An Analysis of the Cinema of Short Films
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Published: Mon, 26 Feb 2018
“Film as dream, film as music. No form of art goes beyond ordinary consciousness as film does, straight to our emotions, deep into the twilight room of the soul.”
– Ingmar Bergman
Cinema is one of the few mediums which have managed to successfully depict the true reality of society in general and our lives in particular. As like other art forms, it depicts the multiple realties that one is faced with. It explores one of the most discarded yet eternal truths which every individual experiences and that is isolation. Each individual longs for social ties despite belonging to organized societies; it is what each one of us is ultimately reduced to.
A Short film is a technical description originally coined in the Indian film industry and used in the North American film industry in the early period of cinema. The description is now used almost interchangeably with short subject.
Although the North American definition generally refers to films between 20 and 40 minutes, the definition refers to much shorter films in Europe,Latin America and Australasia. InNew Zealand, for instance, the description can be used to describe any film that has duration longer than one minute and shorter than 15 minutes. The North American definition also tends to focus much more on character whereas the European and Australasian forms tend to depend much more on visual drama and plot twists. In this way, the North American form can be understood to be a derivation of the feature film form, usually acting as a platform for aspirant Hollywood directors. Elsewhere, short films tend to work as showcases for cinematographers and commercial directors. (Short Film)
A short film manages to tell the same tale as a full length feature film, but in a shorter duration of time. It is characterized by the director’s reflection of the existing social, political and economic conditions. A short film narrative is one which can easily be created by people from all walks of life, it has universal applicability. It enables directors functioning on a small budget to tell their stories to the world. The talent in creating a short film lies in communicating the message of the film to the audience in a very limited period of time. The transitions in a short film are of critical importance. What I find intriguing is how any person imbibes from their existing social conditions and produce work which is effectively communicable to most individuals.
Another reason to dwell into this topic of research is that many youngsters and amateurs start by making short films and use it as a path to grow. As Daniel Wiernicki states, ‘Short films are often popular as first steps into the film industry among young filmmakers. This is because they are cheaper and easier to make, and also their length makes shorts more likely to be watched by financial backers and others who want some demonstration of a filmmaker’s ability. Many things can be achieved by creating a short film so are an ideal opportunity to get recognized and get into the industry.’ (Wiernicki)
Through this dissertation, I aim to explore the world of short films in the context of movies which have won the Cannes Short Film Palme d’Or(French:Palme d’Or du court mÃ©trage), which is the highest prize given to a short film at the Cannes Film Festival. These short films are a representation of different cultures, ideologies, people, religion, economic background, and political thoughts and history from across the world that come together on one platform and showcase their art.
“The cinema is not an art which films life: the cinema is something between art and life. Unlike painting and literature, the cinema both gives to life and takes from it, and I try to render this concept in my films. Literature and painting both exist as art from the very start; the cinema doesn’t.”
– Jean- Luc Godard
Throughout our history, humans have looked for different forms of expressing themselves. These expressions were in the form of poetry, literature, songs, plays, dancing, etc. films are one of the latest forms of expression that has been adopted by the people around the world to portray their views on their surroundings, any event, or moment that captivates them and they want to show it to the world. The beauty of the films nowadays is that you can detract from reality and present something beyond the human imagination at the same time one can present the harsh realities of life that some don’t know about. Films as a medium of communications can be used to spread ones message or view across the world.
History of Cinema (History of Film)
The birth of the films happened in 1878, when Eadweard Muybridge recorded a horse running in fast motion using a series of 24 stereoscopic cameras. With the development of technology came of the ‘Silent era’. Till the 1920s movies were silent, though at times they were accompanied by musicians, sound effects, or even commentary at times.
1940s to 60s- War and Post War Cinema
The wartime saw immense change in the cinema as more focus was given to propaganda and patriotic films. Films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Citizen Cane were pieces of this period.
The cold war era brought movies filled with paranoia such as – Invading Armies of Evil Aliens and anti-communist movies such as the Manchurian Candidate. The onset of television in the post war era also threatened the cinematic industry as a medium of watching films.
