“It always starts with the concept,” Harris says. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve got no money. If you’ve got [a short film] which is technically crude but has taken me to a new place while I’m watching it, that means a lot more than a short film with big names and impressive production values, but is impersonal. Sometimes it’s a novelty, the way in which it’s told that makes it stand out from the pack. Sometimes it might be a film that’s non-narrative but has a strong atmosphere, something that grabs you and announces itself.
“The worst thing I think anyone involved in an arts festival can do is to program your own tastes,” he continues, thereby shattering my fledgling schemes for global film festival dominance. “You’re not there to please yourself, you’re there to excite an audience. Quite often I see films that I know have a certain quality about them but might not be to my tastes, so I get other people to look at them too.
“You don’t want to reject a film that goes on to win prizes elsewhere. But in 19 years that hasn’t happened, so I can safely say that the films that we’ve rejected are those that have also been rejected by everybody else.”
The Academy Award qualifying St Kilda Film Festival began back in 1983, and has seen much development in the convening 34 years. Technological advancements have seen filming potential shift from those with access to a camcorder to anyone with a smartphone, and access to international trends and inspirations has never been easier. To that end, this year’s inaugural edition of the Short Shorts Film Festival Asia brings even greater scope to the program.
“Most people who make short films, they work in isolation from each other, dreaming great visions but usually compromised by the fact they haven’t got much money or experience. You tend to be in your own bubble, so when you get the chance to see films that are from other parts of the world, that are cutting edge, there are lessons to be learnt.
“It comes back to that idea of an imaginative concept, rather than try to replicate everything that’s gone before. If you try and make a film that is Tarantino-esque, or feels like Lynch, I wouldn’t bother. Those guys already make those films. What do you have to say that is different from the ones who have come before? When you see work from other countries, it’s inspiring. It rejuvenates the senses.”
While any film festival is fundamentally geared towards a public audience, the potential for emerging filmmakers to meet future collaborators and learn legitimate skills is huge. To be sure, every submission hopes to generate intrigue and grab that Academy Award consideration, but it’s also an avenue to ponder your next steps. Little wonder that each year, Harris and the team face a barrage of up to 600 films.
“You have to whittle them down to a final 100, and that’s basically the process. Sometimes a film will miss out not necessarily because of a lack of quality, but because of a lack of space. As a general rule of thumb, the shorter the film, the better the chances of attracting an audience.
“We are a short film festival, and sometimes you see films that are short, but you can tell are feature films trapped in the body of a short. Films that are ambitious, and are really trying to be a trailer reel for a possible feature. But the genuine short films are those that grab the audience early and do it in a kind of guerilla fashion. They are satisfying just in that short format, which is a real skill.”
By Adam Norris