Another Rendez-vous for Short Films of Another Type By Shahla Nahid

in 10th Split International Festival of New Film

by Shahla Nahid

The story of the Split Film Festival started with the cinematic avant-garde movement through short experimental films in the 1960s and a movement called Summit of Alternative Cinema. But one year after the civil war in 1996 the festival restarted in a wider way, introducing long films in different sections and covering areas from traditional to experimental cinema. Therefore to pay particular attention to the Short Film section of the festival seems quite relevant. Of course we must understand that we are not here in the context of specifically short film festivals such as Clermont-Ferrand, which in its 20 years of existence has become the most important rendezvous for professionals of the short film sector and spectators (more than 120,000 film lovers participated this year in this festival, second only to Cannes), but we are facing an important section which marks a turning point in cinema for the near future.

Before looking closely at this section, I would like to recall briefly why short films are sometimes more interesting than long ones. Because they represent a real diversity of tone in their form and content they don’t constitute a passage to something more professional or serious. They give, as Jean-Luc Godard said, the possibilities to practice scales, to train oneself and take risks. They permit experimentation by using not very expensive materials and different technologies. In other words to skip a commanding producer, the existing silence around the creation of short films – the absence of big financial and technical machineries, press releases, etc – make film makers completely independent. Nevertheless, independence and experimentation do not mean anarchy and nonsense.

If we believe that short films can, if they are valuable, permit directors to attract necessary support and financing to get their first feature film done, or to the confirmed ones to return to this format for creative reasons, they must be made with the same seriousness and ambition needed for a feature film. They have to follow the process of screenwriting after an initial idea, the description of characters and actions, shooting and editing. Ending the story, if we don’t say that it is the most important part of the film, especially in a short film, is certainly one of the most important aspects.

The Split Film Festival explains its aims as open to all new, innovative, personal, experimental, radical, subversive, etc., works (film, video, CD ROMs, new media) of all genres and lengths, preferably from outside the mainstream. Through the choice of 40 short films, we could see that theses objectives are followed. But as far as the above-mentioned principals are concerned, some of the films seemed quite allergic to them. For example, the prize winner Roosje’s Athleet 35133 by Pim Zwier (The Netherlands), in spite of a good idea and somehow good beginning, lost its interest at the end. On the contrary Animal Tragic by Tim Macmillan (UK) could recreate, with an unsettling take, three reported incidents, where humans and friendly animals interact badly. He also succeeded to present a surprising sublime animated film. The same enchantment was triggered by No Show, by Melvin Moti (The Netherlands), which in a complete minimalist way, gave another conception of the cinema, seeing through words.

These short films, a majority of which are made by young people, also confirmed the differences of the state of mind between young people living in rich northern countries except the USA (a particular case because of the international situation) and those from the south. They were mostly very personal and in search for a new cinematographic form. Two out of three French films, Rue des petites Marie by Laurence Rebouillon and Devil Inside by Jean-Gabriel Periot, with their political content made us believe that the younger generation is as politicised as the older one. Still Life by Cynthia Madansky (USA) and Detail by Avi Mograbi (Israel), both tackled the Israel-Palestinian crisis and Angerame Dominic (USA), with Anaconda Targets , shows how modern wars, in this case the Iraq war, are inhuman and immoral. Two major but different trends showed up here – silent and talkative films. In Silent films only the images tell the story or acted on ones imagination, but in talkative ones images have unimportant or a secondary role.

Unfortunately Asia, one of the important regions for today and tomorrows cinema was underrepresented, except for two minor Japanese films, and Latin America was absent in this section. The only African film, Mother’s Day by Tsitsi Dangarembaga (Zimbabwe), couldn’t hold the scale even between these two worlds and failed to show the main concerns of different citizens of the world, a trend which we witness through international short films.