Getting More Life Out Of The Short Form: Short Docs at Open City Documentary Festival
By Matt Turner
There’s no set time that a story should last. Some tales take a lifetime to tell, and others can be best told in six words or less. Yet in film, often the longer that a film runs, the more seriously it is taken. The majority of the more successful mainstream releases clock in at more than two hours in length, and awards bodies traditionally tend to favour longer fare too. Yet, in non-fiction cinema, shorter is starting to be seen as better, with many feature documentaries wrapping their narrative within an hour and a half, and plenty tending to run for 70 minutes or less too.
Length, obviously, has no correlation with quality, and just as a great documentary could be nine, or even twelve, hours long, it could just as easily take just nine or twelve minutes to tell a story effectively, or even less. This year’s Open City Documentary Festival – taking place at venues across Central London from the 4th to 9th September – features just under 50 short films within the programme, playing before feature films, as part of curated filmmaker retrospectives, or in dedicated, curated short film programmes showcasing the best short form non-fiction work from around the world.
In the three short film programmes, themed around ideas of Separations, Imprints and Interiors respectively, the filmmakers involved explore displacement and detachment, the human imprint on the natural environment, and the social and political implications of the domestic spaces that people inhabit. it is wide territory to cover in such short durations, which in some ways makes the achievements of these new, varied filmmakers all the more impressive.
Short film has a legacy, which is showcased too. In the short films of Penny Lane, varying experiments in camera-less cinema made over the last decade or so, archive film, found-materials and sound recordings are combined to question the role of authorship and authenticity throughout a history that stretches much further back. Or in short films by Bogdan Dziworski, whose splendid, surreal hybrid films made in the 1970s study movement, bodies, competition and performance with finesse and flair, and have informed contemporary filmmaking practice in ways that are only recently being properly recognised. Alternatively, Laura Huertas Millán’s short portraits sit brilliantly between documentary, anthropology and fiction, challenging each uniquely and expressively, and have disrupted the documentary approach that her research in based on.
Concision is a virtue, and short form documentary filmmaking is in great health. Save some time, and see some great short documentaries at Open City Documentary Festival at the start of this September.
What: Open City Documentary Festival 2018
When: 4th-9th Sept 2018
Where: In various venues across Central London