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PAWS FOR ART: So what’s the big deal about short films anyway?

Short films have only been around for a little over 120 years. Even more recent is the beginning of film festivals, which occurred in 1932. Consequently, short films have a long way to go before becoming as mainstream as full-length films. Critics of the short film like to bring up the fact that very little can be accomplished in a film within such a short amount of time. The details and plot are limited — less background, fewer characters, essentially less of everything.

Their criticism, of course, is at least partly true: Short films do not have a lot of time to create complicated plots with side characters or subplots or slow-burning romances. Every single aspect of a short film has to matter. Perhaps in this way, it is a kind of poetry. It can speak to the soul and the mind if people look hard enough. 

The easiest place to look may lie within the creativity of college students. The 2019 College Homecoming Showcase is one of many Maryland film festivals throughout the year. This particular festival featured a number of students from many different Maryland universities — Stevenson, Towson and University of Maryland, Baltimore County to name a few. 

The entire show consisted of a setlist of 11 films categorized by animation, live-action and a mix of the two. Four of those films were created, written, directed and performed by UMBC students: “Man With Arms” by Chris Muse, “Willow” by Ezra Pailer, “Reincarnate” co-directed by Kyle Hartford and Syed Hussain and “Phantom” by Natalie ‘Tulie’ Mitiuriev.

Each of the films had clear emotions and a distinct direction. Granted, they were not completely perfect, but they all had something important to say about the human experience, and that is what art is supposed to do.

The effective emotional execution in these short films definitely stems from something deeper, from the origins of the filmmakers themselves. In reference to his history in this field, Hartford was able to confidently say, “I always wanted to be a filmmaker and I really don’t know how to do anything else.”

This is what the critics of short films don’t consider. Short films may not have the same amount of intricacy that full-length movies do, but they represent the artists in a way that those movies never could. Makers of short films often have a personal connection to what they do and they really do put themselves — their emotions, their issues, their love — into their work. “I could relate myself to fictional characters more so than the people around me,” Mitiuriev said. “What I saw within a lot of animated characters was this perseverance past all of their adversity and I wanted to see myself finding my own happily ever after.”

When asked how his film affected him personally, Pailer added, “When I was growing up, there was this willow tree… It was a magical sort of place and I spent a lot of time there. The tree had a presence… and I felt this genuine relationship to it. And when it was cut down a few years ago I did feel this sense of grief and loss.”

No matter how different their stories and paths to this point in their lives may be, each of the filmmakers has something in common: passion. All of them were happy with where they were and what they had created. 

And they have good reason to be proud. This form of art is a difficult one. There is harsh criticism from all sides, and some people dismiss these types of films altogether. However, there is still something unique, something special about the art of the short film. It is one of the only ways the public can be placed directly into the mind of the filmmaker. It requires a lot of attention to detail. As mentioned before, every second has to matter in a short film, so those who grasp onto their seconds and captivate the audience the entire time, as these five students did, have a talent and passion that some could only hope for. 

The sole purpose of the short film is to give an idea, an emotion to the audience they can resonate with. But with enough passion for the work, understanding of the human experience and endless amounts of personal connection, short films can easily become some of the best minutes of a person’s life.

To check out the exclusive interviews from these UMBC students, go to The Retriever UMBC’s Official Campus Newspaper YouTube channel.

Photo Credit: The 2019 Homecoming Showcase took place at the Parkway Theatre on September 5th. Photo by Rafhael Dungca.