Exploring Shorts: Why great films often come in small packages

15 Sep 2020 BY Jane Coulter

8 mins
Introducing film across the curriculum – learning through and with film /
Introducing film across the curriculum – learning through and with film /

Here at Into Film, we believe that short film is one of the most interesting and varied mediums around, especially for teachers and young people. With this in mind, our own Programme Delivery Co-ordinator for South West England, Jane Coulter explores the history of the short film below as well as interviewing the festival director for the Encounters Film Festival in Bristol.

Tim Burton, Wes Anderson and Lynne Ramsay; just three of many great film directors whose careers began making short films. However, short film is not only a great way for new filmmakers to launch into the mainstream, it is also a way for established writers, directors and actors to explore themes in often more creative and expressive ways.

Originally referred to in the United States as ‘short subjects', short film featurettes often preceded feature films of the 1920s and were accompanied by short cartoons, travelogues and newsreels. Short comedies were particularly popular and featured the early work of such stars as Charlie Chaplin.

With the increasing popularity of double features - cinemas screening two feature films back to back - in the 1930s short films became less commercially successful. By the 1950s the television's popularity meant that the live action short film was becoming much less prevalent. Animated shorts lasted a little longer but by the late 1960s had pretty much moved to television.

In more recent times, short films have reached new audiences through the emergence of video content websites such as YouTube, Vimeo and initiatives supported by the BBC and Channel Four. But arguably, if you want to explore the wonderful, varied world of short films your best bet is the short film festival.

The UK has many celebrated international short film festivals, many of which host collections of films on their websites. One such example is Encounters, based in Bristol, which launches online on 18 September. We spoke to Festival Director, Rich Warren, about why he's a short film fan and how they can be used to support teaching.

Tell us a bit about the Encounters Film Festival

Encounters is the UK's leading short film, animation and virtual reality festival. Connecting industry and audiences, the festival celebrates the creativity, diversity and the impact of short film. The festival also discovers, supports and develops new talent and innovation in filmmaking, providing a platform for emerging and established filmmakers from around the world.

At the heart of the festival lies the Encounters international competition; one of the world's leading international competitions for short film, animation and virtual reality, and also an official gateway to the world's most prestigious awards - the Academy Awards®, BAFTAs and the European Film Academy Awards.

Due to COVID-19 this year's festival will take place digitally online but it will still enable audiences and filmmakers from around the world to engage with each other. So whether you are a filmmaker looking to launch or develop your career, an industry professional wanting to stay abreast of what's new, or a film lover wanting to soak up the festival atmosphere by watching great films and special events, come along to the next festival for a truly inspiring short film celebration!

Why do you think short films are important?

For me, short film is where the story of film begins. Almost every established name within the film industry cut their teeth with short film: before Tenet Christopher Nolan developed his style through Doodlebug; before Hunt for the Wilderpeople Taika Waititi learnt his craft through Two Cars, One Night; before embarking on Selma Ava DuVernay made Compton in C Minor.

Short film also presents unique and exciting opportunities to experiment with new techniques. In fact, every innovation involving moving image has happened within short film. From the Lumiere Brothers filming their workers leaving a factory in 1895 to the latest developments in Virtual and Augmented Reality, all new ideas are tested in the short format.

The combination of fresh storytellers and unique methods for storytelling create the perfect storm for an exciting format.

How can short films be used by educators to support their teaching practice?

Contemporary short film explores a diverse array of topics in unique ways. It has the potential to explore key issues in a way that adds value to other resources and provides further context. This is evident in the number of shorts we have received in recent months exploring life during the pandemic and in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Encounters Film Festival launches on 18 September and the Children's Jury Award will this year be decided by our Youth Advisory Council. If you are interested in using more short films in your classroom or film club, check out our 2019 Encounters resource and some previous short film entries below.

Programme Delivery Coordinator

Jane Coulter, Programme Coordinator at Into Film

Jane is a film studies graduate based in Bristol and working across the South West of England. She has spent her career working in both film production and education and is a big fan of the TV show Columbo.

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