These filmmakers will convince you short films are the future
Regina's Queer City Cinema festival showcases some of Canada's best LGBT shorts
The script goes something like this: Finish film school. Make your first short. Bust your butt to score a deal for a larger project. Make a feature. Don't look back.
While this narrative of forging a career is often fed to aspiring filmmakers, increasingly it's being rejected as the one and only way to do things. There are of course some artists who still consider short films to be nothing more than an opportunity to hone their skills while serving as an audition for the industry's upper echelons. But a substantial number actually prefer the format over full-length films for the unique possibilities it offers.
Regina's Queer City Cinema tends to program a large number of shorts relative to other queer festivals. While there is of course an economic factor at play (short films normally demand lower screening fees than features) for Artistic Director Garry Varro, programming primarily shorts is also a question of how the festival serves its public.
"From a programming perspective, shorts challenge you to think more about each individual film and what they are about or not about," he tells CBC Arts. "In terms of the public, they allow for a greater breadth of representation and identities, sort of like a celluloid buffet. Short film screenings can really pull an audience in by providing a variety of expressions, which reflect what the LGBTQ community is made up of — multiple communities all with their own individual identities."
Paula Stromberg came to the format through her work as a journalist. Her Queer City Cinema contribution is the documentary Family is Like Skin, which looks at the lives of queer women in Cambodia as they form social networks, relationships, and figure out how to come out to their families.
Her first short in 2008 was originally conceived as an AV presentation to accompany a story she'd done about queer refugees in Ghana. After several decades in the field, she was watching the journalism industry slowly collapse. With the success of her first short (a zero-budget endeavour which garnered wide interest and screening opportunities) she became curious about the medium as a new way to tell stories.
"Because I'm working collaboratively with people who often are struggling just to get by every day, it can be hard for them to commit to the length of time it takes to make a feature," she says. "There's also a question of access. With refugees or garment workers especially, we often have to do things very fast because there are concerns about their safety if they're seen with a foreigner. I do sound, camera, and everything myself. Operating with that lighter footprint means being able to get access to situations and stories that I couldn't if I had a big crew with me."
Short film screenings can really pull an audience in by providing a variety of expressions, which reflect what the LGBTQ community is made up of — multiple communities all with their own individual identities.- Garry Varro
Beyond the relative ease of production, shorts often have a unique power to tell stories in ways that feature films don't. Director Daniel MacIntyre has worked exclusively with shorts since graduating York University's film program in 2009. Though he's currently developing a feature, he has no plans to abandon the genre.
His Queer City Cinema offering, Famous Diamonds, is an experimental work using found footage that's been painted and dyed, printed on 16mm film, and then manipulated through a kaleidoscopic process to give a dreamy, swirling quality. Based on a failed relationship, it combines images from classic films along with lyric poetry, in a meditation on desire and confusion.
"It takes a great deal of skill and patience to make a well-made, impactful short," he says. "There's a lot of pain that comes from editing things out and making it the most powerful it can be in a short running time. But the best thing about short film is how efficient it can be. We can tell stories, construct narratives, or make artistic statements that don't wear out their welcome."
David Ng (who co-helms the Love Intersections collective along with Jen Sungshine and Andy Holmes) has been creating shorts since he was a teenager. For Queer City Cinema, the team will present Regalia: Pride in Two Spirits, a film about a young Indigenous man's coming out process.
Along with accessibility and their unique storytelling qualities, Ng cites another key factor for his interest in the format; the relative ease of distribution in a changing media landscape.
"In the age of social media and phone technology, distribution of films is evolving," he says. "Shorts are perfect for these platforms, and I think they will become more popular, as distribution moves away from traditional cinema to the digital world. With the advent of social media, our attention spans are becoming increasingly narrow, and the short film medium is much more easily digestible and shareable. Because it fits better with the way our brains are evolving, shorts will continue to be an incredibly powerful way to relate to an audience in the future."
Queer City Cinema. Sept. 20-24, Regina. www.queercitycinema.ca