Sheffield Documentary Festival this year was amazing! I had the chance to watch some inspiring new documentaries, go to masterclasses with some of my idols and network with some really interesting people.
My highlights include:
‘In Conversations’ with David Attenborough, Joanna Lumley, Michael Moore and D.A Pennebaker
Watching films including ‘Where to Invade Next’, ‘Presenting Princess Shaw’, ‘KiKi’ and ‘Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures’
Experiencing VR for the first time
Networking with people from the industry
And listening to a keynote speech from an android (Bina48)
Here’s a rundown of my time at the festival….
Michelle from National Film Board of Canada ‘directing VR is more like directing theatre because you can control the gaze’ #sheffdocfest
I absolutely love short documentaries. The format lends itself to experimentation and also forces filmmakers to make tough choices when it comes to the edit. For me, a good short doc is concise, moving and narratively whole. There are a lot of great short documentaries online but they rarely are seen in a cinema/communal screening environment despite the fact cinema was built upon the screening of short films.
During my first year at uni, I was saying to friends at the student union pub that they should come around to mine for ‘cocks and docs, long cocktails and short documentaries’ and the idea stuck with me since then. It took two years to actually do it in a public space for a larger audience but yesterday myself and my friend and collaborator, hosted the first ever ‘Cocks&Docs’ event at the Falcon Tap basement in York. The basement seemed like an unlikely screening room as it is typically used for sweaty club nights. But working with a shoe string budget we managed to transform the room using old tea lights and a shower curtain we fashioned into a screen using some string. Once all the seats were in, the pop corn machine was on and the lights were down, the room felt like it was built for the job.
We screened a total of 6 curated short documentaries covering topics including: pop culture, women’s issues, art, animal welfare and crime.
I am thrilled with how the event went, the audience seemed to enjoy the selection of films and we were sure to provide time for discussion during the breaks. ‘Cocks and Docs’ taught me two important lessons:
You never see a short film and wish it was longer.
You need to be mindful of the order you put films in, think about the mood the film provokes. We nearly made the mistake of finishing with a film that really brought down the guest’s mood. Instead we chose to play an upbeat, music driven documentary which stirred an applause from the crowd the end the evening.
DIY film screenings are a bit tricky to organise, when it comes to licensing the shorts and the venue and actually getting bums in seats but it was also a very rewarding experience.
Web Series have been causing waves online for some time. The web format allows for more flexibility and relies on a good understanding of short form story telling.
With shows like Drunk History and Broad City making the leap from Youtube to our TV screens. Broad City began as a web series, following the lives of two women living in New York, in 2009 and escalated into a critically acclaimed comedy TV Show.
To make the jump from internet to TV, it seems a web series needs two main factors: a pretty die-hard audience and the support from a celebrity. In the case of Broad City Amy Poehler came on board as an exec. producer.
Australian web series ‘Starting From…Now?’ (SFN) has been picked up as a TV show and starts airing in March. The series was seen by over 20 million people and has had 4 online seasons since it began in 2014. When it started it had low production values but a focus on story and the relationships between its central cast. The Show’s producer and star, Rosie Lourde, said that web series are important because “Lots of actors are unemployed and figuring out how to make their own content so platforms like YouTube and Vimeo are an easy way of honing skills and everyone gets a boost,” One of the wonderful things about the web is that producers aren’t geographically limited when it comes to finding audiences and SFN is a great example of this with loyal followers from the US, UK, France and Germany, as well as Australia itself.
“Our industry is aggressively, quickly, and creatively evolving the various ways episodic stories are told, Our Board of Governors felt that this expansion of short-form categories begins the process of ensuring that Emmy-worthy creativity will be rewarded, irrespective of format or platform.” – Bruce Rosenblum, Television Academy Chairman and CEO
Short form content on the web has never been recognised by the Television Academy but this year, things are set to change. The Primetime Emmy Awards have expanded their short form categories to further acknowledge the dramatic growth of the work by people in the creation of short form content. They categorise short-form programmes to have episodes that are 15 minutes or less and the new categories cover a variety of genres including comedy/drama, animation, variety and nonfiction/reality. There is also a new award for Outstanding Actor/Actress in a short form series.