During this Period, Asian Cinema specifically saw a golden age. Some of the greatest masterpieces of the Asian cinema were produced during this period. These include works like: Yasujiro Ozu’sTokyo Story(1953),Satyajit Ray’sThe Apu Trilogy(1955-1959) andThe Music Room(1958),Kenji Mizoguchi’sUgetsu(1954) andSansho the Bailiff(1954),Raj Kapoor’sAwaara(1951),Mikio Naruse’sFloating Clouds(1955),Guru Dutt’sPyaasa(1957) andKaagaz Ke Phool(1959), and theAkira Kurosawa films Rashomon (1950), Ikiru(1952),Seven Samurai(1954) andThrone of Blood(1957).
1970s: Post-classical cinema
This term is used to describe the period following the decline of the studio system during the 1950s and 1960s and the end of the production code. During the 1970s, filmmakers increasingly depicted explicit sexual content and showed gunfight and battle scenes that included graphic images of bloody deaths.
The 1980s were filled with movies releasing with sequels like Star Wars, Jaws, and Indiana Jones. The audience also started to watch movies on their VCR at home during this period.
1990s to present: Contemporary Cinema
The 1990s saw the development of the independent cinema with commercial success. Special effects also ruled during this period as it was being heavily used by the successful movies of the period like: Terminator 2: Judgment Day(1991) andTitanic(1997).
During the 2000s, documentary genre of film making also rose as can be seen with the success of movies such as March of the Penguins, and Fahrenheit 9/11. Increase in the problem of digital distribution due to infringement of copyrights, and piracy also has reached heights during this period.
Cinema as a whole during this decade has become more global with foreign-language films gaining popularity in English-speaking markets. Films such as City of Gods (Portugese), Lagaan (Hindi), and the Passion of the Christ (Aramaic).
‘Some have described the prevailing style of the period as post modern because many contemporary films are apolitical, ahistorical, intertextual, and less tied to the conventions of a single genre or culture. The transnational circulation and genre hybridity of contemporary films is exemplified by the increasing global popularity of non- English speaking cinema.’ (Film Studies, 2009)
Major Genres of Films:
They are broad enough to accommodate practically any film ever made, although film categories can never be precise. By isolating the various elements in a film and categorizing them in genres, it is possible to easily evaluate a film within its genre and allow for meaningful comparisons and some judgments on greatness. Films were not really subjected to genre analysis by film historians until the 1970s. All films have at least one major genre, although there are a number of films that are considered crossbreeds or hybrids with three or four overlapping genre (orsub-genre) types that identify them. (Dirks)
Genres in cinema can broadly be categorized under the following classifications:
Theme or topic
HISTORY OF SHORT FILMS
‘Short subject’ a name initially given to Short Films came into existence in the 1910s when the majority of the feature movies were being made into loner run-time editions. The name ‘short subject’ is an American film industry term, which was assigned to any film within 20 minutes long or running two reels. Short subject films could be comedy, animated, or live action. One of the best known users of short subject was Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin.
In 1930s came the slowdown of the short subjects, basically produced by Warner Bros and Famous studios that owned their own theatres to showcase the films. By 1995s, the rise of television led to the strangulation of the live action- short and at the same time the fall cartoon short. Since the 1960s, majority of the directors of short films have been special studio projects or independent film makers.
Since the 1980s, short film term was being used for short subject. Short film as a term describes the non- commercial film that is much shorter in time length than a feature film/ an analogy that can be drawn for short film to a feature film is that of a novella and a novel.
The short filmmakers heavily depend on the short film festivals and art exhibitions to showcase their short films. At the same time, these film makers have more freedom to take up more difficult topics than normal feature films as the risks are lower. Short film making is now a growing as more and more amateurs, students, common man, and enthusiasts are taking this up because of the affordability of the technology to make such films. At the same time one can showcase his work to the world by uploading it on web portals and sharing it with others. It is an area where people are turning to as a hobby, as an art, to achieve their form expressions. (Wiernicki)
THE SHORT FILM FESTIVALS
Festival de Cannes
“The Festival is an apolitical no-man’s-land, a microcosm of what the world would be like if people could contact each other directly and speak the same language.”
