Films with a storyline appear to be an illusory rarity, or so it seemed the past couple of years. Perhaps film festivals nurture that through their insouciance, while subjugating filmgoers and ensuing generations of filmmakers to a rising pernicious trend. Half the films I saw were, in my opinion, poppycock or close to it, with people leaving before programs ended. Is this a repercussion of social media’s infinitude? When one program presenter explained she was part of the selection committee—a particularly wanting program—I began to wonder: how are the films selected?
My curiosity is based on experience; in San Francisco, I served on film festival and television competition committees. The LUNAFEST broke boundaries when it commenced in 2000, and since then, annually travels across the USA showcasing shorts from around the world made by, for, and/or about women. Submissions were pruned as they arrived. The surviving films were shown to selection groups from a wide-range of backgrounds and mixed ages: LUNA nutrition bar employees, filmmakers and film students, a cross-section of professionals, high school students, and retirees. Depending on its length, five to 10-minutes of a film was shown, we voted and moved on to the next film; especially tough was to remain neutrally objective. Subsequently, final decisions were made. All committee participants were invited to the festival’s premiere – the last premiere I attended was in Pixar Animation Studios auditorium. Some of those short films still linger in my memory.
Just as, some past IKFF (Internationales Kurz(Short)Film Festival) films do. I still chuckle thinking about INFERNAL NUNS, 2012, and the six films in the 2015 German competition OUT OF THE BLUEZEISE (Aus heiterem Himmel) that kicked-off with a look at a teen navigating puberty à la a comedic spin and animation.
So, what components make the difference? This year, an inordinate number of shorts had no dialogue, which can be O.K. if the visually told story has some sort of emotive hook. In 2016, after watching the puzzling phenomenon of thousands of free flying starlings, confounded audiences speculated whether special effects were used—no–in THE ART OF FLYING, and in MATIÈRE PREMIÈRE (Raw Material) the almost obsolete pinhole camera documents iron ore hauled to Mauritania’s ports through the Sahara on the longest train in the world. Notable sound design replaced dialogue.
Some films are memorable because of the instinctive emotional response they evoke: it’s seeing visuals of household items as John Smith’s warm, sometimes singing voice-over reminisces about his dad, and growing up in DAD’S STICK, 2013; in 2014 animals-in-common unite FAIR GAME’s darkly comedic potshots at hunting/game (NEOZOON,), and BIRDS documents the disbelievingly large range of lofty vertebrate—including birds of prey—within a metropolitan area.
Other films have strong storylines, and/or exceptional production values: images and a subjective POV (point-of-view) present a visually clever commentary about contemporary society’s obsessions in LE PARK (The Park), 2015. In 2012, Bill Morrison used Time Remapping (editing technique) to create the sense of waiting – for Al Capone to leave prison in RELEASE; Gunhild Enger shot all 16:05 minutes in one uninterrupted take, with unknown actors, over two days in PREMATUR (Premature), while in AFRICAN RACE it’s the story about a youngster who concocts a motorcycle from junk trying to realize his dream.
So, is technology worth surrendering imagination and creativity for? Food for thought, eh? Maybe better is to go back to our roots: whether it’s taking a long walk and looking at nature instead of a Smartphone, reading a book—history, fiction, biographies et al., seeing a stage production, watching old movies and/or people-watching, where oodles of good ideas can be found.