The Short Film Format and Its Exhibition

Laura Walde, M.A.
Referentin: Prof. Dr. Fabienne Liptay

As a subject of research, the short film has yet to be established within the discourse of film studies. This is a rather curious situation, given that cinematography is historically rooted in this format. Owing precisely to its marginal status within cinema culture as well as to its smaller budget and shorter production time, the short film allows filmmakers a certain freedom with regard to formal frameworks. In short film the overlap between different genres of fiction, experimental film and video art is particularly fluid. Due to these circumstances, the short format is often related to experimental and alternative film and its exhibition within the spaces of art galleries and museums; yet, short film as a format has not been analyzed in detail in this light. Considered a format, not a genre, short film is both a basic prerequisite as well as the result of various mechanisms pertaining to its brevity. For example, small data volumes and short viewing times allow for a greater freedom of circulation, diffusion, sharing, and combination in a broad spectrum of distribution channels and exhibition spaces. This in turn affects notions of range, flexibility and volatility when thinking about short films at festivals, on online platforms, in galleries and museums.

If traditional film distribution continues to lose significance, the work embraced by curators and programmers will become ever more crucial to film culture, both at festivals and on online platforms. They increase the value of the films by placing and contextualizing them within a competition or a special program. This is especially relevant for short film, which has never held a dominant position within commercial distribution and, due to its brevity, is nearly always part of a program. Its dependence on a screening context is an important issue that calls for a theory of exhibition especially targeted at the short film festival and its expansion into and interrelations with other screening contexts (the gallery, the cinema, the internet). The festival may not only be described as an environment, but also as a cultural, political, economic and social sphere of activities within a framework of superordinate and associated institutions (cinemas, promotional agencies, the host city, film schools, production companies, etc.).

The curator and the programmer are central stakeholders in the contemporary contexts of film exhibition. Although these designations stem from different fields of discourse (museology, information technology, television studies), they do not characterize two distinct and concrete sets of professional practices as much as they demonstrate to which degree the understanding of these practices is in flux based on the ever increasing blurring of institutional boundaries in the “expanded field” of the exhibition. The aim, therefore, cannot be to provide a definition of both terms and the activities they designate. Rather, the confusion surrounding their use suffices as an occasion to question their potential reasoning within the context of medial, institutional, and cultural changes on how short film is perceived and presented based on its understanding as a format.

For the practical framework and archival source material, this project will be closely tied to Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur as the largest and most important short film festival of Switzerland, in order to link theoretical considerations to issues arising from practical models.