– Jean Cocteau
Being first large international cultural event after the World War II, the Festival de Cannes opened on 20th September, 1946. The Palme d’Or was created in 1955. Palme d’Or became the enduring symbol of the Cannes Film Festival, awarded each and every year since to the director of the Best Feature Film of the Official Competition.
At present, Festival de Cannes invites film makers from around the world to present their work in one place and exchange cultural experiences. The selections for the awards are done from a nomination of films from all over the world, from different socio-economic backgrounds, different cultures, and different historical backgrounds.
Cannes offers an opportunity to determine a particular country’s image of its cinema. Festival de Cannes is a melting pot of global cinema and filmmakers. This is the reason why I have undertaken the study of the award winning short films at festival de Cannes.
Oscar Short Film Awards
TheAcademy Awards, also known as theOscars, are presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences(AMPAS). The AMPAS recognizes the excellence of professionals in the film industry, including directors, actors, and writers. The1st Academy Awards ceremony was held Thursday, May 16, 1929, at the Hotel RooseveltinHollywoodto honor outstanding film achievements of 1927 and 1928. Since 2002, the awards have been broadcast from the Kodak Theatre.
The formal ceremony at which the awards are presented is one of the most prominent award ceremonies in the world. It is also the oldest award ceremony in the media, and many other award ceremonies such as theGrammy Awards(for music), Golden Globe Awards(all forms of visual media), and Emmy Awards(for television) are often modeled from the Academy.
The Oscar Award is given to Short Films with entries from across the world due its prestige involved with the award. The Oscar Awards are given to Short Films in three categories within the Short Film category. These categories are:
Best Animated Short Film Award
Best Documentary Short Subject Award
Best Live Action Short Film
Sundance Film Festival
TheSundance Film Festival takes place annually in the state of Utah, in theUnited States. It is the largest independent cinema festival in the U.S.Held every year in January inPark City, Salt Lake City, and Ogden, as well as theSundance Resort, the festival is the premier showcase for the new work of arts from across the world of independent filmmakers. The festival comprises of competitive sections for world over dramatic and documentary films, both feature-length films and short films, and a group of non-competitive showcase sections.
Initially the Festival was a low- profile venue for small-budget, independent directors from outside the Hollywood. Now it has changed to a media extravaganza for Hollywood celebrity actors, directors, and luxury lounges set up by companies that are not affiliated with Sundance. The Sundance Festival has tried to change these activities in recent times, beginning from 2007 with their “Focus on Film” campaign.
From 2009 onwards some changes were made to the Sundance Film Festival. Some of the changes made include: a new programming category called “NEXT” for extremely low-budget films, and the Sundance Film Festival U.S.A. program, in which eight of the festivals films will be shown in eight theaters around the country, a very good initiative as more people will get access to the films that only few selected audience gets.
Sundance over time has shown is credibility as being the international festival for feature length and short- films. It is now recognized the world over as one of the important festivals to look for each year. It still has a long way to go till it reaches the level of Cannes Film Festival and Oscars.
Aspen Filmfest began in 1979 in Aspen, Colorado, USA. The Aspen Film organizes a major movie event every season, contributing to an extensive education program, and hosts of numerous special presentations. Each year, some 30,000 people participate in this festival.
Aspen Filmfest believes in the philosophy of striving to enlighten, enrich, educate, and entertain audience through the films. Aspen Filmfest is known for its commitment to original content. They screen more than 200 films each year, which are regional debuts and might not be available to the local audiences.
The Aspen short film festival receives entry not only from US but from world over. There is also a special award given in collaboration with BAFTA/ LA giving it affiliation with BAFTA awards and also credibility but with the American perspective added to it.
Looking at the current literature review, we see that there is a knowledge gap regarding the study of Short Films in the contemporary cinema as a communication medium. This subject requires an in-depth analysis and more research to come up with some perspectives in this area.
