In 2005 Paul Bruce founded the Leith Short Film Festival as a way of providing he and his fellow filmmakers with a platform to screen their locally shot short films. The first year was a small affair, just three films shown in the back of a pub, but it proved popular and became a regular part of the Leith Festival programme. In 2011 the Leith Short Film Festival became the Edinburgh Short Film Festival [ESFF], of which Paul is Festival Director. The ESFF now stretches over six nights in June, attracting films from all over the planet including Academy Award nominated shorts. Paul is also a short story writer and he likes dogs and whisky.
The ESFF has grown massively since those first three shorts in 2005, how many films are you screening now?
It depends on how long the films are. The maximum length is twenty minutes but last year we screened about 98 shorts; there were a considerable number under five minutes. It’s difficult to predict this year, last year we got about 170 submissions and we’re at that already, it looks like maybe 250 with a bit of luck. You generally get a big spike towards the middle of April as people rush to get to the deadline [28/04/14], so I think around 250 is a fair bet.
There’s a lot of very good ones. We had a documentary from the Gaza Strip about children who have to work in a copper mine. They only had electricity for one hour a day and there’s a cultural embargo on material from the Gaza Strip so the film was smuggled out of Gaza and posted to us from Malaysia. We’ve got a film this year from Syria which is really interesting, and one from Ukraine and one from Russia which will be interesting. I was thinking about doing them side-by-side but I don’t know if we’ll do that.
As short filmmaking is becoming more accessible to people, how does that reflect itself in the content of your submissions?
It’s interesting because I think things are changing. In the past people would make short films in order to use them as a calling card and maybe go on to make feature film. That’s still the case but people are using short film to go into web series or virals or even broadband television. In the past we had people wanting to make adverts, you see fewer of those now. A lot of the stuff we’re getting looks like the pilot episode of a web-series. So it’s not just about people making a short film that looks like a feature, it’s about using the form to do different things with it.
We’re looking at the different ways we can screen shorts and one of the ways involves a bit more outreach work. There’s a telephone booth in Portobello which is all lit up, so we’re thinking of putting a short film there and have it projected inside this box. We’re also using the middle meadow walk coffee kiosk; at the end of the day you pull the shutter down, it’s got a projector with two speakers and we can show films.
You’re almost crossing the boundary into visual art.
Kind of like that yeah. They’re still films and there’s sound but there are different ways of projecting them. One of the things we’re doing, which we did last year, is this thing we called short film roulette. We used Supercube, [a venue with multiple private hire rooms for karaoke] we showed a different short in each room. It’s interesting because it’s a cross between speed-dating and the cinema; you go into a small room and meet someone and have a chat and watch the film and then go into another room and meet someone else. It’s a different way to experience film.
Why do you think it’s important to present films in this kind of inventive and dynamic manner?
Just to shake things up a bit. I think with short film the perception is it’s low budget. You get the films out there to show the production values are extremely high these days. One of the films this year, it’s $65,000! I couldn’t believe the budget, that’s the biggest budgeted film we’ve had. In Britain we’re going ‘Well I’ve got three-hundred quid, I think I can do it’ and we think that’s good. We had one from France a few years ago, (they’re chucking money at short film over there) the opening shot was, from about 100-foot up, this endless Saharan vista – it went on for miles – and he did a 360-degree pan. He must have got a crane into the desert and chucked a camera on the top. I wonder how much that cost?
Would you say that short films are beginning to find equal footing against feature films, with critics and the general public?
I think so. Short films have a low profile in Britain. In Europe there’s a market for short films because Europeans will watch each other’s films with subtitles. But in Britain: A – nobody watches short film/they’re not on television, and B – there’s a reluctance to engage in subtitles to some extent. So Britain definitely lags behind Europe in terms of budgeting. What you find is that funding bodies don’t fund short film any more, so that’s why we’re around, to give people an outlet and to get the message out.
Following the online model that television is moving towards, do you think there is the scope to set something similar up for the ESFF?
I think setting up something like that you’d be in competition, so we wouldn’t want to do that. I’m quite happy for us to be a festival and have events during the year. Another reason I like the festival is group events. I’ve been at a few festivals recently and it requires a lot of hard work to get people away from 52-inch plasma screens and 24-hour sports. It’s so much better for a filmmaker to see an audience reaction. There’s a different dynamic with a group experience and it’s not that common, especially for short film. One of the things that you can only really do with short film, is we programme films that are very different next to each other so you never really know what’s coming next. You don’t know what emotions going to come.
So your partnership with Hidden Door is another creative string to your bow, in trying to popularise and publicise short films.
Yeah, so we’re doing our best of 2013 screening at Hidden Door on Friday April 4th at 19:30. Next year, because it’s our fifth year we might do the best of five years type thing. It’s great because we’ve condensed all of the really best stuff into one screening. We’ve already prepared the screening we’re going to do at 19:30 but we get the keys at noon and we’ve got the whole day so we we’re doing an extra screening of local shorts, at 15:00 for about an hour and a half.
What’s the future for the ESFF?
We’re working with Kan-Kan Media, a short film screening organisation in Shanghai, to take some of the films to Shanghai in October. We’re also reciprocating and doing a night of Kan-Kan curated shorts. Because they’re very big on documentary over there, we’d like to do a documentary workshop. We’d like to have this short film link between the two cities.
Another thing we’d like to do is, in Hamburg they have this café, which is associated with the short film festival there. They have screenings with wireless headphones so you can have a screening and a café at the same time. We were thinking we could do that for the Fringe. We’ve also arranged with North East Aberdeenshire Trust that they’re touring some of our curated short films from last year around Aberdeenshire, so we’d like to do a bit more of that. There’s a lot of small cinemas, community cinemas opening up just now, if we get these together as a network that could be a possible distribution outlet for short film.