Friday, June 23, 2017 This Week's Paper

Arts & Entertainment: Why short films play an important role in the world of cinema

To the casual fan of independent film, the short film (aka ‘short’) can be an enigma. Five-to 40-minute run times can fundamentally disrupt our paradigm of what qualifies as a “movie” and what may be more appropriately qualified as a “show” or even a “sketch.” However, to classify short films as the latter would be to tragically devalue one of the world’s premier artistic mediums. To fully understand the appeal and functionality of short films and why they are screened en masse at local, national and international film festivals, a bit of context may be helpful.

Shorts function in the cinema business like demos and EPs do in the world of music. Just as the cost of recording a 12-song album may be too great for an up-and-coming band to pay for themselves, the cost of creating a feature length film can be far too much for an up-and-coming director and crew.

Thus, shorts are often created by filmmakers who are looking to prove themselves to studios, individual donors (a growing pillar of indie film) and producers.

Film festivals have become the ideal venue for short films largely because they are so often congregation sites for film industry representatives as well as indie cinema fans eager to discover for themselves the next great film director, writer, cinematographer or actor.

The cost (which manifests in equipment, salaries, set designs, permits, travel, etc.) may prevent relatively unknown directors from creating high-finish level feature films. Nonetheless, many resourceful filmmakers are able to generate the funds, tools and services needed to create shorts with finish levels similar to your favorite indie features.

Storytelling is at a premium when it comes to shorts. Naturally, with less runtime to work with the writers and directors of shorts must approach their stories with extreme earnest. There is no less of a prerequisite to develop characters, create emotional moods, and (usually) adhere to the “five step” story model (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution). This might seem like a near impossible task to accomplish in 10 minutes, yet a great short film rarely feels rushed.

If you’ve had the opportunity to peruse the 2013 Tacoma Film Festival program, you’ve likely noticed that more than half of the 123 selected films are shorts. Like most festivals, we’ll show our shorts in collections of 4-7 at a time and we’ve grouped them according to genre, style and origin.

If you’ve never been to a screening of short films, we hope that you’ll consider changing that this next week during the Tacoma Film Festival. For the admission price of just one screening, you’ll be exposed to many filmmakers, stories and styles and you may be introduced to your new favorite filmmaker.

This year’s Tacoma Film Festival short film collections are “International Shorts,” “Science Fiction Shorts,” “Comedy Shorts,” “Late Night Shorts,” “Animated Shorts,” “Documentary Shorts,” “Drama Shorts,” “253Film Shorts” and “Northwest Shorts.” For times and locations, please visit

Zach Powers is Director of Marketing & Communications for The Grand Cinema and The Tacoma Film Festival.