Should short films be able to stand on their own? It’s a question that always comes up when critics debate the merits of short filmmaking and whether its an art form worthy of its own medium or if a short is just a condensed version of a feature film.
Speaking on behalf of the jury at TheWrap’s 2018 ShortList Film Festival, “Blindspotting” star and co-writer Rafael Casal may have finally put that question to rest.
“It’s like asking a writer whether or not a haiku is valid,” Casal told TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman on Thursday at the AMC Century City 15 in Los Angeles. “It has its place, it has its purpose, it has its power. Medium is entirely arbitrary.”
Casal explained that beyond more easily being able to secure funds or manage time, we frequently see shorts that succeed when the same technique stretched out into a 90-minute feature would struggle.
One great example of this was Casal’s fellow juror Irene Taylor Brodsky. Her film “Homeless: The Soundtrack” is a documentary short that has no backing score, but is half-filled with music that the characters listen to or perform live.
“I don’t know if I would’ve tried that in a feature, because it was an awkward tool to use,” Taylor Brodsky said. “But in a short, in a 26-minute film, I could do it.”
Studios and distributors too are looking more intently at short films and how they can best be shared.
“It’s always a great opportunity to take a peek into someone’s talents,” said Jihan Robinson, vice president of nonfiction programming at Topic Studios, a unit of First Look Media. “Deeply powerful stories can be told in a short form. And given the nature of how people are viewing media today in shorter formats in general on the internet, I think to be able to have platforms on the web that are showcasing shorts are a great opportunity for people to connect with filmmakers and material that is really impactful.”
Now in its seventh year, the ShortList Film Festival gathers together award-winning short films from festivals across the country to compete in one showcase. And this year’s ShortList jury, which also included “Thunder Road” filmmaker Jim Cummings and Dana Gills, director of production and development with Lionsgate motion picture group, recognized Randall Christopher’s “The Driver is Red” for the festival’s top Industry Prize.
The hybrid, animated-documentary tells the story of the hunt for a Nazi war criminal hiding in South America. The jury called it “an incredibly crafted, elegant, and possibly timely story of the execution of civilized justice under circumstances where no civility was due.”
But regardless of the length of a film, filmmaking still comes with challenges and adversity that must be overcome. Casal also offered some advice to any aspiring directors who might hope to find their way to a future ShortList.
“Do it with your friends. Do it with people you love,” Casal said. “Issa Rae says a great thing, she says network across, not up. Stick with the people next to you who have the same ambition, same heart and same love, even if they’re a little less qualified. Straight up. Even if they’re a little less qualified, they’ll run 10 miles longer than the person who is that clocks out.”
Watch a clip from the jury panel at the 2018 ShortList Film Festival above.