Moving at the Speed of Social Impact: The Relevance of Short Film

More than a decade ago, Chuck Klosterman said “films are the last idiom to respond to social evolution” via his collection of essays Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. After all, the filmmaking process is incredibly bloated both in terms of time and costs(financially and mentally). As distribution of information is broken down into memes and Facebook videos with text overlays, it’s difficult for a feature film to have timely cultural relevance. In fact, films that are most effective at making a thoughtful statement on society are those that adapt true-life stories from the past. 

If filmmakers want to move at the speed of social impact, then short films and episodic storytelling could be the ideal way to express profound ideas that aren’t washed away in an excessively postmodern world. Shit has hit the fan and every scroll down through social media is an abundance of media that takes reality in all sorts of directions. 

But would a trend towards short films reflect a dumbing down of society that prefers quick-hit memes over pragmatic articles? Would people only like short films just because of that, they’re short?

Short films shouldn’t be expected to present a transcendent cinematic experience in the same manner as The Godfather, but they’re still able to draw out a thoughtful response. A well-crafted plot is the vehicle that introduce viewers to situations unfamiliar to themselves. There are a few DFW-made films that are able to provide snapshots of social struggles in a timespan of under 15 minutes. Here’s a few of them

Out (dir. By Jordan Wright) - A day in the life of a transgender teen dealing with high school bullies and misunderstanding mother.

Peor es Nada and Translation (dir. by Gabe Duran) - Peor es Nada is about a father and husband trying to reach his family in America, but unwittingly gets entangled in a mysterious conspiracy in his attempt to get across the border from Mexico. In Translation, a South Texas cop sees the story of his own deported father when he and his partner pull over an illegal immigrant on his daughter’s birthday.

MUGS (dir. by Fernando Andrés) - A fast-talking piece depicting a broadcast journalism team bloodlusting for an alleged killer’s photo in the midst of ongoing shooting. 

Lipstick (dir. by Connor Clift) - A micro-film that truly represents the idea of taking a snapshot of a character with its visual story. The main character’s fondness for a magazine model’s lipstick relates to the youthful struggle to be comfortable with who you are.

Reclaiming Pakistan (dir. By Fawzia Mirza) - This production’s filmmakers are from Austin, Tx and Chicago, but it was screened last year in a Denton venue. The political climate is bloody, but there are peaceful people fighting to bring peace to their country even though speaking out could literally mean death. Social media is a powerful tool for them, and Americans watching this should react with an extra appreciation of the first Amendment. 

The challenge with making an independent short films is the inability of farmers and engineers to create money trees solely devoted to the arts. Short films tend to be a form of practice with cast and crew devoting their time to make art without any promise of money. I feel there’s an unseen potential bring larger audiences to films that last under 20 minutes. Not that I’d want major studios refocusing their money towards bundles of short films. Money drowns out art.

Chuck Klosterman also correctly regards the 70s as the golden age of cinema, and I agree with him for the 2 main reasons on why that is. That was a period when blockbuster movies were auteur-style rather than today’s producer’s driven material that cares about visual pop rather than an emotional experience. The other is that reality is less concrete, and I would like to add that the growing cult of personality dramatically alters how people choose to enjoy entertainment. But I do believe there is potential for the next decade to become the golden age of short films.