Sunday, February 19, 2006

Shorts vs. features

I wrote two stories for Las Vegas Weekly this week related to the local film scene. One was a round-up of reviews of features by Las Vegas filmmakers, and the other was an account of my trip to the Dam Short Film Festival in Boulder City. The features were almost uniformly bad, ranging from completely unwatchable to competent but unexceptional. The shorts in the Nevada showcase at the festival (it also featured films from around the country) were not uniformly good, but there was a far better ratio of competence to suckitude. In addition to the Nevada program, I also checked out the sci-fi program (both featured a short film I worked on, Three Girls, a Guy and an Apocalypse), and the non-local films in that program were generally quite accomplished, with great production values and some intriguing, if not always successful, stories.

The art of the short film is clearly one that's neglected by modern filmmakers, mainly because there's no audience for shorts outside of festivals like the one in Boulder City. But it was clear to me from watching the local features that these inexperienced filmmakers really shouldn't be tackling even 80-minute films, since none of them had subject matter worthy of spending that much time with. Some had reasonable technical skill, and some even had some decent creativity, but all of them bit off more than they could chew in attempting to make feature films.

Not only that, but I think that, like reading short stories by talented novelists, seeing short films by successful and skilled filmmakers would be really cool and a nice variety; you can tell all sorts of interesting stories better in a short format than in a feature. But other than something like Showtime's Masters of Horror series (which still features movies about 50 minutes long), there really isn't a commercially viable venue for short films. It's one thing to make a calling-card short and peddle it to festivals as a struggling filmmaker, but why would someone already steadily working in features want to do that?

So instead shorts are relegated to festivals and unproven filmmakers, and even they would rather be making features before they really know what they're doing. It's too bad that as a critic I don't get more opportunities to write about and promote short films, but honestly I never thought about it that much before. I'll definitely make an effort to check out the shorts programs at this year's CineVegas.

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