What’s the Point of Short Films? Three Sundance Filmmakers Share Their Opinions

'Chilly and Milly'Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Here's why making a short is important for completely different creative reasons than a feature.

Three filmmakers with work in the 2022 Sundance Film Festival shorts program sat down to talk on a Sundane Co//ab panel titled My Short Film’s Long Journey to Sundance, moderated by former No Film Schooler Liz Nord!

Here’s what they had to say.

Filmmaker: William David Caballero

Short: Chilly and Milly

Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

From the Sundance Institute:

Exploring the director’s father’s chronic health problems, as a diabetic with kidney failure, and his mother’s role as his eternal caretaker, Chilly and Milly is a combination of 3D-modeled/composited characters, with cinéma vérité scenes from an autobiographical documentary shot over 13 years ago.

For Caballero, making a short is about bucking convention.

“I feel the feature films tend to be enslaved to the first, second, and third act structures," said Caballero. "That’s what we've been sort of spoon-fed, that through for years through Hollywood blockbusters and things of that nature. Whereas, short films are more about capturing an experience, capturing an emotion, capturing a moment. For me, I feel like it's a bit more poetic because there's a lot more magic that can be put into something that is shorter. You already have the constraint of having it be a short, having it be a limited time. And so the precious time that you have, whether you're short is three minutes 10 minutes 20 minutes, you're competing for each minute has to express something that's central to the project’s premise.

"Whereas, if it's feature, you have a bit more time to let things ebb and flow. Short films to me are a place where I can really dive into the concept in a way like the human essence.”

Filmmaker: Olive Nwosu

Short: Egúngún

Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

From the Sundance Institute:

In search of healing, a young woman returns home to her birthplace: Lagos, Nigeria.

To Olive Nwosu, a feature and a short are not even the same species.

“I think they are entirely different," said Nwosu. "A short for me is almost like a poem. It captures a mood. It's so amazing at doing that. It can be more experimental and meditative. That's how I think about it."

Filmmaker: Sky Hopinka

Short: Kicking the Clouds

Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

From the Sundance Institute:

An experimental documentary, Kicking the Clouds is centered on a 50-year-old cassette tape of a Pechanga language lesson between the director’s grandmother and great-grandmother, and contextualized by an interview with his mother in his Pacific Northwest hometown.

Sky Hopinka is no stranger to either Sundance or feature films. He agreed with the points made by the other two filmmakers, and added that a proof of concept is not about making a feature.

"I do often think of these films as proof of concepts," said Hopinka. "But whether or not that leads into something longer, or into a different sort of medium, is irrelevant. The point is just the act of trying to use whatever material might be available. Like with my short film, a 50-year-old cassette tape of language lesson [from my grandmother to my mother]. What are the possibilities of giving those objects, those histories life outside of the ones that are prescribed to them as just being sort of like documents or as a piece of an archive?

"And how can you look at the relationships that are imbued in these different things, and how does the short film offer a way of looking at that without having to be over burdened by a lot of the internal pressures that go into making a feature-length film? Whether that is attention, whether that is market audience, or whoever will be funding.

"I do like to think of shorts as poems as well. Maybe that's what that's what I'm good at, that."     

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