One of the world’s leading celebrations of short film offers an exciting vision not only for the future of cinema, but for how a film festival can work.
The short film medium is often resistant to the commercial trappings that feature films generally become enmeshed within. As such, shorts are often a playground for experimentalism, for provocation, for young talents to find their voice and established artists to play with the boundaries of cinema. Yet to divorce the medium of short film from any kind of commercial imperative would also be unfair. Shorts become a proving ground for many a director who will make a mark on the feature film world in the years to come. And, perhaps more than ever before, the opportunities for short films to reach a global audience are much more diverse with established platforms such as MUBI showcasing shorts amongst their feature film offerings or new players such as Argo offering dedicated spaces for short content.
Generally considered to be the largest dedicated short film festival in the world, the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival embraces many of the contradictions that lie at the heart of the medium it champions. Commercially it boasts impressive numbers: in normal years audience number can be in excess of 150’000 which makes it second only to Cannes in terms of film festival attendance in France. The parallel short film market welcomes more than 3000 distributors, buyers and festivals showing that – while the industry for shorts is smaller than the feature film world – an industry does exist.
But for all its industry and commercial credentials, there’s a streak of anarchy that still run throughout the festival. Originally established in 1979 as a short film week by the students of the then Clermont-Ferrand University, the festival runs to this day with no hierarchy (there is no ‘Festival Director’ and everyone who works for the festival is paid the same) and still offers free tickets for the homeless and the unemployed with huge discounts for children.
Within sight of the dormant volcano Puy de Dôme, the French city – also known as the home of Michelin Tyres – this year once again welcomed swathes of audiences, filmmakers and the short film industry between the 28th January and 5th February. After moving online in 2021, there was a palpable sense of relief that the festival could take place on-site even with strict health protocols in place. And whilst the current situation meant that both audience and industry attendance was down on previous years, there was an air of cautious optimism. With festival hangout L’Univers also proving exceedingly popular (with most people luckily outside) there was something reassuringly welcoming about the festival returning.
As always Clermont presented a diverse and eclectic range of shorts across three competitions and special programmes (slightly truncated this year, though there was a programme dedicated to Dance films and Spain was the country in focus). With more than 150 films on offer amongst the competition titles alone,