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The Cinema Of Short Films

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 2900 words Published: 15th May 2017

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Cinema is one of the few mediums which have managed to successfully depict the true reality of society in general and our lives in particular. As like other art forms, it depicts the multiple realties that one is faced with. It explores one of the most discarded yet eternal truths which every individual experiences and that is isolation. Each individual longs for social ties despite belonging to organized societies; it is what each one of us is ultimately reduced to.

A Short film is a technical description originally coined in the Indian film industry and used in the North American film industry in the early period of cinema. The description is now used almost interchangeably with short subject.

Although the North American definition generally refers to films between 20 and 40 minutes, the definition refers to much shorter films in Europe, Latin America and Australasia. In New Zealand, for instance, the description can be used to describe any film that has duration longer than one minute and shorter than 15 minutes. The North American definition also tends to focus much more on character whereas the European and Australasian forms tend to depend much more on visual drama and plot twists. In this way, the North American form can be understood to be a derivation of the feature film form, usually acting as a platform for aspirant Hollywood directors. Elsewhere, short films tend to work as showcases for cinematographers and commercial directors. (Short Film)

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A short film manages to tell the same tale as a full length feature film, but in a shorter duration of time. It is characterized by the director’s reflection of the existing social, political and economic conditions. A short film narrative is one which can easily be created by people from all walks of life, it has universal applicability. It enables directors functioning on a small budget to tell their stories to the world. The talent in creating a short film lies in communicating the message of the film to the audience in a very limited period of time. The transitions in a short film are of critical importance. What I find intriguing is how any person imbibes from their existing social conditions and produce work which is effectively communicable to most individuals.

Another reason to dwell into this topic of research is that many youngsters and amateurs start by making short films and use it as a path to grow. As Daniel Wiernicki states, “Short films are often popular as first steps into the film industry among young filmmakers. This is because they are cheaper and easier to make, and also their length makes shorts more likely to be watched by financial backers and others who want some demonstration of a filmmaker’s ability. Many things can be achieved by creating a short film so are an ideal opportunity to get recognized and get into the industry.” (Wiernicki)

Through this dissertation, I aim to explore the world of short films in the context of movies which have won the Cannes Short Film Palme d’Or (French: Palme d’Or du court métrage), which is the highest prize given to a short film at the Cannes Film Festival. These short films are a representation of different cultures, ideologies, people, religion, economic background, and political thoughts and history from across the world that come together on one platform and showcase their art.

“The cinema is not an art which films life: the cinema is something between art and life. Unlike painting and literature, the cinema both gives to life and takes from it, and I try to render this concept in my films. Literature and painting both exist as art from the very start; the cinema doesn’t.”

Jean- Luc Godard


Throughout our history, humans have looked for different forms of expressing themselves. These expressions were in the form of poetry, literature, songs, plays, dancing, etc. films are one of the latest forms of expression that has been adopted by the people around the world to portray their views on their surroundings, any event, or moment that captivates them and they want to show it to the world. The beauty of the films nowadays is that you can detract from reality and present something beyond the human imagination at the same time one can present the harsh realities of life that some don’t know about. Films as a medium of communications can be used to spread ones message or view across the world.

History of Cinema (History of Film)

The birth of the films happened in 1878, when Eadweard Muybridge recorded a horse running in fast motion using a series of 24 stereoscopic cameras. With the development of technology came of the ‘Silent era’. Till the 1920s movies were silent, though at times they were accompanied by musicians, sound effects, or even commentary at times.

1940s to 60s- War and Post War Cinema

The wartime saw immense change in the cinema as more focus was given to propaganda and patriotic films. Films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Citizen Cane were pieces of this period.

The cold war era brought movies filled with paranoia such as – Invading Armies of Evil Aliens and anti- communist movies such as the Manchurian Candidate. The onset of television in the post war era also threatened the cinematic industry as a medium of watching films.

