The definition of short film varies tremendously in terms of its length. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for example, considers it “an original motion picture that has a running time of forty minutes or less, including all credits”. While this list considers movies with running time of fifty minutes or less.
It includes filmmakers of over ten nationalities but the films’ production countries are often not the directors’ birth places. It was written with the intention of providing filmmakers and cinephiles with more information about early works of famous directors that influenced the world of cinema.
24. Salomé (Pedro Almodóvar, 1978)
When Pedro Almodóvar arrived in Madrid from Cáceres in 1968, formal training of filmmaking was not an option: the Madrid Film School had been closed by Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. His filmmaking practice started in the early 1970’s after purchasing a Super 8 camera.
In 1978, three years after Franco’s death, and after almost forty years of dictatorship in Spain, a new constitution was ratified and signed by the young king Juan Carlos. Almodóvar, who had been making shorts since 1972, directed his first feature length movie “Folle…folle…fólleme, Tim” (Fuck…fuck…fuck me, Tim) and “Salomé”.
“Salomé” was Almodóvar’s first 16mm short film and his first steps into cinema’s professional reality. Based on Oscar Wilde’s play of the same name, these twelve minutes were completely different from the earlier shorts he would play side by side with music cassettes while doing the voices of the characters and dialogues himself.
During the seventies Pedro Almodóvar would also go to Barcelona a few times to show his Super 8 movies in film festivals and started to be known in the underground circles even though, as he remembers, the movies would be criticized for their narratives.
23. My Best Friend’s Birthday (Quentin Tarantino, 1987)
Quentin Tarantino met Craig Hammann in early 1981 at an acting class. The duo became friends over mutual interest and knowledge of movies.
They started by writing small scenes and plays to act in. And Hammann claims to be the one who introduced Tarantino to the Asian and Italian cinema. He was also the one who in 1984 had the idea for “My Best Friend’s Birthday” and the one who wrote its first pages.
Hammann’s initial short script of around forty pages was developed into a longer script of around eighty pages by the two aspiring filmmakers. It was then shot on cheap reversal 16mm Éclair, over three years from 1984 to 1987, resulting in a seventy-minute film. Unfortunately, because of a fire, only thirty-six minutes remained.
In a time when low budget movies like “Stranger Than Paradise” (1984, Jim Jarmusch) and “She’s Gotta Have It” (1986, Spike Lee) came out (both shot in black and white), being praised by the critics and became commercial successes, the young Quentin and Craig thought this would be their chance to make it.
The duo would allegedly go on separate ways before Quentin Tarantino’s feature film debut Reservoir Dogs’ production started.
Those thirty six minutes of My Best Friend’s Birthday have been screened in several film festivals over the years, yet the movie was never commercially released. Quentin Tarantino has considered it as his “film school”.
22. Tramwaj (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1966)
“The Tram” is one of the two short movies made by Krzystof Kieslowski as a student in 1966, the other being “Urzad” (The Office). Both of them were shot in 35mm black and white and are very close in length.
This fictional short lasts for five minutes and forty five seconds. It’s the first time Kieslowski works on the themes of romance and voyeurism.
At night, a young man runs and jumps on a tram. There are only a few passengers, among them is a girl. Eye contact is made and he soon tries to make her laugh, eventually watching her fall asleep. After getting off at his stop, he soon regrets it and runs after the tram. The ending is left open to different interpretations.
This short film, alongside Kieslowski’s other early movies, is interesting, engaging and quite well made, showing a detailed observation of the surrounding world. Although, none of his earlier pieces would imply how far his original point of view and individual cinematic style would be developed until his announced retirement after Red (1994) and death two years later at the age of fifty-four,
21. The Alphabet (David Lynch, 1968)
David Lynch’s first animated short film “Six Men Getting Sick” (1967) cost him $200. Lynch was not happy with the amount he had spent on the project and convinced himself not to proceed in this path. Soon after, a millionaire by the name of H. Barton Wasserman offered him $1000 for the forty-second piece. Wasserman made it possible to Lynch to buy a new camera, a clockwork Bolex film camera that apparently had a defective focus.
