It was none other than William Shakespeare who coined the phrase, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Finding ways to deliver a message or a story in a more condensed timeframe is a challenge. In the case of film, it not only takes not just a special economy with words but also requires equal economy with imagery, scenes, and music.
What I like about short films as a category is that so much effort has been devoted to keeping the story brief that each moment carries that much more significance. It demands additional layers of creativity and discipline. It asks the director and the editor to leave some of their favorite scenes on the cutting room floor in order to maintain the richness of the concept “short.”
By definition of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a short film must have a running time of no more than 40 minutes, including all credits. Short films therefore can’t waste time. The clock begins ticking the moment the first image appears. From there, to me at least, watching a film attempt to condense all the drama, humor, wit, and emotion of feature-length film is what makes them so unique, so captivating. Without time for complex character and plot development, they often ask the viewer to make leaps of imagination. This complex interaction with a film’s audience is why I have fallen in love with short films.
So, here are a few of my favorite features of short films. First, short films capture your attention immediately. This requires the filmmaker to set up the scene, characters, and overall story in a unique and easily digestible way. Filmmakers often must take incredibly complex stories and reduce them to the bare-bones components. Kahane Cooperman’s Joe’s Violin (a 2016 Academy Award-nominated film and 2016 Washington West Official Selection) is a great example of a film that achieved this.
This is an incredible story about a Holocaust survivor who donates his violin to a local instrument drive, helping to change the life of a school girl from one of the nation’s poorest areas. You are immediately captivated by Joseph’s story – a man who has unspeakable circumstances and tragedy and is ready to sacrifice his most cherished belongings to bring happiness and comfort to a young girl who couldn’t possibly recognize the significance of his act. What Joseph could never know is the profound impact his gift will have on the girl’s life, a complex concept that must be told within the confines of 40 minutes.
So, yes, shorts pack a punch. They also get personal in a hurry. Take Birthday, directed by Chris King, as an example. In just 11 minutes you enter the world of a wounded veteran and begin to experience all that he and his spouse facing in the difficult journey through recovery. The powerful and realistic depiction of this process sends you on an emotional roller coaster. It tugs at your heartstrings. You can’t even begin to imagine how you would handle this situation in real life and – just like a roller coaster – in just a few moments, it’s all done.
Finally, they take you in and out of so many worlds and stories, which is particularly helpful at a film festival. Maybe you have just five minutes or you have 25 minutes. With a short film you can dive into two or three different works in the span that typically would afford you just a single such experience.
If you get a chance to come to the Washington West Film Festival, you will find a wonderful array of shorts. Every year, our director of programming creates a variety of short film programs organized by general themes. The films in each grouping could include comedies, documentaries, narratives, or animations.
In 2016, my favorite short film program at Washington West was “The Theatrics of Love,” which explored the ways we experience and share our love. Whether we are watching a family trying to recreate the past in The Bathtub or a young man finding acceptance, purpose, and community in the subculture of “throwers” in Throw or one man’s capacity to care for all creatures in Pickle. You laugh. You cry. You think. And you imagine.
In 2017, the Washington West Film Festival will host several different shorts programs. You’ll see stories about adventure and stories about defying the odds in Surf & Turf and how we can always find the light in the darkest of places in Darkness & Light. You’ll follow alongside females from all different backgrounds making a difference in our world in Leading Ladies and experience high stakes situations in I Will Survive. Each of these programs will make you laugh, cry, and think. You can’t miss them.
My strong advice is not just to attend Washington West, but also to sample some shorts. I have two promises. One, you won’t be disappointed. Two, it won’t take long.
— Laura Moss, Director of Development Washington West Film Festival