During this Period, Asian Cinema specifically saw a golden age. Some of the greatest masterpieces of the Asian cinema were produced during this period. These include works like: Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953), Satyajit Ray’s The Apu Trilogy (1955-1959) and The Music Room (1958), Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu (1954) and Sansho the Bailiff (1954), Raj Kapoor’s Awaara (1951), Mikio Naruse’s Floating Clouds (1955), Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa (1957) and Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959), and the Akira Kurosawa films Rashomon (1950), Ikiru (1952), Seven Samurai (1954) and Throne of Blood (1957).

1970s: Post-classical cinema

This term is used to describe the period following the decline of the studio system during the 1950s and 1960s and the end of the production code. During the 1970s, filmmakers increasingly depicted explicit sexual content and showed gunfight and battle scenes that included graphic images of bloody deaths.

The 1980s were filled with movies releasing with sequels like Star Wars, Jaws, and Indiana Jones. The audience also started to watch movies on their VCR at home during this period.

1990s to present: Contemporary Cinema

The 1990s saw the development of the independent cinema with commercial success. Special effects also ruled during this period as it was being heavily used by the successful movies of the period like: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and Titanic (1997).

During the 2000s, documentary genre of film making also rose as can be seen with the success of movies such as March of the Penguins, and Fahrenheit 9/11. Increase in the problem of digital distribution due to infringement of copyrights, and piracy also has reached heights during this period.

Cinema as a whole during this decade has become more global with foreign-language films gaining popularity in English-speaking markets. Films such as City of Gods (Portugese), Lagaan (Hindi), and the Passion of the Christ (Aramaic).

“Some have described the prevailing style of the period as postmodern because many contemporary films are apolitical, ahistorical, intertextual, and less tied to the conventions of a single genre or culture. The transnational circulation and genre hybridity of contemporary films is exemplified by the increasing global popularity of non- English speaking cinema.” (Film Studies, 2009)

Major Genres of Films:

Action, Adventure, Comedy, Crime & Gangster films, Drama, Epic/ Historical films, Horror, Musical, Science fiction, War (anti- war), Western, and Eastern films.

They are broad enough to accommodate practically any film ever made, although film categories can never be precise. By isolating the various elements in a film and categorizing them in genres, it is possible to easily evaluate a film within its genre and allow for meaningful comparisons and some judgments on greatness. Films were not really subjected to genre analysis by film historians until the 1970s. All films have at least one major genre, although there are a number of films that are considered crossbreeds or hybrids with three or four overlapping genre (or sub-genre) types that identify them. (Dirks)

History of Short Films

‘Short subject’ a name initially given to Short Films came into existence in the 1910s when the majority of the feature movies were being made into loner run-time editions. The name ‘short subject’ is an American film industry term, which was assigned to any film within 20 minutes long or running two reels. Short subject films could be comedy, animated, or live action. One of the best known users of short subject was Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin.

In 1930s came the slowdown of the short subjects, basically produced by Warner Bros and Famous studios that owned their own theatres to showcase the films. By 1995s, the rise of television led to the strangulation of the live action- short and at the same time the fall cartoon short. Since the 1960s, majority of the directors of short films have been special studio projects or independent film makers.

Since the 1980s, short film term was being used for short subject. Short film as a term describes the non- commercial film that is much shorter in time length than a feature film/ an analogy that can be drawn for short film to a feature film is that of a novella and a novel.

The short filmmakers heavily depend on the short film festivals and art exhibitions to showcase their short films. At the same time, these film makers have more freedom to take up more difficult topics than normal feature films as the risks are lower. Short film making is now a growing as more and more amateurs, students, common man, and enthusiasts are taking this up because of the affordability of the technology to make such films. At the same time one can showcase his work to the world by uploading it on web portals and sharing it with others. It is an area where people are turning to as a hobby, as an art, to achieve their form expressions. (Wiernicki)

Festival de Cannes

“The Festival is an apolitical no-man’s-land, a microcosm of what the world would be like if people could contact each other directly and speak the same language.”

Jean Cocteau

Being first large international cultural event after the World War II, the Festival de Cannes opened on 20th September, 1946. The Palme d’Or was created in 1955. Palme d’Or became the enduring symbol of the Cannes Film Festival, awarded each and every year since to the director of the Best Feature Film of the Official Competition.

