Reflections on Clermont-Ferrand, International Short Film Festival

Reflections on Clermont-Ferrand, International Short Film Festival

Jason Sacha is a filmmaker studying law at Osgoode Hall.

In some ways, crafting a solid short film is like writing a short blog. It goes through numerous iterations. It consists of a plethora of concepts and ideas that each could be explored as their own larger piece. And in no way will it ever be exhaustive. Yet, the storyteller must decide to focus upon a key theme or concept, craft their story around it, and share it with the world.  In sharing, the writer acts as a guide, opening a door to world bounded only by the audience’s imagination. And so, imagine with me if you will of a journey, the journey to a short film festival in Clermont-Ferrand.

Short films are the training ground for filmmakers to hone their craft. The complexity of a feature film is boiled down to an essential few minutes in which an idea is explored. Within their limited duration, the audience needs to understand the characters, conflicts, and the film’s raison d’être. Successful short films require more than just an interesting moment or person – they need to be the most economical expressions of a story well told. Because of this, crafting a good short film is quite a tricky venture.

Regardless of being a comedy film, poetic experience, or in the metaphorical observation genre, packaged within this brief period is nearly the same amount of effort required to make a feature film. Alas, short film creators do not have the luxury of two plus hours - or the corresponding budget - to explore each character, plot and nuance as in a feature film. This requires a delicate balancing of artistic need with financial limitations.

When this balance is achieved, the successful short film becomes the creator’s audiovisual business card. It evidences the filmmaker’s effective practice of dramaturgy: an artful manipulation of dramatic composition and staging to hopefully be used in the creation of a larger feature-length film.  But this skill is only evidenced when people see the film. And so, once completed, the film is readily sent off in hopes of being screened at a top-tier festival. With this in mind, I took my film, Mea Maxima Culpa, to France.

The Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival in France took place from February 4 - 12. It is the premiere top-tier short film festival. It consists of a selection of French national films, international films, experimental lab concept projects, and uniquely tailored packages in competition (ie. the “Ambiance experiences” and “Fairy Tales” films). It is an excellent place to see the future of film by the next generation of great filmmakers.

Coupled with the general screening is a marketplace featuring over 7,000 films and attended by over 3,000 film professionals. The festival aims to bring these professionals together for a global meet and greet while providing impressive venues to showcase their work.

With so many films in the market, independent filmmakers can feel like they are submitting their “audio-visual business card” to a free-lunch fishbowl. Thankfully, the festival has arranged for the marketplace itself to be arranged in booths organized by country. There is one unique distinction:

There was not a booth for Canada but there was for Quebec.

Quebec was generally represented by Société de développement des entreprises culturelles (SODEC), who’s mandate is to “contribute to the spread of culture and communications abroad … and promotes its influence in the world.” [emphasis added]. Not only is the society focused on training their future artists, but they have a focus on distributing them worldwide. They had a strong lineup of talent represented including members of the Documentary Organization of Canada and host of award winning Quebec filmmakers. Barring myself, and another ex-pat independent producer that I met, there was no Anglo-Canadian representation in the market. Why wasn’t there an English-Canada component or a booth representing Canada as a whole?

It seemed strange that SODEC was represented but the National Film Board of Canada was not. Perhaps the NFB elected not to attend. Perhaps they felt that this was not a strong year for Canadian films at the festival as a whole. But in questioning why this was the case, it seemed more reflective of how the federal and provincial governments have decided to promote creative works. Usually this is done in two ways:

1. Incentive policies such as grants and tax credits to promote the creation of new works, and

2. Intellectual property law which protects works from being misappropriated.

While we promote and protect, we have failed to enact coordinated governmental policies for proliferation of Canadian works across our country and around the world.

After understanding the difficulty of creating a short film, it is disheartening to think of all the hard work, the amazing stories, and the creative personalities that are obstructed by a lack of a coordinated approach in Canada. It is particularly frustrating when there are markets such as Clermont which provide an excellent opportunity to showcase our talent abroad. Alternately, implementation of simple policies to promote dissemination (such as tax credits on distribution activities undertaken outside the province of residence) can help alleviate these burdens and further achieve the goal of enhancing Canadian artists and promoting our cultural values.

Quebec’s coordinated approach is encouraging. In a time when the sale of creative works faces a turbulent environment with technology, the shrinking of media corporations and uncertainty in current business models, this climate provides an opportunity for us to look at a coordinated approach to improving dissemination of Canadian works of all kinds.

Despite the difficulties, it is still the case that a bit of hard work can go a long way to having eyes see your film. Regardless of the approach, there really is no substitute for face to face discussion to raise excitement about a film. Being particularly excited about my film, I was glad for the opportunity to visit the festival.