“These category changes reflect the broader opportunities that emerging networks and distribution platforms … are seizing in choosing innovative formats that enable our television community to share stories in novel and entertaining ways,” Rosenblum said.
Although the award will not be presented during the telecast in September (it will be given a week earlier at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards) it is still a major coup for the short form. They will be peer-voted awards which allow Youtubers and Internet shows to be seen as professional, legitimate forms of entertainment for all. There are already awards recognising the work in this area such as the Webbys and the Streamys (both open to public voting) but the Emmys inclusion of this category is a real signifier of the changing landscape of media. Youtube stars such as Tyler Oakley are already expanding into television and Netflix original series. Youtubers are becoming as important, arguably more important, than traditional stars and this recognition has a big impact because it means the Academy is actively interested in representing changes in the media landscape. Creator driven short form content is a major force because of its accessibility for young audiences.
“While we like to say awards don’t matter or that we think our fans are the real award, this kind of external, institutionalized recognition always makes you proud and a little more ambitious.I think this will help people start to understand what makes a good short form series and what excellent talent looks like.” –Kathleen Grace, Chief Creative Officer at New Form Digital
According to the Academy’s guidelines, a short film is anything with a running time of 40 minutes or less (including credits).
The short film awards stem from the time short films were shown before feature length films at cinemas before the explosion of television and they were seen by a wider audience. Originally there were two different shorts categories, the first ‘Short subject – one reel’ and the second ‘short subject – two reel’. The categories were dependent solely on the number of reels of film used, generic factors were not taken into consideration.
But times have changed and the academy now has three categories for shorts: the short film branch administrates the animated and live-action shorts category awards whilst the documentary branch administers the documentary short subject award. Some academy members want to eliminate the shorts category in an effort reduce the overall run time of the televised Oscar ceremony. They argue that it is an outdated tradition, because we no longer see shorts before features in the cinema. It would however be a real shame for them to scrap the shorts awards. It is a category that student filmmakers can apply to, thanks to a clause in the academy’s regulations for the shorts categories. Although this year, no students took home the prize, Shorts are a crucial category for up-and-coming filmmakers as it gives them a chance to break into the industry.
Bear Story is the first Chilean film to win an Oscar and was produced by small Chilean independent production company Punkrobot Studios. It is a unique telling of the violent days in Chile under Pinochet’s control. Before Bear Story Gabriel Osorio had directed animated kids TV series Flipos but apart from that he has no major credits listed under his name. So for him to win the Oscar can really help establish himself further in the industry, proving how important the short awards can be in recognising future talent.
Best Documentary Short- A Girl in the River: the Price of Forgiveness (39 mins)
A Girl in the River follows a girl in Pakistan who survived an ‘honour killing’. It was produced by HBO and was director’s Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy second Oscar (the first she received in 2012 winning for ‘Saving Face’.)
Stutterer is the first film written, directed and edited by Irish Filmmaker Benjamin Cleary. Clearly was the only Irish nominee to take home the award. It explores the world of a man with a severe speech impediment as he tries to take his online relationships into the real world.
‘You’re not going to make a living off of short films.’ was one of the first thing out of Chris Tidman’s mouth in front of a room full of aspiring short filmmakers. ‘they’re an investment you make in your next project.‘
Shorts International is a global independent short film distribution platform and Chris Tidman is their London based vice president of global acquisitions. His role is to oversee procurement for the Shorts International distribution catalogue. At the BAFTA short film masterclass he discussed Shorts.tv’s relationship with the Academy, the anatomy of a Sale and his predictions for the future of short films.
Chris told us that Shorts.TV have a close relationship with the Oscars, releasing and providing theatrical distribution for the nominated short movies. ‘The films go into theaters shortly after nominations are announced, and are not released anywhere else except in theaters until a few days before the Oscars.’