At present, Festival de Cannes invites film makers from around the world to present their work in one place and exchange cultural experiences. The selections for the awards are done from a nomination of films from all over the world, from different socio-economic backgrounds, different cultures, and different historical backgrounds.

Cannes offers an opportunity to determine a particular country’s image of its cinema. Festival de Cannes is a melting pot of global cinema and filmmakers. This is the reason why I have undertaken the study of the award winning short films at festival de Cannes.

(Festival History)


Looking at the current literature review, we see that there is a knowledge gap regarding the study of Short Films in the contemporary cinema as a communication medium. This subject requires an in-depth analysis and more research to come up with some perspectives in this area.


To take selected works of Short Films of contemporary cinema, last ten years winner of Cannes Palme d’Or du court métrage (1999-2009), and analyse the context and form of Short films.

Content of the winners of the Cannes Short Film awards (1999-2009) in context of political, sociological, economical, and historical backgrounds.

To study the narrative codes in the films to arrive at a deeper understanding of the short films.


The Qualitative research methodology is used in this study. The method would involve content analysis (Roland Barthes), text/narrative analysis and semiotic analysis of the movies.

The Sample:

The Short Film award winners of Palme d’Or du court métrage (Cannes Short Film Palme d’Or) in Festival de Cannes in the last 10 years (1999-2009). The following Short Films have been selected for the study:



Ver Llover




Cracker Bag

Eso Utan

Bean Cake


Why the above Sample?

The above following sample has been chosen for the reason being that the Festival de Cannes (le Festival de Cannes), founded in 1946, is one of the world’s oldest, finest and most prestigious film festivals which has a very good representation of directors from across the world from different cultural, political, historical, religious, economical, and sociological backgrounds. This provides us with a variety of content for our study. The above movies are selected also on the basis of them being a part of contemporary cinema.

How to Study Short Films

Some of the salient points/ questions that will be used to do this study of short films are as follows:

Who is telling the story? Why is it being told? Does it appear to have a purpose?

(media agencies, authorial voice, writers and ‘auteurs’, marketing, economics, ideology)

How is it experienced? Who ‘consumes’ it, where and in what way?

(readers and media audiences- private and public experience, narrative structures)

How is it made?

(film technology, publishing and episodic publishing-the differences they make to the production process as well as to the finished product)

How does it construct meaning?

(film language and written language-expectations of audiences and readers, codes and conventions, narrative structures)

How does it represent its subject- especially with reference to period?

(representation, use of stereotypes, representation of the past)


Three Ways of Thinking &Talking About Films (Wilder, 1997)

Literary Aspects

Dramatic Aspects

Cinematic Aspects

Who are the characters in the film?

Did the actors make you forget they were acting? How?

What vivid visual images did you note? What did they make you feel or think about?

What is the film’s setting?

Were costumes, make-up, and set equally important to the success of the film?

What sounds or music do you remember? What did they make you feel or think about?

What are the main plot elements?

In what scene was an actor’s voice (pitch, volume, expression) particularly effective?

What scenes can you understand even without dialogue? Why?

From whose point of view is the story told?

Select a scene that must have been difficult to act. How did the actor make his or her body movements appropriate and convincing?

What scene has very effective or unusual editing?

What is the theme of the film?

Describe a scene in which facial expression was important. What feelings were developed? Were words necessary?

If the film uses special effects, do they add to or detract from your enjoyment of the film?

What is the mood of the film?

Did the actors establish their characters more through dialogue or through movement and facial expressions?


What symbols did you notice?

How is this film like or unlike other films by the director? Does this director have a recognizable “style”?



Was there anything about the acting, set, or costumes that bothered you or interfered with your watching of the film?


Given that the art of making Short Films is on the upward trend it is necessary to analyze the current trends, narratives, and the context of the Short Films genre in our contemporary cinema. We have enough knowledge on feature length movies but we lack information on the Short Films of our age. The study of this medium is important as Short films are a highly effective medium of communication and will gain importance going forward. As more and more people are turning towards Short Film making due to accessibility to technology, it is one field that needs attention in our world of cinema. A study of its content will give us a better understanding of the Short Films and world around us through their camera scope is imperative.


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