David Lynch found out about the defective focus after two months of work in constructing a new animation frame by frame. The new animation was The Alphabet, “based on Peggy’s (Lynch’s wife at the time) niece’s nightmare”.
This four-minute movie is a perfect example of what an early short film should be: experimenting with a variety of techniques, rhythm and pace, showing a very concise and unique style of storytelling.
20. Nocture (Lars von Trier, 1980)
More experienced than most film students was Lars Trier when he got to the National Film School of Denmark, before adding the “von” to his name (simultaneously an inside joke and a homage); Nocturne was Trier’s first 16mm school project, marking his first collaboration with Tom Elling and Tómas Gislason as well. The three fellow students would go on collaborating even after leaving film school.
Dealing with fear and anxiety, the eight-minute film deals with some of Triers’ idiosyncrasies, such as the fear of flying – a well know Trier trait.
The experimentation with monochrome and colour emerges only in selected fractions and this results in extra significance being given to the picture.
This short film was awarded Best Film at the European Film School Festival in Munich, 1981. Trier would win again one year later with “Den Sidste Detalje” (The Last Detail).
There was no negative print and the positive was said to be lost, luckily the video wasn’t.
19. Bottle Rocket (Wes Anderson, 1994)
Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson met at the University of Texas in Austin. According to Wes, the two became friends because Owen acted as if they were.
The creative duo started writing “Bottle Rocket”, which was twelve minutes long and filmed in 16mm black and white. They would go on co-writing Wes Anderson’s first three feature films and collaborating as director-actor even more often.
“Bottle Rocket” would be developed into Anderson’s first feature length movie two years after. The feature was commercially unsuccessful and rumours of Wilson’s thoughts of joining the marines started to circulate. Critically speaking, the movie received mixed reviews, but was considered one of the ten best movies of the 1990’s by Martin Scorsese.
Some influences are very evident already: François Truffaut and especially “Les Quatre Cents Coups”. Their writing sensibility would even be compared to J.D. Salinger, who wrote the heart breaking beauty that is “The Catcher in the Rye”.
18. Lick the Star (Sofia Coppola, 1998)
In 1998 Sofia Coppola made her first short film “Lick the Star”. As the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, the expectations were high but the public was not disappointed.
The fourteen-minute black and white movie presents the viewer with narrative elements, such as rebels, youth and criminal plans, would become common in Coppola’s filmography.
She proves to have a very precise pace and mature cinematic style right from the beginning. It’d surely be developed, but it’s impressive how unique the aesthetics is.
The most popular girl of seventh grade and her group of friends are influenced by Virginia Andrews’ “Flowers in the Attic” and plan to poison some of the boys in school. The girl then sees her popularity going downfall and the plan is never realized. The simple storyline is presented perfectly, starting with the voice-over of the main character and ending in an unexpected and flawless way.
It shows a cameo of Peter Bogdanovich as the school’s principal and more importantly marks the beginning of Sofia Coppola’s collaboration with cinematographer Lance Accord.
17. Cauchemar Blanc (Mathieu Kassovitz, 1991)
This nine-minute black and white film was adapted from a comic strip by Jean Giraud (Moebius) about racism in the banlieue (French suburbia). With his second short film, Mathieu Kassovitz was awarded the Perspectives du Cinéma at the Cannes Film Festival in 1991. Just like in 1995 his second feature film, “La Haine”, would get him an award for Best Director in Cannes.
After this project, Kassovitz was completely confident that he’d direct his first feature length film next. However, the young producer Rossignon, a young producer who had helped him complete his previous movie “Fierrot le Pou” and “Cauchemar Blanc”, convinced him to make a third short film “Assassins” with eleven minutes and in colour. That lead the Social Minister of Culture of the time, Jack Lang, to write the young filmmaker a letter in which refers the movie as an “incitement to murder”.
These three projects would have great influences on his early feature length pictures. Elements of this are particularly evident in “La Haine”, where the hip-hop culture, racism, violence and life in the Parisian banlieue are perfectly mixed.