Posting content to be viewed free online is generally frowned upon by festivals. Filmmakers are often faced with choosing between getting paid for their shorts, with the help of organisations like Shorts.TV or allowing the biggest possible audience to view their film. Chris weighed in on this saying : ‘the internet is problematic for broadcasters, once your short film is on the internet, it cannot be sold to Shorts.tv but there are certain organisations we can’t dictate to…’ he went on to say that when Disney made their short black and white romantic cartoon, Paperman, free to view online in 2013 there was little shorts.tv could do. In turn every animated film up for the award followed suit causing real problems for the broadcasters. This year, however, none of the shorts have been made available online (legally) with the exception of World of Tomorrow (which is available on Netflix and to rent via Vimeo) meaning the exclusive theatrical release of the Oscars shorts lies in the hands of Shorts.tv once again.
Chris said: ‘The recent growth in demand for short films has been unprecedented and Shorts.TV now has over 11 million subscribers. That’s a huge number of people interested in viewing high quality short films! The landscape of short film has changed, broadcasters who were once interested seem to have run away. I think this has something to do with Video on Demand, which has lowered the price of short films. This is not to say there isn’t hope for the short form. We have seen recently that short films are used as teasers for feature length films, and they’re being used to pilot tv series. First and foremost, shorts are a filmmakers calling card and a chance to find out who you are and what your style is as a filmmaker.’
Chris then went on to talk about how he sees the landscape of short film changing over the next 5-10 years. ‘I predict that shorts will go back into the hands of the broadcasters. On demand platforms already see the potential of the short form. Canal + have been offering €500-€1,000 per minute for a short. The audience is there and seems to be expending, it is in your hands to produce the quality content.’
Our latest production is in full swing and we will be filming in the last week of this month (January).
We asked drag kings and academics from around the world to tell us more about what drag performance means to them…
The documentary will explore the resilient spirit of the people who perform masculinity on stage. If you don’t already know, Drag Kings are male impersonators, often women, who embody the mannerisms of men. Our film will follow myself and a young performing drag king, Benjamin Butch, as we uncover the core reasons that performers choose gender impersonation as a form of artistic expression. Other contributors will include drag kings Sammy Silver and Wolfy .
We are also hosting a drag night in my university town of York, in a wonderful LGBTQ+ friendly venue Thomas’s of York . If you are in the area and would like to attend your name can be added to the guest list as a ‘reward’ for donating.
While the film project is stilldraggingon…. You can follow our progress (and see pictures from the event) on our social media pages.
I have seen the majority of the short films selected for the 2016 Sundance Film festival and it isn’t because I traveled to Utah for the festival. Many of the shorts in their lineup are already available to people through Vimeo and Youtube allowing audiences around the world to actively engage with the festival virtually. Sundance has paved the way for many festivals, being a pioneer by embracing the submission of films that are already available online.
For years, filmmakers have been discouraged from uploading their films online if they want to be in with a chance of getting into a festival. But Short of the Week has a frequently updated page on their site which keeps filmmakers up to date with the changing landscape of film festival submissions. When I checked in January 2016, 2/3 of the ‘Top Film Festivals’ now accept films available online.
Trailer for Sundance Short Limbo Limbo Travel (available in full on Vimeo)
Although festivals are changing their policies, there is still a stigma attached to ‘successful’ online films, which are regarded to be ‘viral’. Festivals, aiming to maintain a sense of exclusivity and mystery, are turned off from showing these films. Festivals should be about showcasing new talent and engaging audiences, if a dialogue around the film is happening online it is for a reason. This reason may be a controversial central topic or, which is often the case, just a unique example of story telling. It is a real shame filmmakers still face a dilemma when it comes to what to do with their film once it has been created. Why must filmmakers compromise between getting into a prestigious festival and attracting online audiences?
This is why what Sundance (and other forward thinking festivals such as SXSW and Uppsala International Short Film Festival) are doing to change things is important. Sundance’s aim is ‘actively advance the work of independent storytellers in film and theatre’ and allowing a wider audience to engage with the festival virtually means Sundance are doing just that.
We are currently in the preproduction process of our latest project, King Doc UK (working title) check out @kingdocuk on Instagram /Facebook and Twitter for the latest updates and behind the scenes photos/videos.