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Film Essay: Short Need Not Mean Small by David Boyle

In recent years I’ve become more and more absorbed by independent short films. I have Indieflix, among other channels, to thank for that. Seeing any number of first-rate short films by virtual unknowns, has, quite unexpectedly, left me less reliant on mainstream fare for insightful, original entertainment. No big revelation, either, as I’ve always been one to seek out talent others have neglected to take notice of. Being bombarded every day by the media’s telling us what we should like, how we should live, what we should listen to and watch, I’d prefer to establish my own preferences, even if they sometimes buck current trends. The majority of independent films I’ve seen would, without question, impress the most difficult-to-please audiences: “Touch” by Jen McGowan, “Children at Play” by Lexan Rosser, “The Attic,” “The Contest,” “Home Sweet Home” (three by Lars K. Mikkelsen)—all fine examples. The talent pool, insofar as I can tell, is brimming, and hooray for marvelous tidings. Every genre has had promising entries to be enthusiastic about, further reasons to become better acquainted with the scores of fresh, compelling filmmakers and their imaginative creations. I myself cannot remember having been this excited by the overabundant choices, each one as intellectually and psychologically stimulating as the next, heightening my desire to continue searching for more of the kind.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t express my appreciation of Film Comment, a top-notch periodical covering all facets of the filmmaking craft, from production to behind-the-scenes goings-on to the festival circuit, reporting on both the domestic and international scenes. If you’re passionate about films and filmmaking, you couldn’t make a wiser decision than to subscribe. And speaking of noteworthy influences, the revered James Agee, reviewer extraordinaire, whose incisive critiques always brought to life his interest in movie-making and his delight in movie-watching; and, most important of all, his uncanny ability to compose truthful, direct, heartfelt analyses without posturing, pretension, or arrogance—a rarity in his time, and even now, when everybody with a computer and a somewhat sizable yet underfed ego hungers to call themselves a critic.

Short films, in my opinion, have turned out to be much more stylistic and expressionistic than ever before. I’ve seen so many “loaded” short films, as I like to label them: films with ample depth, characterizations, plotting, and substance, films which have left me as fulfilled as any full-length production. The selections above fit those criteria. Also “loaded” are “Docket 32357” by Randy Wilkins, “No One Knows” by Bunee Tomliason, “Beautiful Girls” by Lindsey Copeland, and “Scraps” by Danny Safady. And the list is expanding auspiciously. Should you have a propensity for darker, more nerve-shattering storylines and imagery, be sure to look up “Drudge” by Kheireddine El-Helou and “The Other Side” by the Santoro Brothers.   You won’t be disappointed, and both films, in my estimation, have brought something new to the horror genre.

Time for a little clarification, I suppose. Having such high esteem for short films does not imply that I no longer value full-length features. Of course that’s not the case. I’m a film aficionado, regardless of length. I cannot, however, help admiring movies that grab your attention in an instant, establish characters worth caring about, stage thought-provoking conflicts and plots, and present meaningful solutions within a very brief timeframe—sometimes five minutes, fifteen minutes, thirty minutes; duration varies, but the emotion, the crux of the journey, always transports the viewer to irresistible places. I’m enamored of the truncated format—its intrinsic role: illustrating that short need not mean small or slight. As remarked earlier, I’m after substance, potency, dynamics—not length or filler.

Going back to 2007, if I may, I remember a beautiful short film, “Rain,” directed by David Skousen, about a girl who has run away from home. No exaggeration, I’ve lost track of how frequently I’ve viewed it on the Internet, of how often I’ve recommended it to others, and find it not surprising at all that everyone has the same opinion and has suggested it to others. “Rain,” believe it or not, runs slightly more than seven minutes, yet it remains permanently ingrained in my memory.

Movies, to me, are investments, investments of time, attention, imagination, intellect—not merely empty-headed escapes from the humdrum world. Everyone (myself included) enjoys mindless entertainment from time to time, films whose sole purpose is not so much to leave you pondering reality and real-life machinations as to dazzling you with action, special effects, and spiking your adrenaline. For the most part, though, I take immense pleasure in being told an honest story, in delving deeply into realities colored and framed and delineated by the artist’s unique perspective and process, letting the essential elements—acting, setting, cinematography, music—be the guide. So, as you’ve just learned, I’m always willing to invest in such journeys, and, most regularly, my short-term investments have paid off.

Oh how constantly I’ve wished for theaters to show short films, in blocks or in suites, on a weekly, monthly, or even quarterly basis. I realize—and have for some time—that the market is just not conducive, not at present, not according to those who control it. For far too long, short stories and short films have not been as highly lauded or marketed as have feature films and novels. But I feel confident that this lack of acknowledgment will soon yield to an upswing, especially in this culture of precipitously short attention spans, along with the ever-increasing demands on our time. And with the thriving, expanding Video-on-Demand formats rising in popularity, convenience, and affordability, Indie short films could conceivably garner more widespread attention, acclaim, and—in the foreseeable future—stronger financial backing. A well-deserved pat on the back, one might say.

I’m well aware, by the way, that short films have gotten attention at festivals around the world, being interspersed with their longer counterparts, resulting in awards, prizes, and promotional incentives. Promising developments indeed, and more to come I’d like to believe. For those of us attracted to these presentations, let’s never stop desiring more. As we come across fresh, original stories, let’s share them with other moviegoers, keeping in mind, of course, that it takes only minutes of good storytelling to inspire us and enlighten us, to stimulate our minds, our imaginations, and—dare I say it?—our own creative sensibilities, encouraging us to write our own stories, or, quite possibly, to stand behind the camera ourselves—or behind the director’s chair.   Allow me to leave you with a list of more good short films: “The Act” by Susan Kraker and Pi Ware, “The Carrier” by Scott Schaeffer, “Spinning” by John Jacobsen, “Love Notes” by Leo Baker, “Time Passing” by Robert Manson, “The Fence” by Jimmy Driscoll, “Paper Hearts” by Rob Brown, “Amanecer” by Alvaro E. Ruiz, “The Sea Is All I Know” by Jordan Bayne. Happy film-watching!

A versatile writer, David Boyle has written and published two short story collections. Five of his stories have been adapted to film. His second book, Abandoned in the Dark, has been made into a full-length anthology film of the same name. Though he earned his readership by creating intense real-life dark fiction, Boyle has garnered a reputation for composing literary stories, essays, articles, aphorisms, reviews, interviews, analyses, a good number of which have appeared in magazines.