1. To analyze the ‘Form’ of award winning Short Films taken from a randomized selection, from contemporary cinema (last ten years), from Short Film Festivals held between 2000- 2009: Cannes Palme d’Or du court mÃ©trage, Oscar Short Film Award, Aspen Filmfest Award, and Sundance Short Film Awards, and analyse the form of Short films.
2. To analyse the ‘Content’ of the award winning Short Films in context of political, sociological, economical, and historical backgrounds.
The Qualitative research methodology is used in this study. The method would involve analyses of the ‘form’ and ‘content’ of the Short Films.
The award winning Short Films taken from a randomized selection, from reputed Short Film Festivals held across the world between 2000- 2009. These festivals are: Cannes Palme d’Or du court mÃ©trage, Oscar Short Film Award, Aspen Filmfest Award, and Sundance Short Film Awards.
The following Short Films have been selected for the study:
1. Movie: Gridlock
Director: Dirk BeliÃ«n
Award: Oscar best live action short film, 2003; Aspen Shorts fest, 2002
2. Movie: Strangers
Director: Guy Nattiv and Erez Tadmor
Award: Aspen Shorts fest, 2003; Sundance Film Festival, 2003
3. Movie: Ver Llover
Director: Elisa Miller
Award: Cannes Film Festival, 2007
4. Movie: Sniffer
Director: Bobbie Peers
Awards: Cannes Film Festival, 2009
5. Movie: Oktapodi
Director: Julien Bocabeille, FranÃ§ois-Xavier Chanioux, Olivier Delabarre, Thierry Marchand , Quentin Marmier and Emud Mokhberi
Awards: Oscar best animated shorts winner, 2007
6. Movie: Spider
Director: Nash Edgerton
Award: Aspen shorts fest, 2007; Sundance Film Festival, 2007
Why the above Sample?
The above following sample has been chosen for the reason being that the Festival de Cannes(le Festival de Cannes), Oscars, Aspen Filmfest, and Sundance Film Festival, are one of the world’s oldest, finest and most prestigious film festivals which have a very good representation of directors from across the world from different cultural, political, historical, religious, economical, and sociological backgrounds. This provides us with a variety of content for our study. The above movies are selected also on the basis of them being a part of contemporary cinema.
How to Study Short Films
Some of the salient points/ questions that will be used to do this study of short films are as follows:
1. Who is telling the story? Why is it being told? Does it appear to have a purpose?
(media agencies, authorial voice, writers and ‘auteurs’, marketing, economics, ideology)
2. How is it experienced? Who ‘consumes’ it, where and in what way?
(readers and media audiences- private and public experience, narrative structures)
3. How is it made?
(film technology, publishing and episodic publishing-the differences they make to the production process as well as to the finished product)
4. How does it construct meaning?
(film language and written language-expectations of audiences and readers, codes and conventions, narrative structures)
5. How does it represent its subject- especially with reference to period?
(representation, use of stereotypes, representation of the past)
(FILM STUDY GUIDE FOR TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, 2003)
Three Ways of Thinking & Talking About Films (Wilder, 1997)
Who are the characters in the film?
Did the actors make you forget they were acting? How?
What vivid visual images did you note? What did they make you feel or think about?
What is the film’s setting?
Were costumes, make-up, and set equally important to the success of the film?
What sounds or music do you remember? What did they make you feel or think about?
What are the main plot elements?
In what scene was an actor’s voice (pitch, volume, expression) particularly effective?
What scenes can you understand even without dialogue? Why?
From whose point of view is the story told?
Select a scene that must have been difficult to act. How did the actor make his or her body movements appropriate and convincing?
What scene has very effective or unusual editing?
What is the theme of the film?
Describe a scene in which facial expression was important. What feelings were developed? Were words necessary?
If the film uses special effects, do they add to or detract from your enjoyment of the film?
What is the mood of the film?
Did the actors establish their characters more through dialogue or through movement and facial expressions?
What symbols did you notice?
How is this film like or unlike other films by the director? Does this director have a recognizable “style”?
Was there anything about the acting, set, or costumes that bothered you or interfered with your watching of the film?
