This time, the short of it
Our recent piece on really long film features has elicited contrasting notes on the shortest movies that have been produced. To start off, a historical perspective:
When filmmaking was first invented, the spools of negative that were exposed in the shooting process were really bulky and therefore short, so the first movies were only a few minutes long.
They consisted, not of mini stories, but simply of recorded images of anything and everything—a street scene, animals in a zoo, exotic locales, anything that walked or moved, or even just was.
After a while, however, pioneering viewers’ excitement abated, and they began asking for very short storytelling, with the first actors, usually from the stage, playing roles onscreen.
Incrementally, the very short films increased in length and complexity, and as the nameless actors began to individually develop a following, the first film stars were born.
At about this time, “film language” was developed by pioneering directors, cinematographers and editors, and screen sagas increased in length. Of course, by the time “talking” movies became popular, film viewing had become a major source of entertainment.
For instance, in the ’20s a visit to the moviehouse offered a full and very varied program consisting of a full-length feature, as well as several kinds of short films, like a comedy, a five-minute cartoon, a travelogue, a newsreel—etc.!
Even as full-length filmmaking dominated the burgeoning industry, there was always a market for short films. The arrival of television would affect and restrict that market, but film students’ works, short cinematic stories from 20 to 40 minutes long, continued to be produced and screened.
Film festivals provide a venue for the best short story films and documentaries, and film awards groups have created special categories for outstanding short productions, which have become an alternative and much more affordable form of cinematic expression.
The arrival of mobile and digital modes of filmmaking has resulted in an explosion of self-shot and very personal movies. The International Festival of Very Short Films, for instance, welcomes self-produced entries up to three minutes long.
Even more rigorous in terms of time limit are competitions for mini movies that are only 60 seconds in running time. —And the latest innovations include even shorter videos which are only six seconds “long!”
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