Short But Sweet: The Rise of Future Shorts
From Clash, October 2008.
You wouldn’t expect great things to emerge from a concept that debuted in a converted public toilet block under Shepherds Bush Green. But when Future Shorts opened at the excellent (and currently endangered) Ginglik club, that’s exactly what happened. Back in 2003, Future Shorts Creative Director Fabien Riggall was a short filmmaker frustrated at the lack of outlets for the genre. The first event was envisaged as a club night that would showcase short films, music videos and animations. As he explains succinctly, “With people’s need for bite sized creativity, it was an inspiration that short film could be a format that could one day become a more recognised mainstream medium.”
Ginglik was soon sold-out every month and a visit from some Belgian filmmaker friends created the first chain in an international network of local Future Shorts organisations in countries as diverse the United States, Ukraine and Bangladesh. Now the company has launched its first compilation DVD ‘Adventures in Short Film’ that collates a diverse selection of the world’s greatest shorts. But what is it that makes the short so compelling and atmospherically different to seeing a regular feature at a regular cinema chain?
“Short films automatically get people talking, debating and discussing. When you go and see a collection at the Brixton Ritzy, we always have people in the bar afterwards talking about their favourite films,” explains Riggall by way of demonstration. “And to me, that’s what cinema is about – that idea of the communal experience, a place in which people can get inspired, disagree and discuss. That’s like the olden days of cinema.”
The beauty of Future Shorts is that the audience’s consumption of the art form is of equal importance to the social aspect of the event. Needless to say, the whole concept would disintegrate if the program was any less that consistently entertaining and engaging. With a typical night’s program consisting of approximately fifteen shorts, how do Riggall and his team find enough great videos to maintain the quality?
“We get sent around a hundred films a week from all over the world. But there are different ways we find a film; we attend all of the major film festivals and look at the films emerging there, but more importantly the system of Future Shorts is uncovering talent all over the world,” he emphasises. “Each of our partners that run Future Shorts in different countries is also looking for the best local films, so all the best local films come into London and we can create a program that’s really diverse, eclectic and cross-cultural. We watch every film we get sent and there are also huge amounts of amazing films that are online that people have uploaded, so we can an eye out on all of those.”
The interest that Future Shorts has created in shorts films can also be demonstrated with the popularity of their YouTube channel where the many of the films featured have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times. Factor in another eight channels in different languages and the potential audience is huge; certainly many times greater than the previous audience that would’ve mostly been restricted to programs at film festivals. Riggall’s next ambition for the company is on a similar scale. “We’re looking to create a thinking man’s MTV, a place where you can go to be engaged, stimulated and educated. Whether it’s short films, music videos, animations or documentaries; just really lovely pockets of life on a channel. So we’re in talks with various people about setting up this channel which would be on cable, you’d be able to watch it on your iPhone, you’d be able to watch in on the Internet, it would be a multi-platform channel.”
It’s all part of an ethos that Riggall describes as, “creating an appetite for short films because it’s not purely a stepping stone or something you do to make a longer film.” He cites the likes of the Coen Brothers, Natalie Portman and Peter Greenaway’s recent work on shorts as indicative of the art form’s wider recognition in the mainstream. “If we can create a culture in which short film is a brilliant medium in which to explore cinema and to explore new ways of making films. The freedom that short filmmakers have gives them an advantage over feature films because they don’t have the budget and the problems they would have. Sometimes they discover new ways of telling stories that’s really interesting and original.”
It’s also the audience reaction that’s important to Riggall. “One of the things that we’re doing in each of the countries that we have events in is that we film interviews with the audience to get discussion and feedback. So the filmmaker that’s based in Japan can find out how his animation is received in Bangladesh.”
Aside from the multi-platform channel and the DVD release, the activities of Future Shorts continue to expand. Their Secret Cinema event – in which audiences receive a late invitation to a secret film in a surprise location, accompanied by a variety of related entertainment – is already well established, but Future Shorts Rescored sounds particularly excited. The concept is the simple idea of a band rescoring (or creating a score for) a film. An early taster of the event occurred at this summer’s Latitude Festival where The Guillemots improvised a new score for David Lynch’s Eraserhead.
So ultimately Future Shorts continues to embrace the alternative presentation of the short film through various mediums. As Riggall summarises, “If you look at the actual content that’s on television I feel that there’s a mass of amazing films from all over the world that just isn’t getting a view. On television there’s not as much engagement, it’s just not as exciting as this concept.” It’s hard to disagree.