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Tribeca enters the Shorts aren

TRIBECA NEW YORK – Short film fest (April 19 – May 20)

Low-cost production technologies, rapid increases in film school graduates, and the shift to a visually oriented consumer society has resulted in a significant increase of short and long feature films entered in film festivals. For the fourth edition of New York’s Tribeca Film Festival which ended on May 1st more than 1750 films were submitted in formats including, 35, 16, super 8, as well as 24 p, mini dv, and high definition cam. In spite of Tribeca setting an early deadline for to reduce the number of submissions, the fest was flooded with short films from all over the world, though, apart from some elusive awards, there were no tangible benefits for film makers beyond being selected. Other film fests specializing in shorts have similar supply problems. Clermont-Ferrand listed in its 2005 short film market 3850 titles and the Oberhausen short film festival received last year 5100 entries.

Many aspiring film makers hope that receiving an award for a short film from an established film fest opens the doors to funding for a longer film. In the United States this is certainly a stronger incentive than the expectations of selling the film. But most of the 1700 productions were not festival material. There is no single denominator for failure, but a notable absence of conceptual creativity was apparent. Specifically in productions longer than fifteen minutes, the film maker was frequently unable to tell a story and in many shorter films, the mastery of editing techniques was mistaken for artistry. This year short films on political or social conflict, character issues, and global problems prevailed and relatively few entries were devoted to comedy and lighter issues. Maggie Kim and Sharon Badal, the principle screeners selected 96 productions from the 1750 received
in the narrative, documentary and student sections of the program. The jury which eventually voted THE LIFE OF KEVIN CARTER by Dan Krauss as the best documentary and CASHBACK by Sean Ellis as the best narrative short.

A review of about 70 titles from the final selection revealed that most productions were well executed yet somehow lacking in original impulse, though several of the films screened were truly outstanding. This group included FALL by Nam June Paik’s apprentice Kenzo Akuto a dreamlike mediation on color, nature, and space; SONG FOR DANIEL by Jason DaSilva, a simple but effectively presented portrait of two nine year olds, one living in Baghdad the other in New York; IN THE MORNING by Danielle Lurie covering the restoration of honor in a Turkish family, an effective advocacy film about honor killing in Turkey, shot with an American cast and crew and a Turkish soundtrack in Los Angeles; the Oscar nominated GUARD DOG, an animated marvel by Bill Plympton about a dog protecting his masters against imaginary dangers and killing him in the process; the superb ANCIENT MARK where Ethan Boehme combines black and white imagery of body markings collected by Chris Rainer over seven years in thirty

countries with an incredible soundtrack of music composed by Tavi Shankar’s daughter Anushka Shankar. Of all shorts reviewed PHANTOM LIMB a 28 minute film left the strongest impact. This short is a highly personal, yet ingeniously constructed story of the persistence of pain caused by the death of the filmmaker’s younger brother many years ago. Moving on different levels of stages of suffering, Jay Rosenblatt succeeds in 13 brief segments through the use of archival and newly recorded footage to distance the viewer from grief and sorrow, yet provides more lasting visual and conceptual impressions than a dozen picture books could provide.

Few of the films screened qualify as calling cards for success, making their placement in a hardly existing market problematic to say the least. However the organizers of Tribeca certainly can take credit for effectively enlarging the short film platform by setting up a sidebar, the Tribeca Screening Room, with Amazon staff handling the selection of shorts up to 8 minutes long. This innovative platform provides from April 18 through May 20, at least theoretically speaking, millions of internet users the opportunity to view and rate as many randomly selected short films as they desire from the more than one thousand submitted to this Tribeca/Amazon venture. The winner of this competition will receive a cash award of $50,000 from American Express while viewers participating in rating the films are entered in a lottery awarding several minor cash prices and one trip to New York. Another Tribeca component reflects additional support for short film and new distribution venues. In the festival series twelve productions were chosen from several on-line short film competitions in the United States and submitted to a jury for the Budweiser Filmmaker Discovery Award.

Yet it is doubtful that there exists now is a viable short film market in the United States. The European practice of mandatory theatrical screening of shorts before features is unknown here. Yet what surprised at Tribeca is that 18 of the 24 screenings of thematically packaged short films sold out before the festival started, and this in venues seating up to four hundred viewers. Further it is noteworthy that close to 3000 shorts were submitted to Tribeca if the Amazon Screening Room is included. Thus there seems to be a strong interest in short films. Maybe as Sharon Badal put it, a well-educated part of the audience is indeed tired of standardized stories in long films and searches for creativity more likely to encounter in short films. Some efforts are underway to tap into that latent interest, The Colorado Film Foundation is packaging the best of festival shorts in low cost DVD’s often provided at no charge to educational institutions. The growing film festival circuit constitutes a market but rarely provides material benefits even for award winning shorts. If a short film is celebrity driven it could be placed with air lines or, in the not so distant future sold to cell phone programmers. They may also be used as fillers on public and cable television, though the film maker does not seem to receive royalties from those sources.

What should be tried during major festivals is placing thematically packaged shorts which proved so popular at Tribeca, on an upscale cable network. A low cost video or shorts on demand arrangement could be funded through a corporate cosponsorship, ventures with which Tribeca has ample experience. Support for such service can be provided through short web pages, a shortwires news service, and news coverage in the trade press.

Claus Mueller
New York correspondent


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