SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: In a session titled “Shifting Perspectives on Short Filmmaking’ held at the Durban FilmMart on 19 July, professionals in the film industry debated the role of the short film and the value which it offers filmmakers. The panel of experts consisted of: AFDA Durban’s campus dean Franco Human; SAE Institute Cape Town’s head of film production Bryce Hepburn; Rights of Passage producer Ramadan Suleman; The Bioscope Independent Cinema co-founder and programme director Darryl Els; and Wits film and scriptwriting lecturer Kenneth Kaplan.
Filmmaker’s business card
Hepburn cautioned that short films were incorrectly perceived by young filmmakers to be “easy’ to produce, but that they were in some ways even more challenging to make than feature films. He referenced Terry Pratchett, a talented and successful author who was able to write up to two novels a year but couldn’t crack the short story. Pratchett was known to say that writing shorts “cost him blood’. Hepburn went on to say however, that short films were a great way for filmmakers to showcase their talent and give prospective collaborators a glimpse at their style or a particular story’s potential. If presented on a relevant platform such as a short film focused festival, shorts could offer producers great exposure and could serve as a kind of filmmaking “business card’.
Shorts on the up
The Bioscope Independent Cinema has, since its opening, welcomed short films onto its screen. Co-founder Els is optimistic about the genre and says audience numbers for these kinds of screenings are increasing year on year. In speaking with short filmmakers, Els said he found that many were able to recover costs through digital platforms: “Keys, Money, Phone by Roger Young, which won Best South African Short Film at last year’s Durban International Film Festival, was able to recoup 10% from Vimeo, which I think is incredible.’
Rights of Passage, an anthology of eight short films directed by first time filmmakers, was an initiative which set out to nurture young film graduates entering the film industry.
“The idea was to give 10 graduates an opportunity to write and direct their first short film,’ said producer Suleman, who explained that the project was aimed at evening out skills gaps and inequalities which he believes exist in the industry. By using the medium of short filmmaking, Suleman and those involved in driving the initiative were able to give participants guidance, mentorship, and hands-on practical learning.
Similarly, Human added that short film production was incorporated into the learning programme at AFDA as a way for students to harness and practise their skills. While these films belong to the institution once they are made, students retain the intellectual property and are able to showcase the works on the international festival circuit where global exposure.
Challenging the norm
Kaplan stated that short filmmaking was not only useful as an educational and promotional tool for filmmakers but a platform for challenge and a space where a society’s conflicts, contradictions and different perspectives could be expressed.
He concluded, “The greatest potential that filmmakers from Africa have to offer is the ability to engage with inherent and intense contradictions. If there’s one thing African filmmakers should be doing it’s agreeing not to be the same as everyone else, not to find easy idealogical solutions to what films we should be making and I think should fight hard to win back the ground that some African filmmakers believe they need to own. I hope that the shifting perspective of short film allows a cinematic terrain in which those kind of impassioned beliefs and viewpoints can actually be played out and we can enjoy the richness of that dialogue rather than steamroll over it to create a uniformity of viewpoint.’