Programme Manager Sarah Dawson and Film Programme Coordinator Hannah McHaffie share thoughts on shorts from our 2017 programme available to watch right now.

Far from being the unseasoned younger sibling of the feature-length film, the short film is in fact the original form of cinema. For nearly the first two decades of its early existence, it was cinema’s only form. The technical limitations of the medium, and its position within the world of entertainment alongside magic lantern shows and circus acts, meant that its earliest instances seldom lasted longer than a few moments, and yet produced some of the most memorable images in the history of film. These images are inscribed over and over in the film canon from Méliès’ moon face being punctured by a rocket ship, to the Lumière’s bustling crowds of workers clocking off, and Maya Deren’s cloaked figure with an absent face.

This just goes to show that the unique power of the moving image resides not only in the patient development of a detailed storyline or the complexity of a well-developed argument, but in the magical ability of cinema to distil idea and emotion into pure visions that unfold through time – even if that time may be quite limited. Duration, whether measurable in seconds, minutes, hours (or even days), is secondary to the wonder of making the evanescent memory of a past moment present to the senses of sight and sound, and its capacity to make you think and feel. And in many instances, the short form’s lack of dilution lends a film density that would be impossible at a more leisurely pace. 



Photo: Charlie Lyne's Fish Story, featured on Sheffield Doc/Fest 2017 Film Programme.


In the Sheffield Doc/Fest film programme, we recognise and celebrate the unique character of short form storytelling, and, of the 187 films in our main programme last year, more than 50 were shorts from across the world. They screened across multiple venues and programmes: in curated, strand-specific compilations within the main programme, on our publicly accessible Free Screens, and preceding feature-length documentaries in cinemas.

The good news is, many of these are now available online to watch for free.



Photo: Matthew Salton's Richard Twice, featured on Sheffield Doc/Fest 2017 Film Programme.


Among them were such films as Charlie Lyne's Fish Story (watch here) -  a charismatic exploration into the most silly of mysteries - while Patrick Bresnan's The Rabbit Hunt (watch here) (which took home the Short Documentary Award) captures the intensity of rites of passage for young Florida men on an industrial sugar farm. Matthew Salton's Richard Twice (watch here) uses scratchy, vibrant animation to complement its focus on a psychedelic folk musician, whereas Kelly Gallagher's More Dangerous Than a Thousand Rioters (watch here) uses meditative stop-motion to tell the tale of revolutionary Lucy Parsons. Nathan Truesdell's Balloonfest (watch here) captures a particular moment in time through archive news footage, brought together in the cringe-worthy time capsule of a Guinness World Record attempt in 1986. 

Übermensch (watch here) from director Jesper Dalgaard takes a sympathetic and observational approach to its character study of two Danish goths on their venture to rid themselves of past demons and anxieties. Equally shadowy in its subject matter, Dana O’Keefe’s Clowns (watch here) ventures into the dark corners of our collective unconscious to explore “coulrophobia”, asking the question, does the horror of the monstrous uncanny really come from the man with the red nose, or somewhere deep within ourselves? 


Photo:Dana O'Keefe's Clowns, featured on Sheffield Doc/Fest 2017 Film Programme.


Short film is integral to the Sheffield Doc/Fest Programme; it is an accessible medium for both new audiences and new filmmakers, with a concentrated vitality that lends itself to urgent and authentic factual storytelling. What is clear from the films of the 2017 cohort, is that beyond the liberating range of creative possibilities that the short form offers, it has the powerful ability to ignite the spark of change – whether it be in the mind, soul or in the world around us. Expect no less from this year’s offering.

Short filmmakers who wish to be a part of the programme have until the 2 March to submit their films here, and filmmakers working on urgent, fast turnaround stories that are responsive to more immediate realities may be interested in our Doc/Dispatch programme -  a showcase for responsive fast journalism from citizen reporters, investigative filmmakers and responsive news units.

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