Short Is Beautiful By Susitha R. Fernando

in 23th Rotterdam International Film Festival

by Susitha R. Fernando

The highlight of this year’s International Film Festival of Rotterdam (IFFR) was the introduction of the Tiger Cub Award- a short film competition. Thirty-two short films from twenty-three countries were presented in this new category and, of these, three films were awarded the Tiger Cub and a prize of 3000 Euros each.

Ranging from two to thirty minutes, all the films were completely different from each other in subject matter, format and genre (documentary, experimental, fiction and narrative). Because each had its own unique identity, it raised questions about how they were to be judged and evaluated.

For example, how can the two-minute Can and Slippers by Filipino director Khavan De La Cruz (which explores why a young soccer fanatic who habitually kicks a coke can across the streets in a Manila slum will never be a Ronaldinho) and the 30-minute Birthday by Singaporean filmmaker Bertrand Lee (which revolves around a young couple struggling to raise their little son amidst financial difficulties) be judged together in one category. How can Dutch director David Lammer’s Veere , in which he tries to visually capture the written verses Poems from the Sea by Hans Groeneweegen, be compared to Cypriot Yianna Americanou’s Eleni’s Olive , which depicts a deep relationship between a young girl and her dependable best friend, an olive tree.

In another diversified cinematic piece, Dutch director Joost Van Veen’s Interlude shows a group of fish swimming through chemical layers of high-contrast black and white film-stock. Inspired by the music track of British band Manyfingers, the film is a quiet thought-provoking and imaginative cinematic work. Concentrating on different and novel approaches, the Belgium director Pieter Paul Mortier’s In the Midst of. is an experimental cinema work capturing images while reflecting on the impossibility of capturing time and place with a camera. The film is a fine journey without undue physical displacement. Italian director Christian Angeli’s Being Good at Mikles is a compact and condensed film with its seriousness making an impact equal to a serious feature film.

However, another side of short filmmaking is that there is an increasing amount of younger people thronging to take up cinema and short films offer a practical means of beginning. It offers a low budget, less time-consuming method. But where to find an audience is a problem most young filmmakers are facing. Except in a few countries, there is hardly any market for short films. And, if not for film festivals, where would these amateur filmmakers go? It was, therefore, timely and appropriate that IFFR opened a competition for short filmmakers. The opportunity is both an encouragement and incentive.

Speaking to some of the directors in the Tiger Cub competition, it was evident that these young people were searching for recognition for their short films. They felt that the short film medium was a powerful form of art that needed recognition and identity independent of feature films. They said their intention was to classify short films as a stepping stone to the feature film or as a means of making it to the big screen, but as a separate entity in itself. The Malaysian director of A Tree in Tanjung Malim , Tan Chui Mui, says recognizing the importance of shorts at the IFFR-2005 is really a great opportunity for young filmmakers. It is a reflection of the festival’s reliability and the importance to the art of the short film. Tan Chui Mui strongly reinforced the opinion that the short film should be recognised as an independent form of art. Khavn De La Cruz (Can and Slippers) is a prolific Filipino poet, novelist and composer turned filmmaker. He asserted that it was important to recognize the strength of the short film, defining it as a short poem. Khavn presented two more short films ( Greaseman and Headless and Sea Eyes ) under his name in the non-competitive section of the IFFR 2005. He expressed some concern about the title ‘Tiger Cub’ being given to the short film competition. “In a way, it sounds derogatory and gives a biased impression that short films are sort of baby films. This is not the way short films should be recognised. They have a unique identity of their own.”

Dutch director David Lammers (Veere) says that the short film is pure cinema, expressing complex ideas in a simple manner. It is this medium that enables you to make films within a short period of time, productively, but within a limited budget. Lammmers continued to say that short films could be so strong in their own concept that they could stay in your memory often longer than a feature film. The cinema began with short films and it is very important to give proper recognition to this form of art.

Completely different from each other in their length, subject matter and style what were the criteria to judge these thirty-two films in this maiden IFFR competition? Mariska Graveland, one of the three-member jury, said that ‘it is manner of expression in visual terms more than just narration or story-telling that captured our interest and influenced our selection of three films’. ‘Focusing more on the non-narrative than stories with a punch-line, these films say “something else”. They were innovative and experimental and therefore gained our attention,’ said Mariska Graveland. The organiser of the maiden TV5 Tiger Cub Competition of the IFFR-2005, Erwin Houtenbrink said it is important to recognize and appreciate the talent of young filmmakers involved in this separate form of art. He noted that short filmmaking was mostly non-commercial, non-profitable and, sometimes, just a way of losing money. IFFR-2005 decided to award these young film-makers with the ‘Tiger-Cub award’ as inducement to continue their art in the hope that it will be appreciated one day on the same platform as the feature film.

Winners Tiger Cub 2005

As predicted, three films that depicted absurdity and had an experimental approach to short film were selected as the winners of Tiger Cub 2005. Interlude by Joost van Veen ( Netherlands ), Nuuk by Thomas Koner ( Germany ) and Veere by David Lammers (The Netherlands) were chosen as the three ‘Tiger Cub’ winners. The jury had chosen Interlude for its inventive use of the light-sensitive properties of the cinematic medium to bring viewers through the underwater terrain of sensual silver laden alchemy. Nuuk was chosen because it provoked man to become more aware of the human process of perception. The film challenged us to look and listen more actively — not only to the film itself, but to the landscape of our own lives. Veere was chosen because it intensified the human view of moving objects that you normally overlook, completed with a very delicate use of sound and music. There was also a special mention for Italian Christian Angeli’s Being Good at Mikles (Fare Bene Mikles). The three-member jury consisted of Kathleen Fordo (USA, exhibition and programme coordinator for the Eyebeam Centre for Art and Technology in New York), Mariska Graveland (The Netherlands, journalist and film critic of Dutch monthly magazine ‘De Filmkrant’) and Kerry Laitala (USA filmmaker and teacher of film).