Every filmmaker ever has made a short film. There, I said it. Anyone wishing to dispute that claim, see me.
Cinema owes everything to short film. The earliest films of the 1890s would consist of a short single scene, whether a document of a public event or a slapstick comedy moment and were seen at carnivals, vaudeville shows and in shop-fronts. But as the 20th century kicked in, single shots made by one person became multiple shots running over several minutes churned out by big companies assembly line style. The first cinemas, including thousands of Nickelodeons across America, were built in the early years of the 20th century where the work of the Lumiere Brothers, Méliès and other early pioneers was screened. All these films were short, with a couple of exceptions, such as longer recordings of sporting events and plays. Technological limitations also meant films were shorter, with film reels being limited to 1000 feet (about 30 minutes).
Shorts in the form of comedy reels, cartoons or newsreels were still popular before a main feature as the new century progressed. In America, during the 1930s, the Hollywood studios gradually took over distribution with their own product, thereby squeezing out independent distributors of shorts as features became the norm.
But all this was nearly a century ago, so how have short films survived? Post war, the short is mainly associated with experimental films screened at arts festivals and independent spaces by artists such as Stan Brakhage and Andy Warhol. These films would have a limited but dedicated audience, but were also where new techniques could be experimented with. Filmmakers like David Lynch were immersed in such a world. In fact, Lynch's early shorts define what we know of him as a director of such masterpieces as Blue Velvet. More recently, the short films of Christopher Nolan (Doodlebug) and Andrea Arnold (Wasp) helped put these directors on the world stage.
In 2016, the short is the most readily available of all cinematic forms. Short films continue to be made, from fiction and documentary to advertising, web content and music video. It's easier than ever to make short film, and to watch it on curated platforms such as Nowness, Shorts TV and Vimeo, and on specialist sites such as Animate Projects. While the internet creates a space to share work, it's also easy for shorts to get lost in the noise of content.
The London Short Film Festival cuts through that noise. It celebrates short film in all its variables. The Festival selects new work from around 1200 submissions to create themed programmes of films. We also look at the work of filmmakers we admire - this year we are commissioning new work by exciting filmmakers Alex Taylor (who debut feature Spaceship is out in 2017), Grace Ladoja (who works closely on video content and branding with Skepta and FKA Twigs) and Alnoor Dewshi (whose short films bridge the gap between fiction and experimental while being an early champion of the actor Ben Whishaw) - and to bring together programmes of older shorts rarely screened. In fact, in 2017 we are looking back a hundred years to some of those early short films screening from 35mm celluloid as part of a silent cinema showcase, both of films from the silent era and films made more recently to be experienced in silence. We also take short film back to its roots, hosting screenings in non-cinema environments, mixing projection with live music and cabaret in a series of live cinema events.
In January, amidst the Oscar buzz, the festival comes to life, championing future talent, offering different view-points, and reminding audiences why shorts are important. It's a chance to prove that short film is alive and kicking and in rude health, with the sheer diversity of work on show. At LSFF this year you can celebrate Bowie, experience the demise of the nine second Vine, see the 23rd most disturbing movie ever made, admire young talent among Syrian refugees, re-live the 90s riot grrrl scene, and discover the growing world of fashion film. And that's just the tip of an iceberg!
The London Short Film Festival, now in its 14th year, has been recognised as the premiere UK showcase for cutting-edge UK independent film, taking place between 6th-15th January, 2017. Special events to look out for include programmes on riot grrrl, focusing on how women took hold of the music scene, creating film, zines and other art forms in its wake, and will look at other youth subcultures past and present, from grime to black rock, including David Bowie Sound & Vision screenings, to commemorate the first anniversary of his death.