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.

This gives the filmmakers a very uncertain future since it is in the one-off documentary slots that they have a chance to make their movie. Independent films are an important part of the film industry as it pumps life into the creative standard, along with bringing a new view on things. They enrich the film language, the skills of making a movie.
This is especially true for the short format where the stories are even more compressed because of their length. Short form is intense, to the point, creative and sometimes even stunning.
Kateřina Bartošová

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.

Chronicle of Oldřich S. is a humorous film put together from one man’s true-life journal. The animation by David Fílcík is clean in his technique even though he combines several forms. The main part uses clay, but he also used shadows, tearing as well as sound effects, which plays an important role. The whole film is from the author’s point of view, sitting in front of his chronicle. The book opens and for each sentence read, the events are animated over, through and around the book. The real journal had over 2000 daily notes. The authors picked over 200 and used 80 for the final screenplay. As stated in the catalog: “These eighty notes provide a concentrated overview of Mr. Sedláček’s life and of our society.” The public history is interlayered with important personal events such as the birth of their baby girl. She grows, has a birthday, begins school, goes to summer camp, falls in love, gets married, has a baby, buys a color TV for 14 thousand Czech crowns, celebrates her 15-year wedding anniversary and gets divorced. These personal events always follow a  major (or minor) public event that make “history” such as the outburst of the Velvet Revolution, the first telephone-booth in the village, the second marriage of President Havel and so on. When we hear, “the last of the Russian army leaves Czech republic,” a troop of cockroaches marsh over the book. The voice tells you the facts; the picture gives you an opinion in the visual interpretation.
The personal and the public events are given the same importance in this movie, and that is the poetry of the film. It is full of antidotes for the Czech viewer, who can decode the visual messages, but since the film is so well done it will give a strong message to the world audience as well. What seems a big historical event is maybe not so important after all. What really matters are the small personal events. What comes out very clear in this movie is that life is short.
Chronicle of Oldřich S. by David Fílcík

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.

The stark and static camera shoots a series of portraits of women: they are in a waiting room, and then they rise and leave the picture. The camera does not pan nor move in any way. We see in another scene that they are led into a room, the door closes and the procedure repeats itself with ten, twenty, thirty women. We capture a full range of emotions in the silent stills of the women waiting for their dreaded turn to take an abortion. The only sound we hear is the distant, metallic sound of medical instruments being placed on a tray. Then we cut to the exterior, we see a bridge over a river on a foggy day. What shocks us is the sudden loud contact-sound, which makes a strong impression. We cut back inside the hospital corridor with the strange, distant, abstract sound of metals. I Will Forget this Day is a movie that will gain value with time as such “clean” observational movies do not age. The faces, the thoughts, the dreading anticipation in the faces will always fascinate the viewer. The emotions are the same regardless of the time.

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.

Modern Times Review