When a small group of auteur held a NoBudget Short Film Festival in 1985 at Hamburg’s Metropolis cinema (still going strong), none envisaged it would grow into one of the top ten short film festivals in the world. KurzFilmAgentur (KFA) was a 1992 spin-off; the film festival changed its name in 1994, and Mo&Fries kiddies’ festival was added in 1998. An umbrella organization, as the three entities grew, so did their contacts. Industry wide, these uniquely linked departments presented an all-in-one advantage. KFA’s international recognition promotes the city a great deal, too.
Ten years ago, Alexandra Gramatke became executive director of KFA: “If a short film is done well, it happens, and it combines things in a way you have never seen before; it remains in your head and lives on, and that’s what I love about it (short films).” She works to make short films visible to larger audiences, and acknowledged as a major form of art. By distributing the best short films possible, people can see their fascination for themselves. “You couldn’t compare a poem to a novel, it’s just a different way of expressing (oneself),” says Alexandra. It’s not always about understanding a film, but seeing something new, and/or introducing novel ideas that “plant an itch.” Alexandra added most filmmakers are passionate, however courageous directors tackle unfamiliar territory, showing their individual “handwriting” (style) rather than thinking about market value.
In 2008, digitalization’s technical developments coincided with Alexandra’s hiring, and were making headway at a pace that demanded attention. Although German cinemas were fighting the switch from analogue to digital, KFA decided to develop and install a new digital system, and accompanying distribution system. This included raising money to transfer their 35mm film library—still intact—to digital. By starting early, KFA was in step with the speed—within one year—at which digitalization became the norm in Germany.
Technological advances affected KFAs distribution networks: it was easier to exchange compact digital formats than canister reels with European partners and opened possibilities for new partners, and associates worldwide. The sales department concentrates on protecting filmmakers’ financial stake, e.g. the Internet, and how it changed television-broadcasting rights. Alexandra clarified that a common thought is, why pay for a short film when so many are free on the Internet. They continually test new sales/distribution models and platforms, but it’s difficult.
Alexandra’s noticed artistic shifts toward personal, almost autobiographic derivations in films, and stories told from a personal perspective that filmmakers don’t deny since she started. Unsurprisingly, considering the refugee and ecological problems, democracy challenges, et al., the past few years she’s seen a tendency toward more political films. Interestingly, some young filmmakers are returning to analogue because they cherish capturing on film, and prefer their films are shown accordingly, i.e. using projectors. Younger festival attendees especially are astounded just seeing a projector, and by the quality of the image.
Although not strong, a market for short films exists. Acquisitions are mainly from: Cinemas: art-house and independent, small-town cinemas regularly order supporting shorts—usually five minutes—for feature films, as well as curated short films program. KFA encourages creating an event (around films), e.g. with food, music; still, there’s a fee and cinemas are struggling financially. Television: their best deals are with television stations. Print media / newspapers: short documentaries are gaining popularity in attracting readers to websites, e.g. The New York Times has had great success. Another advantage is newspapers pay a flat fee, whereas the revenue-share—pay-per-view clicks—based Internet is not financially profitable but more about promotion, but other marketing sources for filmmakers lose interest. Education: schools, universities, and educational based institutions are a growing market, and interconnected with youth films. (See Sidebar) Short films stimulate classroom discussions, learning languages, etcetera. KFA screens a film that’s already had exposure, e.g. festivals, television monthly on its U-Tube channel.
Alexandra explained KFA covers two-thirds of its running costs from revenue it receives from commissions on short film sales, and other projects e.g. programming commissions, while Hamburg’s cultural ministry provides one-third funding. Programming commissions are primarily for corporations, film festivals, and private institutions and companies. For example, an Alzheimer conference commissions KFA to put together a short film program; special events, e.g. museums regularly commission a program for a particular theme, like the Lange Nacht der Museen (long night at the museums). Currently, KFA sales department stocks approximately 250 films, and around 400 films for distribution to cinemas, etcetera.
IKFF is their main film source, receiving approximately 5,000 to 6,000 submissions per year. Screening groups include individuals from KFA; everyone has specific criteria requirements. A film that doesn’t fit the festival’s theme, could fit either KFA sales or distribution requirements. Another source is other film festivals: once festivals publish their programs, KFA scouts for interesting films. There are roughly 10-15 friendly competitors worldwide, and it’s challenging since good shorts are a premium, so whoever contacts the filmmaker first wins. Nevertheless, the short film world is welcoming, nice, and enthusiastic.
What’s on the horizon? Alexandra elucidates interviews are now underway to replace the artistic co-director, Birgit Glombitza, and a decision will be made by mid-July. Additionally, the short film operation is scheduled for another move in April 2019. Their headquarters will relocate to the fux eG, a creativeGenossenschaft (cooperative) located in a former military barracks from the Wilhelmine era on Zeiseweg in Altona-Nord and 15-minutes from the new Festivalzentrum. There, they anticipate networking with other creatives on new projects, and ideas. So, stay in touch for an update next year.