In Hamlet, Shakespeare once wrote, "Brevity is the soul of wit," though in real life he was anything but brief himself. Still, as Thomas Jefferson said, in between the long and wordy works of his, own, "The most valuable of talents is that of never using two words when one will do" — a sentence that itself probably has at least five words too many.
The point is that making things brief is hard.
The real art of the short film is to tell a story in full without the luxury of two hours to tell it, which — as Shakespeare and Jefferson prove — is easier said than done. In the case of the Whistler Film Festival's Shortwork Award you have to tell that story in 50 minutes or less — though most of the films are around 15 minutes or shorter, and some are less than six minutes start to finish.
That's not a lot of time to develop characters and plot, to build tension and to resolve it with the kind of pay-off that leaves the viewer feeling satisfied. Sometimes it means leaving loose ends loose, giving the viewer a chance to think about it.
And while there's no doubt that some of the film concepts on Whistler screens this year could have been flushed out into full-length movies, most of them work better simply because they're short.
"If you can't explain something simply," as Albert Einstein said, "you don't understand it well."
There are a total of 27 films this year competing for the Shortwork Award, which comes with a $1,000 cash prize for the top entry. Many of the films are Canadian or from the U.S., but there are entries from New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Italy, France, Poland, India and elsewhere. The screenings are divided up through the festival weekend. Some will be screened with full-length entries into the festival, and there are three Shortwork sessions. The winners will be selected by a jury of three judges, and presented at the Awards Brunch on Sunday — followed by a Student Shortwork competition starting at 1 p.m.
This year's entries are very different. There are animated pieces like A Morning Stroll that traces 100 years of human history, past, present and future, and revolves around a chicken. There is The Lost Town of Switez, where a 19th century man comes upon a city under a lake with a surprising history, animated with two distinct styles that mimic the art of those periods.
Some films are funny and disturbing — like Cat and Mice, about a man who catches cats for a living to claim the rewards; Blue, about a fuzzy mascot who has to go on with his life now that his fame is over; or Junior, where an awkward pre-teen blossoms into a beautiful teenager with all the grace of a lizard shedding its skin.