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Posted on 24th February 2015 |

With the continuous rise of short film content being used in Film Education, can the popularity translate to the ‘Big Screen’?

The ‘Letter of the Month’ in the latest edition of Sight & Sound, titled Get Shorter (by Mike Ashcroft from Kendal), states that over the last five years in the UK “the proportion of films released running 70 minutes or less has more than doubled”, he goes onto suggest that while award contenders still fluctuate around the 120 min mark, perhaps it’s time the ‘industry’ looked to produce higher quality films of around 40-70 minutes. Mike makes a number of points; shorter films would be cheaper to make, provide less risk to investors and “are more likely to find airtime on terrestrial TV”. He also suggests that distributors and cinemas would be able to screen more films, as well as experimenting with a more diverse programme. He finishes by referencing an article in S&S’ February edition exclaiming that films, shorter in duration, would appeal to younger viewers, the on-line generation who prefer their screen fix to consist of short viral videos.

This last point is very interesting. It doesn’t take a genius to comment on how young people seem to be constantly watching content on-line, be it via smart phone, tablet or laptop. But when you stop to think that the behaviour of a whole new generation is being shaped and moulded by new technologies (at such a fast rate) and that this thirst for immediate, bite-sized, visual gratification is having a major impression on the young consumer (in our case cinema-goer), it can be hard to comprehend the potential impact. Because young people are the most valued consumer (‘literally’ the future of….insert here….) then it’s only a matter of time before change comes to accommodate the tastes of youth. In this case the production and distribution of film.

Ignoring for a moment the obvious ethics and concerns that the above evokes (i.e. should we be promoting less ‘Screen Time’ & more ‘Green Time’?) it’s interesting how this trend has found its way into film education and how teachers and educators are using film in the classroom. Teachers are obviously at the frontline when it comes to youth engagement and are the voice of expertise when it comes to debating what modes of text are best to teach with. So in relation to film (film studies, moving image arts etc.) the increasing demand for short film packages rather than feature films over the last few years is of note.

Just like the short stories of Graham Greene and William Trevor or the poems of Seamus Heaney are used in English Literature, being able to watch short films allows for a greater variety of story, genre and tone to be discussed and debated within the confines of class-time structures. Add to this the recognition of the sensibilities of the ‘new’ viewing consumer, then it’s easy to see why short films are so popular in film education.

However, there is an obvious problem! It can be very difficult to source short films. Whereas you have more visible outlets for features, short films tend to be harder to come by. Methods of requirement would usually mean contacting the filmmakers themselves or working with film festivals and production companies. A few specialist short film distributors do exist but they are few and far between.

When it comes to theatrical exhibition it’s just the same. A few touring seasons here and there or an awards compilation seems to suffice.  Streaming sites are beginning to see the benefits of acquiring short film content so maybe this is the future. With online giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime developing theatrical divisions maybe this could be the opportunity to get more short film content on the big screen.

You could argue if the demand was there shorts would be more prevalent. But if the consumer trend continues on the current trajectory then it won’t be long before this will translate to the cinemas. The signs are there…….just this week E1 Kids had a theatrical release ‘in cinemas only’ of a number of short episodes of Peppa Pig, Pixar continues to spend millions of dollars on their pre-feature shorts and video-sharing sites such as YouTube are stock-pilling the very best viral talent for in-house original programming, with ambitions to release theatrically.

Chris Shaw, Festival Programmer

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