Movies shown at the multiplex are getting longer, or maybe they just feel that way. Films like "The Hobbit" or "The Dark Knight Rises" clock in at just under three hours, and watching them can at times feel like an extended car ride without any pit stops. For those of us who start to squirm at the 30-minute mark, this weekend's Vail Film Festival offers a short film program, showing in multiple blocks throughout the three-day event.
Out of more than 400 short films submitted this year, only 18 were chosen to screen at the festival. Amanda Durst, one of the short film programmers for the Vail Film Festival, said now that the festival is in its 10th year, it receives higher quality entries, making it tough to decide which ones will make the cut. Durst said a compelling storyline often wins out over other factors.-
"If you're watching a film and all you can think about is how beautiful the cinematography is or how interesting the camera angles are, then there's something wrong with the storytelling," Durst said.
Durst has been programming shorts for the festival since its third year. Back then film festivals were one of the few opportunities short filmmakers had for screening their films to the public. Now with Youtube and other video-streaming websites, it's easier to get your film seen, but harder to find the right audience.
"The benefit (of a film festival) is that someone has selected them," Durst said. "Youtube is a crapshoot. How do you know what to watch? (Youtube) is a way for filmmakers to get their film out there for people to see, but it's only going to be for (those) who know to go there and (watch) it. (With a festival) people with good taste have put them together."
10-minute movies two years in the making
Making a 15-minute movie might sound easier than shooting a two-hour feature, but many of those behind this year's lineup of short films devoted years to working on their projects. Marieka Walsh spent two years making her short "The Hunter," using the painstakingly slow process of sand animation to create the story of a lone hunter who searches for a missing boy in the woods. Although sand is a difficult medium to work with, Walsh enjoyed the challenge of taking tiny grains and shifting them slowly to create a captivating story.
Even after all that work, most viewers are unaware what they're seeing on the screen is sand, not a drawing or computer animation.
"I don't mind at all that people don't recognize it as sand," Walsh said. "If the narrative stands on its own and connects with people, then I'm happy. When people discover that it's made out of sand, it's a nice surprise."-
Passion - not profit - projects
In addition to technical challenges, many short filmmakers often find it harder to tell a good story in a limited amount of time. Kevin Lim wrote and directed "Lichen," an experimental short film from Australia exploring the idea of how objects relate to memory and relationships.
"(In a short film) you need to establish your characters, present to them a challenge, then have them triumph over adversity and undergo some defining change in the span of around seven to 15 minutes," Lim said. "It's a tall order and it's why I think many short films follow the the "visual joke" structure of just telling a funny gag with a twist ending."
Many filmmakers make a short piece with the goal of getting noticed by producers who can help them make and fund feature-length projects. But for others, the real goal is to make a quality short film that viewers respond to. Actor and writer Michael Grant Terry and director Bennett Barbakow "Bryon's Theme," an existential look at a young man's journey to quiet the chaos in his life and find his dog, with the intention of pushing their own artistic boundaries.
"For us ("Byron's Theme") was a creatively fulfilling project and we were all able to grow," Barbakow said. "I've learned a lot on this (film) that I can hopefully apply to my professional jobs.
"Making shorts is an almost Zen-like process," Barbakow continued. "You make it to learn and you know it's never going to make you a dollar."
Kids and cats
Terry and Barbakow joked their next project will be about what it's like to attend film festivals and hang out with others who also like to make short films.
"There would definitely be some really bad dancing at the after-parties," Terry said. "Someone always hits up the sponsored tequila bar too hard. It'd be like a summer camp movie, where everyone ends up making out in the end."
As a culture we've become accustomed to going to the movies to watch feature-length films. But now we also waste time on the Internet watching funny videos of cats playing keyboards or kids after they've visited the dentist. The shorts program at the Vail Film Festival combines both these loves. We'll get to watch movies on the big screen that entertain us in no time at all, and meet the people who made the films who will help explain exactly what the heck it is we just saw. There are a lot of times when not being very tall can be a disadvantage. But when it comes to movies, sometimes shorter really is better.