Short film

“Short film” is a French legal term that refers to a film of less than 60 minutes (“short” corresponding to the length of the film, less than 1600 meters). In France, the commercial exploitation of cinema has been regulated since 1946 by an administration attached to the Ministry of Culture, the CNC (Centre National du Cinéma et de l’image animée), which has determined separate legal fields for works according to their type of exploitation and duration:

  • Cinematographic works (first exploited in cinemas): short films and feature films (lasting less or more than 60 minutes).
  • Audiovisual works (first exploited on television or any other media): no distinction according to duration.

Before the advent of community video sites and the development of quality television series, starting in 2005, the short film was seen as a space open to new filmmakers, the antechamber of the feature film. Indeed, the film economy was structured around the commercial exploitation of feature films in theatres. Short films were struggling to be shown and had no economic profitability. Yet a short film, in order to be shown in commercial theatres, had to be produced and directed according to the rules of the film corporation: a duly registered production company, an exploitation visa for the film, passage through the censorship committee, the professional cards required for the film’s technical positions, etc.

Today, in 2020, the field of audiovisual creation has radically changed: one can, with a simple phone call, shoot a film and broadcast it on YouTube for example, where it will potentially be seen by a very large number of viewers. Thanks to technical developments, anyone can produce without referring to an administrative authority and has the power to broadcast without having to be chosen by a professional network.

On YouTube or in other networks, there are billions of “short films”, if we refer to the French legal definition. And yet they are not called “short films”, but rather “videos”. And yet on YouTube, some people put what they call a “short film” online, even though they have no production company, no exhibition visa and no theatrical release. These films are similar to “official” short films with an exhibition visa.

So what is a short film in 2020? It’s multiple. But to try to synthesize, we could say that “short film” corresponds to a (subjective) estimate of the level of artistic quality of an audiovisual object of less than 60 minutes. It is therefore a term that has become above all symbolic.

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