Listen to interview with festival compere DJ John Haggarty
Actor Tetsuya Bessho started the Short Shorts Film Festival back in 1999, to target what he saw as a hole in the market. The Japanese industry wasn’t producing many works in that format, and he was enchanted by those he’d seen in the holy land of Hollywood. Things have changed. With filmmaking democratized through the proliferation of cheap and easy-to-use tools, bedroom auteurs around the world have burgeoned. Short films are the logical way to hone one’s skills, and festivals seen as pretty much the only route to recognition.
In this thriving climate, SSFF has established itself as a big hitter. As a registered Oscar-qualifying festival, its top prize offers consideration in the short film categories of the Academy Awards. The festival’s second selling point is its submission price: free. Many film festivals—especially in the US—charge upwards of $30 a submission, and prestigious ones can cost much more. If filmmakers want to attend festivals—often in far-flung locations—they’re expected to travel on their own dime or not at all. Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia, however, is not only free to enter, but many competing directors are flown into Tokyo and put up in a hotel for the duration.
The free entry, Oscar association, and free trip to Tokyo have ensured SSFF’s popularity, leading to over 4,400 submissions this year. Of these, some 200 works have been painstakingly chosen and arranged into different programs. The three main sections are the International Competition (45 shorts from 19 countries), the Asia International Competition (16 shorts from 9 countries), and the Japan Competition (18 shorts). Winners of each will receive ¥600,000, with the best one of all sent Hollywood’s way for next year’s red carpet.
Awards are also given for entries in the Let’s Travel! Project, the Stop! Global Warming Competition, the Music Shorts Competition [see sidebar], and the CG (computer-generated) Competition. There is a gong for the best actor/actress, and for the number-one film chosen by the audience, plus a number of other prizes. Non-competitive categories include the Football Program presented by J. League soccer [see sidebar], as well as a collection of French shorts, among a number of other diverse programs.
The festival—which received 13,000 visitors last year—aims at a pretty trendy audience, with the main venues in Harajuku’s Laforet, and Omotesando Space O. All-night screenings take place at Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills on June 15-16, and Yokohama will also see a barrage of screenings, at the dedicated Brillia Short Shorts Theater, a stately and luxurious movie house that shows short film programs all year round.
Focus on the Arab World
This program, presented in collaboration with Doha Film Institute, brings films from various Middle Eastern countries in the wake of an immense couple of years of regional upheaval. The films show a fascinating selection of worlds, from a lonely mountain of Morocco, to the hyper urbanity of Kuwait. Most works eschew rapid cutting and special effects, and the pace is meditative and poetic. Often a rich vein of allusions lies beneath the surface, drawing here on Islamic folklore, there on historical storytelling traditions. Daily lives are emphasized, providing stimulating viewing for those unfamiliar with the region.