The art of the quickie

Before I got to South Africa, I understood the expression ‘quickie’ to mean a short, sexual encounter providing immediate gratification, with none of the subtleties of foreplay and with little promise of post coital lingering.

But I soon discovered that Quickies is a competitive short film festival aimed at stimulating interest in film-making, identifying emerging talent and creating an awareness of the short film format as a compelling form of storytelling.

Film-makers are given one 60 minute DV tape to create a one minute narrative with at least one human character.
The challenge in the process is that it is a one-take film with a turnaround time of 24 hours. The concept is fun. It is a fabulous marketing idea that offers aspirants (the virgin category) and professionals an opportunity to experience the pressure of production deadlines while bringing a project in on budget.

The question is: can such a festival truly resurrect a flagging film industry? Given the format, it resembles the specs delivered to advertising agencies from well-paying clients so it is little wonder that the participants fairing best are ad industry types who are well versed in the art of brevity.

Decades ago American universities introduced film-making programs and demystified the ‘genius’ of the art these were crafts that could be taught. Acquiring the skills to create a concept, to script, develop character and facilitate narrative are elements that can be honed with time, rewrites and practice. As many film practitioners have attested, ‘genius’ can be developed if one is given sufficient opportunity to rehearse. Of course, the format has to be applicable.

Sustaining a narrative across a feature length film, or a 26 minute ‘short’, and coaxing convincing performances from actors so that they engage an audience presents a vastly different challenge to a one minute flirtation. While the stakes in the Quickie competition are impressive the winner receives the opportunity to make a feature length film is it feasible for investors to dole out substantial budgets on a rookie?

The Quickies offer a celebration of the medium and gratify the film industry’s immediate desire for a strong presence. The films have been received enthusiastically locally and abroad because they reveal an ability to make a statement with impact. Yet there’s no getting around the fact that Quickies are an easy forum to offer a punch line and create a pitch without having to test the integrity of a narrative. 

Allowing individuals to refine their technique through short films (no less than 26 minutes) while dealing with the reality of production and budgets seems a more logical avenue for identifying the talent necessary for creating an industry.

Talented film practitioners will find the means to progress from quickies to shorts to features, but like the skill of a good lover, it takes practice and endurance to perfect the craft. And, like the art of a good lover, it is not the speed with which the pleasure is completed, but the art of sustaining the pleasure.

In her next installment Jyoti Mistry considers short film production models from different countries and shows how they have sustained their national industries in the face of competition from Hollywood.

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