h

Going short in the long-run for the 35th St Kilda Film Festival

“If I were a filmmaker and I made a short film thinking it was good, I would try to enter it in as many festivals as I could and get exposure that way.”

Amateur filmmaking is fraught with homage and Paul Harris, artistic director of the St Kilda Film Festival, hopes you spare his curating a thought before tossing your hat to your favourite Hollywood director.
 
“After having watched 12,000 short films over the last 20 years, I don’t know how many I’ve seen with guys in black suits walking in slow motion down back-alleys.” For its 35th incarnation, the St Kilda Film Festival’s program skips the Tarantino mimics to exhibit a scintillating and shocking side of short cinema. It includes Australia’s top 100 short films, music video showcase SoundKILDA, and filmmaking workshops to turn fledgeling Tommy Wiseaus into Tom McCarthys.
 
The Academy Awards-accredited festival is unique as the longest running publicly-owned film festival in Australia, something Harris believes moulds its singular character.
 
“We don’t have a board telling us what to do, but we also have to deal with limited funds. You have comparative freedom to try out new ideas, but there are always budget constraints – that’s the same for people who make short films, so we’re all in this boat together.”
 
While the festival celebrates its 35th birthday, YouTube is celebrating its thirteenth. The video platform’s content saturation has had a monumental impact on short films, making production as easy as a phone call. Harris, in his 20th year as director, has experienced the effect of video-sharing, Netflix and illegal downloading of film entertainment first-hand. Downplaying any direct financial impact on the festival itself, Harris ponders the pros and cons its online “democracy” has brought.
 
“The media landscape is very cluttered, so how are you going to stand out from the pack? You’ve got more opportunity than ever to make mediocre films. If I were a filmmaker and I made a short film thinking it was good, I would try to enter it in as many festivals as I could and get exposure that way. As for YouTube, that’s the last stop, not the first. Once you’ve put it out publicly, you’ve lost all control over it.”
 
It doesn’t matter if the film is made on your cracked and dilapidated iPhone 3G either – as long as you’re able to express a unique story, Harris can fall in love. One such DIY film this year is The Story, directed by Steven J. Tandy. It stars lone and weathered rocker Tim Rogers reflecting upon an emergency he witnessed.
 
“The advice I give is: the shorter the film, the better. It’s a bit like trench warfare; you’ve got to jump out of the trench, make your killing, and jump back in before anyone realises what’s happening. You want to be taken somewhere you haven’t been before, whether it’s a comedy or a drama.”
 
This year also marks the second partnership with the Virtual Reality Cinema to show a small selection of documentary short film. VR’s immersive possibilities are closely tied to the short-film ethos, according to Harris.
 
“Short films are ideal for the material being tailor-made to that kind of audience. Because of devices like that, the content people are watching right now is in short bursts. They want to watch things that are quick and economic.”
 
After digesting Harris’ prophetic musings on the key to successful shorts, the trailer for the festival this year serves as a challenge to all would-be filmmakers, as its dizzyingly concise 80-second fantasy musical run through the festival program “makes Baz Luhrmann look like a spendthrift.”
 
The 20-year milestone for Harris’ directorial duties only signals a renewed charge to steer aspirant cinephiles from soulless imitation towards expressive trendsetting.
 
“There are new challenges, and you always get the feeling of work half done, thinking ‘just one more year and I’ll get it right’. I’m like Al Pacino in The Godfather: ‘Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.’”

The St Kilda Film Festival runs from Thursday May 17 through to Saturday May 26 at the Palais Theatre & St Kilda Town Hall. Visit the website for the full program and more information.