There are some TV concepts that seem to no longer be favoured, as the dictation of TV slots rules them out for public viewing. Such are films outside the normal slot of 50 minutes, the flexible TV slots; the future trend doesn’t look bright.
During the recent Australian International Documentary Conference (AIDC), the Australian public broadcasters ABC and SBS, gave a clear message that they are only looking for doc series. One-off documentaries are hard to schedule, they say.
Kateřina Bartošová, the program director of One World International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival in Prague, says, “we feel that a short film has a lot to give, since it has to convince the viewer in a short time. Short films are often made by students and young filmmakers, and are showing innovative approach, which we always appreciate.” Of the 106 films that they selected for the festival program in 2012, one fifth of them were short format. They are screened annually in the special category of Short Films and moreover, short format documentaries make up the Docs for Kids program that is very popular.
The One World Festival organized this year, for the first time and in cooperation with The Institute of Documentary Film (IDF), an industry section. Their East Silver Video Market had over 300 titles, and I was surprised to find that the two most watched and top rated movies where shorts. The German/Ukrainian Leonid’s Story by Rainer Ludwigs and the Czech Chronicle of Oldřich S. by Rudolf Šmíd were on top of the list. Both are animated.
Leonid’s Story by Rainer Ludwigs is a poetic, drawn animation that reconstructs the Chernobyl catastrophe through a love story. The technique is good and gives the impression of time passing by. Our main hero, a policeman, writes an application to the authorities to be transferred to another region, and the application comes back with a rejection stamp year after year. 10 years pass, the letter lies on a table and the sun rises and falls. Then by a miracle they are allowed to transfer to his home region. They visit a church and pray to have a child. Their prayers are answered and a child is on the way. They are happy, living in a house in a village close it reconstructs the Chernobyl catastrophe through a love story
to Chernobyl. Then in the middle of the night they wake up to the strange hectic activity outside their house. Since Leonid is a policeman, he is ordered to Chernobyl to organise the evacuation. Through Leonid we get the whole story of Chernobyl from the most simple, naive perspective. It is interesting because we hear what the people are told by the officials and with the knowledge we have now we know that the officials are lying. They tell the people not to take anything with them since they are to return in three days. The families leave behind enough food for their pets to last these three days, and board the buses without taking a single thing with them. Whenever the main characters have to go to the state authorities or doctors, the pencil drawings turn to sketches that form unclear shadow figures, and the sound is slightly deformed to evoke the absolute helplessness and disinformation passing from the authorities to the individual citizens. The end picture is real live footage of the couple. The little boy, who was to be aborted by the state doctors, sits squeezed in-between, protected by his elderly parents. They stare blankly at the camera, informing us of all the health problems they have from the nuclear radiation they were exposed to. The story is touching because like good citizens, they listened and put their trust in the authorities who were not honest with them.
Last but not least, I have to mention a breathtaking short, black and white movie, I will Forget this Day, by Alina Rudnitskaya. This movie is in many ways a reference to Walter Ruttman’s Berlin: A symphony of a Metropolis (Germany, 1927) in its fantastic work with observing camera, still shots and for a large part of the movie, the conscious decision not to use contact sound.
It is in the short format the experimental ground opens up the film language. In other words, the short movie is a poem and it is an important format to keep. Hopefully trends will change, the broadcasters will become more flexible and we can enrich the TV viewer’s experience with these films with a cultural value.