from article below by John Hardwick,]
HOW LONG IS A PIECE OF FILM? by John Hardwick
British short films are a thriving and important part of this country's cultural production. They are produced here in large numbers and exhibited at festivals all over the world where they inform, entertain and frequently win prizes. If overseas audiences and juries are to be believed the British are considered to be good at making shorts. This is a flattering and healthy situation to be in and it is helpful to consider what has made it possible.
Firstly, funding in this country for shorts tends to be relatively accessible and adventurous (despite the demise of organisations such as the much missed BFI Production). Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the brief duration of the short film tends to encourage an idiosyncratic and energetic approach to filmmaking. This creative freedom naturally compares favourably to the stricter conventions that surround the full length feature. With notable exceptions, feature film production in Britain has tended to mold itself around the monumental influence of its literary and theatrical antecedants. This has given rise to the prevailing orthodoxy that a feature film is a ninety minute morality tale told in three acts. A feature film, for many of us therefore, is merely a play with close ups.
Short films, on the other hand, have managed to avoid much of this narrative orthodoxy. Perhaps short films are more comparable to poetry than to plays. In the same way that poetry can bend language and suggest (rather than declare) meaning, short films are able to explore the vocabulary of cinema and emphasise mood over narrative structure. Clearly there are many ways to skin a cat but short films do tend to revolve around the single idea or event. A woman wakes up to discover she has become monochromatic in a world that remains coloured; a man has to balance caring for his son against attending a job interview. Both these scenarios are simple, contained cameos - an idea worked out, a portrait concluded - and both have cut their cloth correctly. They are ideas that wouldn't make the finishing line in a feature film but work well enough for the duration of a short. Short films work best when they are courageous and prepared to experiment. A short film does not have to tell a story. It can be a rant, a joke, a journey, an essay, a poem, a portrait, a painting, a piss take.
Short films also work well clubbed together and always have done. From the early 8mm film societies where hobbyists would gather to view each other's home movies to the underground cinema clubs that currently blend film, video, performance and polemic, the short has always been the tool of the personal filmmaker as opposed to the industrial filmmaker. Voices that are too idiosyncratic for the multiplexes find a raucous and demanding audience in the backrooms of pubs, and increasingly, in art galleries.
Admittedly, the art gallery audiences are more reverential than raucous but they still represent the public hunger for innovative film and video work. At the other end of the scale, cinemas have become passive, entertainment-obsessed palaces of consumption. Their mania for movie stars and big profits has resulted in the market being choked with identikit films that leave the viewer seriously undernourished. Its high time we stopped genuflecting before the golden temple of features and realised instead that there are many different filmmaking and film viewing possibilities now available to us in this country. We would do well to skip the local multiplex every once in a while in favour of our nearest film club. Whether it be in the back of a night club or the front of a disused shop, these societies provide some of the best places to satisfy our desire for original, provocative filmmaking. Filmmaking that showcases some of the best, least celebrated cinema talent in the U.K.
John Hardwick makes short films, pop videos and adverts. He is currently working on the special effects of a short drama entitled '33 x Around The Sun'.