LIMITATIONS OF RESEARCH
1. The selection of the short films could have been broader and incorporated from more film festivals from across the world.
2. More methods like semiotics could have been used for the analysis of the short films.
3. Difficulty in access to short film movies from across the world and across film festivals. This includes difficulty in procuring even the award winning short films.
Given that the art of making Short Films is on the upward trend it is necessary to analyze the current trends, narratives, and the context of the Short Films genre in our contemporary cinema. We have enough knowledge on feature length movies but we lack information on the Short Films of our age. The study of this medium is important as Short films are a highly effective medium of communication and will gain importance going forward. As more and more people are turning towards Short Film making due to accessibility to technology, it is one field that needs attention in our world of cinema. A study of its content will give us a better understanding of the Short Films and world around us through their camera scope is imperative.
EXPLORING THE SHORT FILMS
Director: Dirk BeliÃ«n
Award: Oscar best live action short film, 2003; Aspen Shorts fest, 2002
The short film starts off with light summery music with nothing clear on the camera but a blur. Slowly the camera gets into focus and we see that it is headlight of the car. The music playing in the background is singing about a sunny day but when the camera gets into focus we realize that it is snowing heavily. The camera then moves up the across the bonnet of the car to focus on the man sitting inside the car. The man looks like in his forties, bald (looks like his style not natural), sporting a little hair under the lower lip, wearing a suit, light blue shirt, with a blue tie, and spectacles. The radio becomes audible now and the music stops on the radio and the news start. The lady on the radio news tells about the traffic jam that there is on the road Antwerp- Ghent. The man listens to it and then switches it off by cursing at it and saying ‘yes, I can see that. Stupid Bitch.’ At this scene the camera is focusing on the scene that it visible from the front window of the car portraying lot of snow and jam. The man in the car seems very annoyed with the jam. He starts cursing the people who are working on clearing the road inside the car only. As the man is in the process of taking out his medicines an ambulance whizzes past his car with its loud siren at which the man freaks out and curses ‘Jesus Christ! Assholes!’ the man then takes his medicines and breathes heavily after that for first few breathes and then relaxes. He looks into his watch for time. The camera all this time is placed right behind the steering wheel dashboard. Now it moves to the side passenger seat in the front where a newly bought mobile phone lies inside its open box.
The man says to himself loudly, ‘Let’s see if this thing is as good as the guy said.’ He dials a number. There is honking of a car from behind which annoys him again and he shouts inside the car only at the person in the car behind and starts driving with the phone between his shoulder blade and right ear. The car stops. The phone rings in some home where the camera is focusing on the table with the phone and a Japanese sword also there on the stand. The table is placed right on the side of the wooden staircase leading to the higher floors. A chair in the background with a lamp to its side comes in the blur of the camera. The phone rings. We hear a television noise in the background and at the same time a girl suddenly gets up from behind the table. The girl seems about 5 years in age with golden hair knotted into two little buns on the head holding a doll with long hair which is tied into two pony tails and wearing a red frock. The girl picks up the phone and the following conversation happens with the camera shifting to the scene of the person talking from the same angle as it was before.
Man: hey, honey, its daddy.
Man: yes honey, its daddy.
Girl: Hi daddy.
Man: sweetie, is mommy there?
Girl: no, daddy, mommy’s upstairsâ€¦
(As the girl is talking on the phone she starts moving towards the pram to keep her doll in it. In the process the phone falls from the table and the man couldn’t hear the ‘upstairs’)
Man: honey? Hello, what did you say?
Man: say, sweetie, is mommy there?
Girl: mommy’s upstairs in the bedroom with uncle Wim.
(The girl is playing with the wire of the phone as she says this. On hearing this the man starts stuttering a bit and is totally flabbergasted)
Man: uncle Wim? But we don’t have an uncle Wim, sweetie.
Girl: yes we do. Mommy’s upstairs with uncle Wim.
(On hearing this, the man gets restless and doesn’t know what to say. The girl keeps calling him daddy on the phone. The camera focuses on his lips.)
