Why give a sh*t about shorts?!

And why you should probably get yours into the upcoming 15th LSFF. A short history of the short film by our artistic director, Philip Ilson.
Why give a sh*t about shorts?!

A version of this article was first published on the Huffington Post in early January 2017.

Every filmmaker ever has made a short film. There, I said it. Anyone wishing to dispute that claim, see me.

Cinema owes everything to short film. The earliest films of the 1890's would consist of a short single scene, whether a document of a public event or a slapstick comedy moment and were seen at carnivals, vaudeville shows and in shop-fronts. But as the 20th century kicked in, single shots made by one person became multiple shots running over several minutes churned out by big company assembly line style. The first cinemas, including thousands of Nickelodeons across America, were built in the early years of the 20th century where the work of the Lumiere Brothers, Méliès and other early pioneers was screened. All these films were short, with a couple of exceptions, such as longer recordings of sporting events and plays. Technological limitations also meant films were shorter, with film reels being limited to 1000 feet (about 30 minutes).

Shorts in the form of comedy reels, cartoons or newsreels were still popular before a main feature as the new century progressed. However in America, during the 1930's, the Hollywood studios gradually took over distribution with their own product, thereby squeezing out independent distributors of shorts as features became the norm.

But all this was nearly a century ago, so how have short films survived? 

Post-war, the short is mainly associated with experimental films screened at arts festivals and independent spaces by artists such as Stan Brakhage and Andy Warhol. These films would have a limited but dedicated audience, but were also where new techniques could be experimented with. Filmmakers like David Lynch were immersed in such a world. In fact, Lynch’s early shorts define what we know of him as a director of such masterpieces as Blue Velvet. More recently, the short films of Christopher Nolan (Doodlebug) and Andrea Arnold (Wasp) helped put these directors on the world stage.


In 2017, the short is the most readily available of all cinematic forms. Short films continue to be made, from fiction and documentary to advertising, web content and music video. It’s easier than ever to make short film, and to watch it on curated platforms such as NownessShortsTV and Vimeo, and on specialist sites such as Animate Projects. While the internet creates a space to share work, it’s also easy for shorts to get lost in the noise of content.

The London Short Film Festival cuts through that noise. It celebrates short film in all its variables. The festival selects new work from around nearly 2000 submissions to create themed programmes of films. Every January, amidst the Oscar buzz, the festival comes to life, championing future talent, offering different view-points, and reminding audiences why shorts are important. It’s a chance to prove that short film is alive and kicking and in rude health, with the sheer diversity of work on show.

The next London Short Film Festival is already in the diary, 5th-14th January 2018, and early bird submissions are now open to UK and international filmmakers.