Feature hopes beckon directors

Tall dreams from shorts

LONDON — The road from celebrated short filmmaker to acclaimed feature director is rocky, but this year’s BAFTA short film award nominees are relishing the challenge.

A look at previous BAFTA short pic noms does not sparkle with names who went on to crack the bigscreen big-time, despite some notable exceptions. Stephen Daldry (“Billy Elliot”) and David Yates (“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”) were nominees in 1998 and 2002, respectively.

And then there is Brit helmer Andrea Arnold, who went from winning an Academy Award in 2005 for her short “Wasp” to picking up the jury prize at Cannes 2006 for her feature debut, “Red Road.” But success stories like Arnold’s are few.

Undeterred, several of this year’s nominees are relishing the challenge of making the step up. Lisa Williams, producer of “Cubs,” a short about urban foxhunting, hopes BAFTA recognition will act as a springboard.

“It’s definitely the aim to make a good short film in its own right,” she says, “but also to gain experience in all filmmaking areas so you can hopefully go on to make a feature.”

To Corinna Faith, helmer of “Care” (about the battle for control between the elderly and their caregivers), shorts are “a good, tough, mental and economic preparation for longer projects.”

For every BAFTA short nominee dreaming of following in Daldry and Yates’ footsteps, there are realists determined not to allow the razzmatazz of the Royal Opera House ceremony to cloud their focus.

“As long as I’m working with cameras, story, actors and a crew, I don’t mind what I do,” says Jim McRoberts, director of teen angst short “Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored.” “Sure, I have feature scripts in the pipeline, but then doesn’t everyone? … I’ll try my best to get my stories onto the bigscreen, but if I don’t succeed, I’ll be happy just as long as I have work as a director.”

Then there are the short filmmakers who are exactly that — short filmmakers as an end, not a means to an end. Oscar-nommed animator Joanna Quinn and her producer, Les Mills, have churned out a fleet of award-winning animated shorts over the past 15 years from their studio in Cardiff, Wales.

Their latest, “Dreams and Desires — Family Ties,” goes head to head with Suzie Templeton’s high-profile animated film version of Prokofiev’s classic “Peter & the Wolf” and Ian W. Gouldstone’s “Guy 101” for best animated short.

“For ‘Guy 101’ just to be recognized and nominated by people whom not only I respect but whom the whole world respects totally transforms me from a weirdo who spends too much time on the Internet to a filmmaker who spends too much time on the Internet,” Gouldstone jokes.

Other nominees flat-out reject the concept that shorts are features’ ugly sister.

“As for shorts being a stepping-stone, my instant reaction is to violently disagree,” asserts Asitha Ameresekere, writer-director of “Do Not Erase,” a film about the current Iraqi conflict. “The first-ever film was a short, and since then, the genre has challenged and moved audiences far more than features could hope to.”

Sensing increased consumer demand for short content, short film schemes in the U.K. have proliferated, such as the Future Shorts network, hosting monthly shorts events across 15 cities, and the Filmaka online shorts network Web site, designed to nurture emerging talent.

In November, BAFTA and telco Orange launched their own shorts competition, entitled “60 Seconds of Fame.” The overall winner will unspool on the BBC 1 broadcast of the awards.

“It seems that with every technological advance, everything heads more towards shorter content,” states Future Shorts founder Fabien Riggall.

Perhaps that’s the best news of all for shorts directors. They can dream big and small.

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