developing it further via the “reference funding” support instrument, thereby securing this innovative basis for the complete German film industry. Furthermore, there are no plausible reasons for giving preference to student and debut films here. Likewise, the one-minute minimum length restriction also has to be removed because there are of course also ultra short short films which are excellent and successful. There is no justification for excluding these films from the funding model. In addition, the definition of the length which is anchored in the current German Film Funding Law also gives rise to a general question: What about the films that are longer than a short film and shorter than a feature length film?4 As for the current law, all “medium length” films are trapped in a legal loophole. And although these to some extent qualitatively excellent films are able to demonstrate successes at festivals, the filmmakers cannot advance to their next project using reference funding. Thus a call for action is also needed here.
The German Short Film Association believes that the legislators’ requirement whereby reference points and thus funding are only awarded to films which are in German or in a synchronised German version is also not line with the times anymore. When a film has not been produced in German, then a German subtitled version must also be acceptable. In this way the opportunity to view such films in Germany is retained. Dubbing frequently changes the complete 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 it frequently occurs that they cannot be translated, just like dialects or wordplays. In addition, for an actor or a voice-over artist, their voice represents an important instrument. In this regard, it should be possible to present and receive film as an art form in the way that it is created and intended for the audience. On top of that, dubbing is often beyond the financial means available for “smaller” films and shorts. The standard practice at festivals or art house cinemas is to screen films in the original with German subtitles, or in the original version itself. And the audiences have even come to expect this frequently. Thus with these films, a German dubbed version would solely be produced for film funding requirements. In this respect it is unreasonable to make the funding of a film – regardless of whether it is feature length or short – dependent on this. Thus the German Short Film Association is also fundamentally opposed to making it compulsory to have the world premiere of a film in German. Germany is and should remain an open country, with artists from around the world enriching our cultural landscape. The constraint whereby one is permitted to express oneself solely in German represents a grave restriction on the contextual and aesthetic enhancements of German film overall and short film in particular, and one which does not match the socio-political reality either. The German society has been completely transformed by migration and the ongoing cohesion of Europe. In addition to this, the competitiveness of our filmmakers and artists is seriously endangered when they are compelled by law to produce films in German – something which is also contradictory to the international character of the festival list.
Likewise, debate is required with regard to the fact that the director of a film has to be German or belong to the German cultural area5 in order to be able to receive funding support. In this way, especially films that deal with such important themes as for instance migration or globalisation run the risk of being excluded from the funding when the director lives in Germany but does not hold German citizenship or does not belong to the German cultural area. And in any case, the term “German cultural area” is not clearly defined.
The planned increase in the funding amounts for the screening of short films as supporting films to feature films in the cinemas is welcome; however the funding of cinema screenings has to be expanded overall: Cinema operators who are deeply committed to short film integrate them into their programmes in the most varied of ways and forms of presentation. Thus the funding should be available for the complete range of short film presentation options and not limited to using it just to support the short format as a supporting film to the main feature.6
Short film presentations curated by the cinemas themselves always require additional time and effort, as well as more organisational work and financial expense especially to screen them. In particular, the costs for the film rentals and the curatorial services increase considerably when cinemas compile and curate their own programmes. While the rental costs for a short film programme already precompiled by a distributor correspond roughly to that of a feature length film, the costs of renting short films for a compilation that the cinema puts together itself can be more than twice as high, depending on the number of shorts in the programme. In addition to this, short film needs special support and funding due to its structural disadvantages within the cinema system. Unlike with feature films, even the short film programmes pre-compiled by a distributor do not have large-scale advertising and marketing campaigns at their disposal, with the result that the amount of media publicity is significantly lower. And these competitive disadvantages become even more accentuated with short film events curated by the organisation or cinema presenting them. Thus, cinema operators could use funding support in order to cover the additional costs required for the rentals and advertising here, as well as to pay the fees and other expenses for the curatorial services. This would reduce the restrictions on the way they design and structure their programmes and permit them to sharpen their profile even more. Not only would this support instrument help to reduce the competitive disadvantages that short films face, it would also provide substantial support for maintaining the cinema industry.
1 WOLF, Reinhard W.: Was ist Kino – was ist Kurzfilm? (What Is Cinema – What Is Short Film?) In: JAHN, Michael/KAMINSKI, Christina/WOLF, Reinhard W./REINSCH, Annekatrin.: Kurzfilm in Deutschland-Studie zur Situation des kurzen Films. (Short Film in Germany – Study on the Situation of Short Film), published by AG Kurzfilm e.V. – German Short Film Association. Dresden 2006; p. 5..
2 AG Kurzfilm’s complete statement from 25.01.2012 on the amendments to the 2014 German Film Funding Law as well as the first draft of the 2014 German Film Funding Law from 30.07.2012 can be accessed at www.ag-kurzfilm.de
3 Reference funding: In order to receive funding amounts, it is laid down in the law that verification must be provided that the filmmaker is able to produce films of high quality. This is regulated in the FFG via the so-called festival list. The festival list contains all the festivals (both in Germany and abroad) for which a film receives reference points when it participates in the festival or wins prizes there.
4 As per Sec. 14a (1) FFG a film is feature length when it has a screening length of at least 79 minutes, or at least 59 minutes for a children’s film. As already mentioned, a short film is defined as a film with a screening length of at least one minute and 15 minutes at the most.
5 As per the draft law, funding support shall be granted when “the
director is German in the meaning of Article 116 of the German Constitution or belongs to the German cultural area or is a national of another Member State of the European Union or of another Member State party to the Agreement on the European Economic Area or of Switzerland”.
6 Support in general for screening short films at cinemas has been
rejected to date by the argument that an entrance price is paid at the cinema box office for viewing short film programmes – but not for supporting films – and that it is not permissible for short film programmes to be placed in a better position thanks to funding than is the case with feature length films.