Man: honey, I want you to do something for meâ€¦
The camera then focuses on the girl as the man explains the girl what to do. She stands in one place listening intently and not moving a bit. The television noise is still there in the background. The camera moves around the girl slowly, withdrawing back from the girl. The girl leaves the phone receiver on the table and walks up the stair. The camera shifts to the man in the car who is very restless and takes one more round of his pills. The man still holding the phone to his ear is waiting for the girl to get back on the phone. The restlessness is still there as he keeps moving his hand over his head and breathing heavily. The girl comes down from the stairs. The girl picks up the phone.
Girl: hello daddy?
Man: what happened?
The camera shifts to a room upstairs with the door bolted. The girl walks in the frame from behind and goes by the door. She hears moans and groans of her mother inside the room when she puts her ear against the door.
Girl: I went upstairs and knocked on the door, like you asked me to.
The girl knocks on the door and then calls mommy, mommy, but she only hears the moans getting louder. Then she says, ‘I heard daddy’s car. He’s home.’ The door opens and a nude woman screams at the girl and then runs away into the corridor into the bathroom. Then the camera pans towards the bedroom. An obese man there was wearing his pants in a hurry and looking at the girl in her eyes. He had spiked hair and a French beard. Fear was there in his eyes. Now we hear background sound of the girl talking on the phone explaining what she saw and happened as the camera moves with the girl in what she had just done while she was gone and phone receiver was on the table. At the same time there is light music that comes in as the girl runs towards the noise she heard and the music becomes much louder as the girl sees her mother lying on the bathroom floor dead. The girl starts rolling her finger in her hair.
Girl: and she ran into the bathroom and fell on the floorâ€¦ and I think she is dead.
The camera shifts to the man in the car.
Man: dead?! No, no, noâ€¦.
The man seems to get scared and starts moving his hand over his bald head in tension.
Man: and uncle Wim?
The camera shifts to the girl sitting by her mother and uncle Wim in the background. When the girl looks at him, he shuffles his steps a bit and runs. Then we hear a noise of a glass breaking. The girl moves to the other room
Girl: he’s hurt too.
Then the camera follows her to another room. She walks past some broken pieces of glass with blood around them.
Girl: there was blood on the floor.
Girl: uncle Wim wasn’t there anymore.
The camera gives a shot of an open window with white curtains fluttering with the snowfall outside. The view is that of a night and barren trees silhouette in the background. The camera then moves to the window and shifts slowly towards the area below the window where a figure of a man is there flat on the ground and no movement. The music is getting grimmer but still lighter in the intensity of its sound.
Girl: and I looked down and I think he’s dead. In the swimming pool.
Man: Swimming pool? Swimming pool? What swimming pool?
The man looks stunned and moves his mobile phone from his ear. He looks at the number on the mobile phone after hearing the swimming pool. And then he realizes the number he has dialed. A car honks at the back.
Man: holy shit!
The movie has a very serious and frustrated mood in the beginning which is betrayed by the opening song which makes it sound nice and jolly. The movie focuses a lot on the close shots when the characters are talking. The movement of the camera is usually when there is no speech taking place. For example, when the man talks its focused on his face or his lips. When the phone was ringing the camera stayed on the phone till the little girl came into the scene. During the flashback the speed of the scenes goes in slow-motion and all the shots are from a stationary place. The camera just follows from where it is rather than moving with the characters.
Throughout the movie the sounds of the natural surroundings are used. The music is only used once the little girl starts explaining what all happened after she did what he had told her to do. The music comes in for the back flash part of the short film. The music used is also very grim and gothic type. The music gets louder when the death of the mother is shown and church bells for both the mother and uncle Wim. Once the man realizes that it is a wrong number that he has dialed, the music stops playing in the background.
Music and the slowing of the scenes happen only in the flashback. While in the present scenario natural surrounding sounds are used with more focus on close shots.
The short film was made in 2001 when the mobile phones were just growing in the world. So we see an upper class man, as he is driving a Mercedes car and his looks are that of a business man or such other job. What we see in the film is how a wrong connection
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