skip to Main Content

The Art of Short Film by Michael Harrington

The Art of Short Film by Michael Harrington

November 6 & 7, Columbia Arts will host the brilliant Wandering Reel Film Festival, with three sets of short film programs running over two days. Michael Harrington from Wandering Re was kind enough to share this guest blog post with us.

(Don’t miss this incredible series–purchase your tickets here.)

The Art of Short Film by Michael Harrington

From the film Birthday; part of the Wandering Reel Film Festival running November 6-7 at the Columbia Art Center.

From the film Birthday; part of the Wandering Reel Film Festival running November 6-7 at the Columbia Art Center.

Meaningful film, perhaps more than any other art form, has the ability to change the world. The Wandering Reel Traveling Film Festival was born from this concept and specifically the idea that short-form cinema deserves the same life and audience as feature films. In a world of ever growing access to communication and technology mediums, access to artful cinema is at our fingertips, yet it seems that streaming content too often appears accidental entertainment: home videos of sassy pets and human fails. Intentional, short form art film still hasn’t found a sustainable life on sites like Netflix, YouTube or Vimeo, not in a way that enhances the art form and supports these filmmakers.

Despite regular, quick and often free access to even Hollywood’s biggest productions online, the movie theater remains an institution of American culture and many cultures around the world. There is an inherent connection between community and cinema. This is why theaters exist. This is why they persist even when most of us have become accustomed to watching media on devices as small as our phones. Whether it’s a moving drama, gut-wrenching comedy or out-of-this-world fantasy film, the movie watching experience is only heightened in a communal environment. We are forced to turn off our digital companions and watch in silence. If for only ninety minutes, we are asked to pay attention. And even if the film does not specifically ask us to think deeply about the relationship between the story being told and that of the reality that inspired it, we will inherently take it more seriously, and perhaps it will linger in our minds just a little longer once the popcorn runs out.

From the film The Hero.

From the film The Hero.

Outside of film festivals, short films rarely are experienced in front of a live, engaged audience. This should change. To me, the short film is to the feature film as the short story is to the novel and deserves its rightful place in art history. I believe that short films are uniquely designed to enliven, enlighten and inspire an audience in a way that most full-length films do not. Feature films are usually designed to entertain, not inform. They are made to sell popcorn, not effect change or build community. Even the most deeply felt feature films are built around a structure that includes a beginning, middle and end. This allows the audience to escape into the world of the film, experience the story fully, but also to have everything neatly wrapped up in a “Hollywood ending.” On the contrary, while short films strive to do less, they allow the audience to engage further, both during the experience of watching the film, and after the credits roll. Be it documentary, narrative or animation, great short films offer a quick slice of life, of art and leave the audience questioning and wanting more. They make us ask questions about from where the story was drawn and what happens to its players after its ended. Because in real life, there’s always more to the story, it never really ends. When you offer a live audience this, they are even more prone to take the film with them, if only to think on it, but often to learn more. And in today’s world of easy access to information, a moviegoer can actually learn more in a matter of minutes and even, choose to engage in activism about a topic or story that inspired them.

The Wandering Reel offers films we believe are made with purpose, that we believe will inspire, that we hope will stay with our audience long after the popcorn has run out. And we take a little bit of that time once the film reel ends to allow the audience to ask a few questions, share their opinions and hopefully engage with each other on topics presented in our films. That way, once we’ve wandered on down the road, those films and the important issues they address, will have a less fleeting place in that community. This is how you change the world. In your own small way, one community and one (short) film at a time.