Short films are so rarely seen outside of the festival circuit that any alternative method of distribution is welcome, and DVD has long seemed to be the logical route. Yet few worthwhile anthologies of contemporary short films have emerged, making the appearance of Cinema 16’s compilation of European Short Films notably welcome. Even if it weren’t such a masterfully curated collection, its mere existence would be cause for rejoicing. But Luke Morris—the mastermind behind the entire Cinema 16 project (which is already responsible for releasing three excellent short film DVD collections in Morris’ native U.K.), has created a two-disc set that will enthrall any cinephile, even those who have erroneously allowed recent short moviemaking efforts to fall off their radars.
Combining early work from established directors like Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan, Lars von Trier and Matthieu Kassovitz with ongoing short film endeavors from arthouse favorites like Nanni Moretti, Jan Svankmajer, Lynne Ramsay and Roy Andersson, Morris’ maiden voyage into American DVD distribution is most captivating when it serves as an introduction to new talents who have done little work outside of the short film format. Run Wrake’s wildly imaginative animation Rabbit, Andrea Arnold’s blistering slice of Brit social realism Wasp, Juan Solanas’ award-winning technical marvel The Man Without a Head, Martin McDonagh’s tragic but hilarious Six Shooter and Bálint Kenyeres’ haunting Before Dawn are some of the release’s inarguable highlights.
Morris—who produced Je t’aime John Wayne, one of the shorts on the DVD, and has several forthcoming features—concurs that while the more famous directors’ work may initially entice viewers, audiences have been equally impressed by the shorts from lesser-known talents. “It’s very interesting to see early shorts by these bigger filmmakers, and see that they’re not always perfect,” notes Morris.
“That’s a really good thing to see when you’re starting out,” Morris continues. “It’s important to show that you can make mistakes, and short films play that role as a training ground. These big filmmakers recognized the value in allowing their early films to be seen by young filmmakers… They also recognized the value of the short in film culture, and the value it had to them as filmmakers. This is a bit of a generalization, but signature auteur directors like Chris Nolan, Lynne Ramsay and David Lynch tend to come up from making short films, whereas more generic directors tend to come more from commercials, television and pop promos. I hope this project contributes… to a healthy short film culture, because it means a healthy feature film culture.”
Short films probably don’t intrinsically possess any greater ratio of success or failure than features, but for anyone who has endured some of the lesser-length detritus that often pollutes film festival shorts programs, there can occasionally be a bit of a bias against the feature film’s wrongly neglected kid sibling. The Cinema 16 project blows that cinematic bigotry out of the water, with hour after hour of short films that are every bit as effective as any feature one could hope to see. Luckily, making converts to short film culture is indeed part of Morris’ central goal. “Short film is an entry-level format and there are a huge amount of them made, so relatively most of them are not particularly good,” observes Morris. “What I wanted to do here was choose films that are really strong representations of their genre—animation, social realism, fantasy. This project is a bit of an uphill battle because when you say ‘short films’ to people… most of them put the DVD at the bottom of the pile. But when they see these films, they’ll see such strong work. The idea was to have a good balance between early films from name filmmakers that further the source of inspiration for younger filmmakers, and award-winning films from new filmmakers that otherwise wouldn’t really have a platform.”
While Morris is moving on to producing feature-length work—a fictional school comedy and a music documentary are two of his upcoming projects—he has no intention of abandoning his interest in short moviemaking.
“I’m certainly not abandoning Cinema 16, because it has grown into a fantastic project. There’s an appetite for good short films, and they deserve to be seen—and that’s why I did this DVD in America,” reflects Morris. “It’s a great project to do alongside my feature films.”
While we anxiously await the next volume in the Cinema 16 project (a truly international compilation devoted to world cinema shorts from such talents as Park Chan-wook and Alfonso Cuarón), we can savor the project’s American debut with the release of the European Short Films DVD.
As DVDs begin to host collections of everything from Pixar animation shorts to international horror shorts (i.e. the excellent Small Gauge Trauma collection), it would appear that the marriage between this video format and short cinema is blossoming into a happy union indeed.
Visit www.cinema16.org for the latest Cinema 16 projects.