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It is true that the art of short film serves an important purpose in training emerging filmmakers, and can be the proverbial stepping stone to feature filmmaking, if one views that as a necessary cultural equation. For us, the art of short film is a lifelong interest and an end in itself. Like all short art forms, it is one of the most difficult forms to do well, but, once achieved, the elegant brevity, distilled thought, and crystalline writing, editing, and performances, and unexpected resolutions that characterize the best short films are exhilarating to behold. We encourage artists to consider working in this form as often as they can, for there is no finer test of the filmmaker’s skills. The short film is to the feature film what chamber music is to the symphony, haiku to epic verse, the miniature to the mural (there are other connections). Of course, the discipline of brevity is not the only reason for working in the short form. It is the opportunity to interpret a little piece of the zeitgeist,to provide a window on a single, telling moment.
In the U.S. and Latin America, there are scattered, brave efforts to reintroduce shorts into movie theatres as curtain raisers for features. CBS now offers a half-hour (starting today) of shorts in Times Square in an almost hilarious example of how-big-can-small-get-in-America. But, primarily, shorts are seen on television in the U.S. — and that is a good thing. To move them back into theatres and relive the 1930s through early 1960s, when the feature was accompanied by a newsreel, a cartoon, and a short (usually a travelogue, an industrial, or a “slice of life”) and viewers could sit through everything twice if they chose, means persuading a bottom-line marketing machine of the wisdom of diversity and the basic literacy and receptiveness of audiences. Just as a small town in mass society must assert its identity with determined vigor, so must the individual moviegoer defy the immense odds and say, “I refuse to be perplexed by the multiplex. I refuse tobe another popcorn chomper blandly accepting what the market offers. I want diversity, the unexpected, the adventurous, the unpredictable — I want short films back in my movie-going life.” Will there be a write-in campaign? Will viewers with signs form a “Short Films Now!” picket line outside theatres? Who’s placing bets on this happening?
It is all but impossible to find a theatre chain (though Landmark is one) that will entertain the idea of expanding programs beyond the slew of noisy promos plus the feature that constitute the pack-’em-in-then-move’-em-out mentality of distribution.
European countries appear to have a better shot at promoting their national short film. Germany, in particular, has much to be proud of, and promote: A century of short film tradition, outstanding festivals (with Oberhausen an exemplar), and fine film schools that consistently produce high quality shorts. Bringing German shorts to German audiences should be official policy, perhaps through incentive grants to apublic-private partnership of theatre chains and provincial government or the chains and non profit cultural organizations, or the chains and schools.
San Diego, CA, 25th January 2002
Jack Ofield (The Short List)