A short film is the perfect place to take artistic risks. Producers, marketing departments and contractual cross-platform marketing are non-essential – all a short-film maker needs is a camera and an idea.
Since 1983, the St Kilda Film Festival has been the champion of risky cinema. Paul Harris has been festival director for the past 20 years. He says thanks to new technology we’re about to enter the golden age of shorts.
“It makes it so much easier to produce work at a low cost,” says Harris. “More filmmakers than ever before can just go out and do work without having a formal film education. The short-film medium [is] ideally suited to the digital landscape we live in today.”
Every year, Harris reviews upwards of 600 films to assess the fraction that’ll make the final cut and screen at the St Kilda Film Festival. He’s always looking for something unusual and innovative. Previous entries have included work by acclaimed filmmakers such as Warwick Thornton (Samson and Delilah, Sweet Country) and Joel and Nash Edgerton (The Gift, Gringo and the upcoming Boy Erased).
The short medium is also an ideal training ground for budding creators. “You’re in a low-threat environment,” says Harris. “If you blow a feature, you’ll never be invited back. Short films help you take risks in finding your feet, in experimenting and innovating. I know a lot of feature-film makers who look back on making short films with a kind of nostalgia, because it was just them and the camera.”
Running from May 17 to May 26, the St Kilda Film Festival features more than 160 films. Here are five not to miss.
Directed by young Melbourne filmmaker Julian Lucas, For Your Sins features a star turn by comedian Dave Lawson, who attempts to hire an advertising agency to promote sinning. “Lawson plays the role in a very deadpan way,” says Harris. “He’s totally serious about what he’s doing. [And] it’s edited in a very fast fashion, which makes the film even funnier.”
A 28-minute documentary by Swinburne filmmaker Lauren Broeren, Mister Herschell delves into the forgotten story of one of Australia’s film pioneers. “It’s about Charles Hershel, who [started] a film production company in about 1915,” says Harris. “During this period Australia didn’t really have a film industry, but this little company kept going for years and years, churning stuff out. [It’s] a history of Australian filmmaking in Melbourne.”
No spoilers, but Harris promises The Story is a four-minute masterclass in low-budget filmmaking, thanks to writer-director Steven J Tandy. “He’s lucky enough to have acquired the services of [You Am I’s] Tim Rogers, [who] just talks to the camera,” says Harris. “I won’t reveal what he talks about, but it’s highly dramatic. It’s the most simple set-up you could ever imagine. It was self-financed, but what funding do you need when you’ve got Tim Rogers?”
In analogue days, collaborations between international film festivals were difficult. Independently produced short films were once notoriously hard to find subtitles for. But thanks to digital advances in subtitles, this year there are seven shorts from the Guanajuato International Film Festival. “The film festival is the biggest in Mexico, and it’s very highly regarded. We wanted to do something with them,” says Harris. “When you watch these films, they’re very dark. But they’re fascinating.”
One of Harris’s favourites from the Mexican selection is El Buzo (The Diver), a short documentary that follows Julio César Cu Cámara, the man responsible for removing blockages in the sewers beneath Mexico City. “He’s like those people in the old days, who wore a diving bell connected by a hose,” says Harris. “When you start watching it, it’s pretty gross. But then you realise he actually enjoys his job. There’s something beautiful about it,”
Also be sure to check out Verde (Green), a drama about an armoured-truck driver who considers giving in to temptation. “I can’t say anything more that happens, but it’s a pretty violent, in-your-face film,” Harris says.
This year the festival includes a special investigation of music history, presented in collaboration with the National Film and Sound Archive: Right There on My TV.
Named after a lyric from the 1975 Skyhooks hit Horror Movie, it’s a deep dive into the music of the ’70s, including hits from Nightmoves, Bandstand, Thank God It’s Friday at the Zoo and the never-before-seen pilot Soundcheck. “It never got picked up by the network,” says Harris. “But it’s got a lot of the big acts of the day. We’ve got really rare clips that haven’t been seen before.”
If the rightful appreciation of an overlooked art form isn’t enough for you, there’s another reason to go: John Paul Young will be there. Yes, love is in the air. The St Kilda Film Festival is on May 17 to 26 at St Kilda Town Hall. Opening night is at the Palais Theatre.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with The St Kilda Film Festival.