In the era of YouTube and Vimeo, the case for featuring shorts in a film festival might seem murky. Are people going to buy the cow when much of the proverbial milk is available online for free? Peter Hemminger, the Calgary International Film Festival’s associate programmer (and former music and film editor at Fast Forward Weekly), believes they will. In fact, he argues, the vast array of short films available online means film festivals still have a critical role to play.
“The idea is just to put them together in a way that either the movies complement each other or they have some sort of theme that goes together,” he says. “That gives the audience an experience of discovering these films in a setting with a bunch of people who can also enjoy it, and in a way that sort of makes sense as more of an experience then just kind of clicking through random movies and hoping for the best.”
Themed events in this year’s shorts program include Date Night, an assortment of romantic comedies; the self-explanatory Short, Fast and Funny, which features The Office’s Rainn Wilson as a homicidal maniac in Blitzen Trapper Massacre; and Survival of the Weirdest, which reflects Hemminger’s enthusiasm for “stuff that’s kind of dark and twisted and weird.”
Among the shorts included in this last package is Bobby Yeah, which wowed Hemminger when he saw it at Toronto’s CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival earlier this year.
“I just remember watching the whole thing and thinking that it was about as close to watching a nightmare as you can possibly get,” he says. “Not in that it’s overly violent or anything along those lines, it’s this wax stop-motion that, there’s something about the textures to it and the sort of dream logic of it, that it really, really has stuck with me.”
Although many of the featured shorts hail from overseas, the festival will also be spotlighting homegrown talent. The number of entries in the Youth by Youth Cinema competition was up dramatically from last year, and Hemminger was “blown away” by the quality of the submissions, some of them by students who are only in elementary school.
The festival’s also devoting an extra afternoon to its Alberta Spirit competition to make room for two shorts that exceed 20 minutes, the drama Goner and the musical The Man That Got Away. The latter, directed by Edmonton’s Trevor Anderson, won a prize at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year for its innovative recounting of the life of Anderson’s great-uncle Jimmy, a farm boy turned Broadway dancer.
Outside of film festivals, Hemminger acknowledges, short films don’t receive much buzz, but he believes they’re worth paying attention to because today’s short is sometimes tomorrow’s feature. The critically acclaimed 2009 film District 9, he notes, began as a short, and Fishing Without Nets, a short about Somali pirates screening at this year’s festival, is also slated to become a full-length film.
Shorts such as these may enjoy a relatively low profile until they’re developed into features. But shorts such as Pixels, Hemminger notes, can get millions of hits online without necessarily being recognized as shorts. “If you asked a lot of people if they’d seen any good short films, they might have seen that video and just thought of it as an online video and not really (a short), so they might not answer that they’ve seen a short film.”
Increasing short films’ profile, Hemminger says, is one of the festival’s goals. But their most important function, he believes, is curation.
“I definitely think that the role of the festival is not so much to be a gate-keeper, but to be pointing people towards the best of the best that’s out there.”