Record number of short films in this year’s festival

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A still from “The Chosen Vessel”, by Canberra director Johnny Milner

“A SHORT film is very much like a good short story,” says the director of the 2019 Canberra Short Film Festival in the lead up to its opening weekend.

“You need to be quick, establish your characters and pose your problems and have something a bit like a three act structure – it’s a real skill,” he adds when we catch up for a run-down on the festival, now in its 24th year.

It is also, he notes, a very complex form of art, where people have to work visually, they have to get the sound right, and they have to get the actors to act. And even with a short film, if they want to use a gun, they’ve got lots of boxes to tick and if they’re shooting in suburban Canberra. They have to letterbox the whole suburb!

John Frohlich at the Berlin International Film Festival

And it doesn’t stop there. In the increasingly expensive film industry, many creators are attracted to making short films because they can do it on just a few thousand dollars. As well, it can be self-starting, there are festivals all over the world and if their film is any good, they’ll get an audience.

Another plus for up-and-coming filmmakers is that it is a more innovative form where they can take more risks—“it’s accepted that in this medium the rules are looser than with feature films”.

“Now, we’ve even got a two minute film category, so that you could make a film on your phone or your tablet… music videos and animation have been included in our categories for four years now,” he says.

Video games are not yet in this festival but Frohlich is well aware of their rising importance and considers that Australia needs a national screen festival in which games could play a part.

“After all, they use actors and multiple narratives – think of the Lara Croft series,” he says.

A still from “Swallows” by director Victoria Thompson

Sadly, to get a feature film up, he calculates, filmmakers would need $5 million minimum, but really more like $20 million.

“Look at the Australian film industry, there were, say, 20 films made in Australia last year, but how many made money? They’re going up against ‘The Avengers,’ Pixar, and many other huge franchises,” he says.

But for short films, the scenario is a lot brighter. With two festivals a day around the world, there’s no shortage of outlets, and there are YouTube video channels, iView and sometimes SBS.

Among feature film aficionados, he reflects, there is a perception that short films are of the domain of emerging filmmakers only, but, “the industry is changing hugely, and look at Instagram – the secret is to find your slot”.

A still from “The Pink Line”, director Bayan Zarabi

In his view, feature films are not thriving internationally, they go up and down, but TV is going through a Renaissance, thanks in part to Stan and Netflix. Major performers such as Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and George Clooney, who has just made “Catch 22” for the small screen, are all turning to television.

“It’s all visual storytelling and this is why short film is important… You could call your film a pilot or a web series, and if you get it on YouTube or iView you’ve got so many followers,” he says.

He’s proud of the record of the Short Film Festival, which received 387 submissions – a 20 per cent jump on last year — of which 155 will be screened across 13 screening events.

There are three major categories, international, national and Canberran. There have sections for video, two minute films, animation such as Queanbeyan filmmaker Marisa Martin’s “Della Mortika, Carousel of Shame”. And First Nations films from within Australia but also this year from Norway, Mexico and Brazil.

They also have a range of a record number of music videos from as far afield as Kuwait, India, South America and Europe and 3D work from studios in Indonesia, USA and Australia.

Because of the online network in the short film world, the festival has been deluged with “beautiful” international films from places as far apart as the US, Singapore Brazil, France and Russia, but he’s had to be careful as people here want to see the local ones, too.

He and his exhausted to team of judges have been going around the clock to judge them on their merit, but he admits some entries are flawed, saying: “It’s a way for them to learn”.

A notable aspect of this year’s festival is the deluge of Iranians films – 53 entries, 30 of them very good and some winners. For this reason he’s decided to have Persian film nights at Smith’s Alternative on September 18 and Dendy Cinemas on September 19.

These include films that show girls forbidden from riding bikes and stories of gender politics, but most just show everyday life and humanity. These films, he says, “give an intriguing insight into contemporary Iran”.

2019 Canberra Short Film Festival at Dendy, Smith’s Alternative, Tuggeranong and Belconnen Arts Centres, September 7, (gala opening) then 8 to 22, and. Bookings and all program details at csff.com.au

 

 

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