What’s  a Short Film? 

In the early days of capturing and projecting moving images, ‘short’ was the norm. Everyday activities depicted on screen for just a few seconds, or a few minutes, captivated or terrified Victorian audiences in equal measure.  The most famous of these is L’arrivée d’un train en gare de la Ciotat (Arrival of a Train) by the Lumière Brothers (1895).

As technologies improved throughout the 20th century, full length feature films took precedence in commercial cinemas but the short film remained a useful tool as newsreels and in disseminating government information, particularly in wartime.

By the 1980s, shorts had just about disappeared from High St cinemas, although their popularity as an art form remained strong with visual artists who weren’t constrained by production values and deadlines and brought a sense of freedom to the medium.  The Oberhausen Short Film Festival, now in its 63rd year has been celebrating and supporting innovation in short film since 1954.

Today, thanks to the arrival in the 1990s of lightweight, portable, recording equipment and ever advancing digital technology, along with the arrival of the internet, the making of short film is enjoying a renaissance.  Short films are no longer the poor relation to the full length feature film in the world of cinematic story telling but are being celebrated in film festivals, TV (Channel 4’s 4Shorts), media (VirginMedia Shorts competition) and of course online via YouTube, Vimeo etc.

In the world of film festivals there seems to be a general consensus about how short a short film can be. Most film festivals agree that a short film needs to be at least 1 minute long – otherwise, blink and you’ll miss it.  There isn’t, though, any official definition of how long a short film can be.

At the Sundance Film Festival any film shorter than 50 minutes qualifies as short film, while at the Academy Awards, any film of 40 minutes or under is eligible for the shorts categories. Here at Sunderland Shorts we ask for films which run for no longer than 20 minutes including all credits.

A short film can be a great way for both script writers and directors to show their skills. Whether a drama or a documentary, an animation or a comedy, an art or a sci-fi film, a short has to grab the audience’s attention straight away and tell its story concisely and beautifully to carry the viewer on the journey.