Film: Short Changed How Does the British Short Film Festival Survive When Audiences, Producers, and Even Film-Makers Prefer Features? Charlotte O'Sullivan Talks to Festival Organiser Amanda Casson
Charlotte O'Sullivan, The Independent (London, England)
Basically he became very violent," says Katherine Campbell, "and I was beat up several times, under Huey's direct hand or by his directors." "Huey" is Huey P Newton. Campbell is a woman who joined the Black Panthers as a ferociously idealistic young girl. In Sienna McLean's documentary Still Revolutionaries - one of 380 films which will be shown as part of the British Short Film Festival - Campbell and a fellow ex-party member detail the implosion of a movement they believe in to this day. It is a short, sharp and shocking history lesson. And it lasts all of 16 minutes.
Sadly, few people will see this film. Like short men, short films have to fight to be taken seriously (and do not always succeed). Amanda Casson, who has been running the festival for 10 years, is used to this. "There's no outlet," she fumes, as I drag her from her cassette-crammed office for a quick chat. "Short films aren't seen as an art form in themselves. Miramax pick up a short film and run it before a feature, but it's once every three years and inevitably it'll be a film with stars in it." Soon- to-be-released Desserts, starring Ewan McGregor, is a case in point.
The general public is no better. Mostly, says Casson, they are drawn by major names - Scorsese shorts say, or commercials by Bergman. In 1995 Casson had a whole section devoted to the short films of Hollywood's big shots. It was a sell out.
What of the festival's other, more specialist punters? By Casson's own admission, the rest of the festival's attendees tend to be members of the industry (travelling incognito) or young, wannabe film-makers (waiting to be approached). In other words, their eyes are on the feature-film prize, because that is where the prestige and money lie.
Helena Appio - whose Portrait of Mr Pink, a wonderfully tender, 15 minute study of an old, lonely Jamaican man, can be seen in this year's festival - says it is not like that for everyone. She usually works on documentaries of 50 minutes, but chose to pursue this project because "I'm not interested in making loads of money and I love getting into a little world". She agrees, however, that most of her film-maker friends are a bit snooty about the genre and "want to do the long thing".
So are short films a lost cause? Jeremy Howe is the series producer of BBC2's 10x10 and The Talent at the British Short Film Festival, a one- off programme that will feature "four of the best" films. He allows that TV heads like Michael Jackson "are not going to build their evenings around short films", because "great swathes of short films are wearing". But he also feels these mini-flicks offer unique opportunities. "It's like the difference between a lyric poem and an epic one." He warms to his theme. "Some people, like Chris Newby for example, make features that are far less exciting than their shorts. Another thing to remember about shorts is audiences are often prepared to take greater risks - you can push them further because they know it's …
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Publication information: Article title: Film: Short Changed How Does the British Short Film Festival Survive When Audiences, Producers, and Even Film-Makers Prefer Features? Charlotte O'Sullivan Talks to Festival Organiser Amanda Casson. Contributors: Charlotte O'Sullivan - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: September 17, 1998. Page number: 14. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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