Of Short Films and Festivals

Mark Cosgrove is the Creative Director of Encounters International Film Festival and has worked in independent cultural film exhibition for the past 22 years. Here he writes about what he considers makes a good short film, and the importance of festivals for emerging filmmakers.

The deadline for submissions for this year’s Encounters is Thursday 30 June 2011. Get your submissions in quick! Submission details here.

There are no hard and fast rules as to what makes a good short film. This is both the excitement and the problem! Excitement because anything is possible and for a curator/festival programmer good short films can come in all shapes and sizes; Problem because short filmmakers are eager to know the solution and of course make a good film and…there is no answer!

As a matter of course, I watch somewhere in the region of 4 – 500 short films – out of the staggering 1500 plus submissions that the festival receives each year – in preparation for our short film festival Encounters and Watershed’s 90 second filmmaking competition DepicT!.

What is interesting in this process is that the very bad films and the very good films stand out. There is a whole raft in the middle which cause me trouble because I’m uncertain; and that uncertainty is what makes them interesting.

As I write this, I think back to the early days when I was selecting for Encounters. I started watching a short and thought this is bad, just not working, but something held my attention – I still don’t know what that was, maybe an image, a phrase, a feeling – and it turned out to be one of my favourite films of the festival.

What I want from a film is to feel a conviction – a conviction from the filmmaker that they have a confidence – or maybe attitude is a better word – in relation to the image, the sound, the dialogue.

But let’s get back to hard facts: festivals only have a limited amount of space in their programme and every festival gets submitted way more films than they have space. Festival programmers get to be in a bit of a luxurious position! I always say to filmmakers if their film does not get selected, it is not necessarily because it is bad. Festivals and festival programmers have tastes, personalities and finite space. It is worth researching the many festivals around the world and getting a sense of what they are looking for.

My other piece of advice is to attend as many festivals as you can – even if your film did not get accepted. The film and media business is about networking and festivals, if they are worth their weight, are important places to network. The industry needs to renew itself and find out where the new talent is coming from.

Short film festivals in particular have an important function to platform and promote that talent. It’s by being there that things happen.

Some further thoughts from Singaporean filmmakers on why going to festivals counts:

“It matters because this path we take can be crazy, sweet, gut-wrenching, blood-curdling, lonely, ugly, full of sadness, laughter and beauty, so it makes hell of a lot of sense when we meet kindred spirits at such festivals and take comfort in the madness of dreamers and idealists, far from the madding crowd of pragmatic, conservative, sex-starved film capitalists.” Sherman Ong

“Traveling to film festivals with my works was an important part of my growth as a filmmaker. Being able to present my films to audiences internationally and interacting with filmmakers from around the world have allowed me to see my own works from various perspectives.” Boo Junfeng

“Film Festivals are one of the best places to put your film to the test.” Victric Thng

“Apart from making film, I think it is equally important to watch as many films and that is an important reason why I attend film festivals. It is a great platform where most critical and important pieces of work are presented, and that is the place to get inspired and motivated. Getting to meet very talented people, besides from the creative industry, but attendees as well from very diverse backgrounds, talking to them makes me grow as a storyteller and animation filmmaker. It seems to me unhealthy if someone is working in a vacuum, out of context and closed from other influences and inspirations. I remember vividly meeting a Chinese animation filmmaker at the Stuttgart Festival of Animated Film. As we are parting ways, she said we will meet eventually again at other festivals in the future as long as we keep on making our films. There are so many filmmakers who share the passion for animation and films, and meeting them gives me an additional purpose and meaning in my career that encourages me to work even harder; to make better animation for the audiences and peers who gather together annually at a single event.” Animator Tan Wei Keong

“Film festivals create an environment for creative exchanges where people have the same goals and speak the same language. It is more than an opportunity for networking, it is a chance for friendships to develop – the kind that may take you through your entire career, the kind that you need when the business of film fails you and the all you’re holding onto your passion.” Programmer and Objectifs co-founder Yuni Hadi


Mark Cosgrove is the Creative Director of Encounters International Film Festival and has worked in independent cultural film exhibition for the past 22 years. Since 1994, he has been Head of Cultural Programme at Watershed in Bristol, Britain’s first dedicated “Media Centre” which has evolved to become a byword for creativity in the moving image, delivering a year round diverse, cultural programme of world cinema and festivals. It is also a leading exponent and commissioner of online creativity through its website DShed.net exhibiting shorts, podcasts and artists commissions to a worldwide audience. A prime example is the DepicT! super-short film competition, part of Encounters International Film Festival which for over a decade now, has been challenging filmmakers on any budget from anywhere in the world to show their stuff in just a minute and a half.

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