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Video camera lens lit by different color light sources Video camera lens lit by different color light sources

Short films offer big, powerful stories

Video camera lens lit by different color light sourcesThe short film has been around as long as people have been able to make pictures move. Naturally, it's easier to put together a short, straightforward narrative than an epic movie production. As an art form short films are often pushing the envelope and there are a wide range of short film categories.

You may not even realize how often you encounter them. Is a cartoon a short film? What about those long emotional Super Bowl commercials, or an extended music video? I'm inclined to say, "Yes, why not!" The only rule is that they're usually under 30 minutes ("feature-length" tends to be either 50 or 70 minutes). Let's look at a few of the most common types.

Modern independent shorts

We see a lot of modern short films shot by independent artists who don't receive major studio funding. Most people's experience with these is the Oscar-nominated standouts that often gain traction online. Sites like the wonderful Short of the Week and Roger Ebert's Short Films in Focus do a great job of spotlighting them for free. They're also frequently seen at film festivals that screen several back-to-back.

Our library is a screening location for the Manhattan Short Film Festival, which is an international festival with screenings in more than 500 cities. You can attend a screening Fri, Sept 30 or Sun, Oct 2 sot see 10 short films that qualify for the 2023 Oscars. It's free, open to all ages and will showcase short-filmmakers from around the world.

Documentary shorts

filming city street sceneAnother of the most common shorts are documentary or nonfiction subjects. Earning its own distinction as an Oscar category, short docs have been around since the first films that simply recorded daily life, like a train arriving at a station. There's a long history of global filmmakers helping digest the world around them in bite-sized form.
Les Blank's shorts on food and music, Robert Drew's following the campaign trail of JFK, and Marlon Riggs's poetic docs on being black and gay in America stand out. Directors of the French New Wave like Louis Malle, Agnès Varda and Alain Resnais all made short docs despite being best known for their classic movies. The macro-marine photography of Jean Painlevé is unlike anything before or since. I can't leave out the ever-fascinating German auteur Werner Herzog whose subjects are as eclectic as they come.

Silent shorts

When film was first born, artists had to experiment so naturally they kept those short. Feature films grew out of shorts back before they even recorded sound. Thomas Edison's lab alone filmed hundreds including the first Frankenstein adaptation. In France (again), pioneer Georges Méliès had his own studio that pioneered color and special effects at the same speed as Edison. His foundational work was dramatized in the 2011 film Hugo. But by far the most remembered and beloved of all silent shorts are those of the great comedians, like Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. The library also hosts a spooky silent film event every October at Grace Episcopal Cathedral called Silents in the Cathedral.


Animated shorts

Everyone loves animated shorts. That's easy to say because animation can cover a lot of ground. While many of us grew up on Mickey Mouse and Looney Tunes cartoons, animated shorts geared toward adult subject matters warrant their own Oscar category. Originally, they often were short cartoons seen before a feature film in movie theaters. But these days animated shorts are appreciated for telling stories that perhaps can't be told live-action. Or they can tell a story at a fraction of the price without expensive special effects, costumes and sets. Brimming with creativity and expressive movement, animation often relies less on dialog and language than your average live-action short.

View & vote in Short Film Festival

Join us at the library to watch and vote on 10 new short films that are hard to find anywhere else during the Manhattan Short Film Festival. Watch all 10 films at one of our screenings in Marvin Auditorium on Fri, Sept 30 at 2pm or 6pm, or Sun, Oct 2 at 1pm. You'll join film lovers in more than 500 venues worldwide who are viewing and judging the work of the next generation of filmmakers.

Manhattan Short is the only film festival of its kind. The final selections screen simultaneously across the world during a one-week period. Attendees vote for Best Film and Best Actor awards at each venue. Every short film selected will automatically become qualified for the 2023 Oscars.

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