The Art of “The Short”
Short film is one of my favourite art forms. I love watching shorts. Not all shorts, of course–just as with feature film, the range of quality varies from exceedingly bad to exceedingly brilliant. And just as with feature film, I have strong preferences, so I am very discriminating in what I choose to view.
My first experience with short films was back in my childhood, growing up on the Canadian prairies, when our small town theatre would sometimes screen cartoons and short films before the Saturday afternoon matinée feature film. Many of the shorts were produced by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) and I fell in love with a few NFB classics over the years.
Until recently, it was nearly impossible to view shorts outside of the theatre. They were usually only screened at film festivals and they simply weren’t widely distributed for home viewing. As a result, shorts were virtually inaccessible to your average joe. Each year, I’d wistfully watch the trailers for the Best Live Action Short Film and Best Animated Short Film Oscar nominees, knowing that I’d probably never be able to see any of them.
Happily, the Digital Age has changed all that. The short is now more accessible than ever and things are only getting better. Video sharing sites such as YouTube and Vimeo have created a worldwide stage where amateurs and professional filmmakers alike can easily showcase their work. Because of this new technology, shorts are fast becoming a mainstream art form, evolving and expanding so quickly that there is enough fodder to sustain online platforms such as Vimeo Staff Picks, Short of the Week, FilmsShort, and FilmShortage.
Appreciation of the Art
It takes special imagination, talent and innovation to convey a compelling story in a brief amount of time. But when perfectly executed, a short story can have a powerful effect. For example, this poignant story has only six words:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
~ Ernest Hemingway
Feature films have the luxury of time (and the budget) to establish the setting, spend time on character development, fully develop a complex plot (or even multiple plots), and fill in back stories. A short film has to compensate by doing all these things in (often brilliant) cinematic shorthand.
Many elements have to come together perfectly to create a masterful short film: a compelling story, excellent cinematography, great sound recording, sound effects and music, and, perhaps most importantly in the case of a short film, brilliant editing.
THE LEADING EDGE
Short film is an extremely creative art form. It is the leading edge of filmmaking, in my opinion, because it’s a craft that is accessible to the next generation of young filmmakers – a group that is generally more innovative, more experimental, more creative and more up to date with new technologies. As a result, shorts offer a fresh perspective—they are often non-traditional, non-conforming and challenging of old schools of thought. Hollywood box-office hit formulae are thrown out the window and there is no focus-group testing. And, because there’s little money to be made from making shorts, independent filmmakers are usually passionate artists embracing the craft for the love of the art form itself.
Making shorts is how talented young film directors begin to hone their skills and get their foot in the door of the filmmaking industry. Both Martin Scorsese and Stephen Spielberg, for example, learned their craft by working on short films.
Put Your Feet Up and Get Cozy
I hope I’ve piqued your interest in short film. Here are some shorts that I think are fun, funny, extremely creative, or simply beautifully filmed and edited.
Get yourself something delicious to drink, and perhaps a couple of cookies or some chocolate covered almonds, make yourself a bowl of popcorn with a drizzle of freshly melted butter, put your feet up and enjoy the festival!
The Cat Came Back
This 1988 Oscar-nominated NFB animation by Cordell Barker was one of my early favourite shorts. I first watched it in the theatre back in the 80s. I loved it back then and I still love it today. It’s a very funny story inspired by an old folk song of the same name. I love the wacky animation, the bright colourful palette, the great music score, the fun sound effects, and of course, the humour. I also love how well it demonstrates the idea that the more you push against something, the harder it comes back to you.
I couldn’t find a high quality, ad-free embed of this film, so if you want to watch it, click on the image below to access the original NFB link:
The Anatomy of an Artwork:
A Frozen Tale
This exquisitely made short film beautifully and artistically depicts the creation of artist and photographer Alexia Sinclair’s magical work of art, Cabinets of Curiosity. It follows her artistic process from conception to the final act of embossing the seal on the finished limited edition fine print.
I find it exciting that individuals and small groups—not just huge corporations with big advertising bucks—can increasingly afford to advertise their art or business using a well-crafted short film.
Directed by Ritesh Batra, The Masterchef is a poignant short about a shoeshine boy in India whose chance encounter with a TV celebrity chef ignites a passion within the boy. I’m a huge fan of films starring children, so this one immediately caught my eye. The film is beautifully directed, shot, and edited and it’s a perfect example of how up-and-coming filmmakers hone their craft. The screenplay (also written by Batra) is compelling and I love that the scenes are all shot low to the ground, perfectly conveying a child’s point of view.
Batra’s first feature film, The Lunchbox (originally titled Dabba), won the Grand Rail d’Or at Cannes 2013 and the Best Director prize at the Odessa International Film Festival. I’m looking forward to it’s North American release by Sony.
Yellow Sticky Notes: Canadian Anijam is a collaborative project bringing together 15 independent animators from across Canada. Their assignment was to reflect on one day in their lives, using only yellow sticky notes, a black pen and the concept of one day’s “To Do” list. 15 “To Do” lists are creatively and entertainingly presented.
(As an aside, Cordell Barker, the animator of The Cat Came Back, animates one of my favourite “To Do” lists in this short.)
SLOWMO, a documentary by director Josh Izenberg, takes a fascinating look into the life of a highly educated medical doctor who decides to leave his lucrative profession to simply “do what he wants to” and in the process discovers pure bliss.
“Disillusioned with his life, Dr. John Kitchin abandons his career as a neurologist and moves to Pacific Beach. There, he undergoes a radical transformation into SLOMO, trading his lab coat for a pair of rollerblades and his IRA for a taste of divinity.
Winner of over a dozen awards, including:
Best Short Documentary at SXSW
Best Short Documentary at the International Documentary Association Awards
Audience Award at AFI Docs
Audience Award at Ashland Independent Film Festival
Best Short Documentary at Sheffield Doc/Fest
Special Jury Prize at the Independent Film Festival Boston”
~ excerpted from Vimeo
One family. Two cameras. 30 countries. 60 flights. Over 100 time-lapse videos. Over 200,000 images. Close to 20 terabytes of data.
Smooth, beautiful, seamless, and well-edited, this time-lapse photography film by Stan Chang captivates from start to finish. The “magical” time-lapse effects were achieved using still cameras (Nikon D800E, Nikon D600) and a motion control system by Konova.
“The CG team at Rushes brought to life the everyday urban world around our feet in “Tiny Worlds”, a trilogy of micro-shorts with a humorous take on what might happen to the litter and rubbish on London’s streets when we’re not looking.” ~ Rushes
Fun and extremely creative, this micro-short appeals to the part of me that loves playing with the scale of everyday objects.
For the Birds
Directed by Ralph Eggleston, this computer-animated short won the 2001 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. If you haven’t seen this fabulous classic Pixar animated short, you must. The emotional expressions and personalities of each bird are incredibly entertaining. The detail in the feathers is superb—detail that came at no small cost, as it took a small team of animators two years to animate what they describe as “a zillion feathers”. And I love the message this story has to tell.
I have this one loaded on my iPad. It remains a perennial favourite.
*These films have “Tip Jars” in Vimeo. I have linked the title to the Vimeo page where tips can be left if you wish (you do not have to be a Vimeo member to leave a tip).
Green Scrolls and Red Line Doodles, by madlyinlovewithlife