When Less is More

Vienna Independent Shorts in its 10th year, with animation, ­absurdity and the avant-garde

Film festivals are fascinating. They tend to uncover the unknowns, promote the unpromotable, putting on display pictures you would rarely see in a fiercely commercial medium. Yet their influence far outweighs their attendance. After all, innovation doesn’t happen in the mainstream, and today’s lunatic fringe may turn out to be tomorrow’s standard.

And while Vienna already has the Viennale in the late autumn, from 28 May to 2 June, Vienna Independent Shorts takes the festival idea in another direction, offering over 260 short films from some 40 countries at four screening venues, all independently made.


A brief history

“We Have Decided Not to Die” fits this year’s focus on themes of  Strange Days | Photo: VIS

“We Have Decided Not to Die” fits this year’s focus on themes of Strange Days | Photo: VIS

Short films have been around for as long as the medium. They were actually the original cinematic format that shocked and amused fin-de-siécle audiences at carnival midways and nickelodeons. And for the first half of the 20th century, the genre peacefully coexisted with feature films.

Often several shorts and serials were bundled together with a newsreel, cartoon and finally a feature, following the old vaudeville tradition of presenting several smaller acts before the main attraction came on.

Many of early cinema’s biggest stars originally came from short films before graduating to features, notably comedians like Charlie Chaplin or Laurel & Hardy. Only the advent of television finally broke this relationship, rendering newsreels obsolete and sending short formats to the small screen.

This left feature films to compete for audiences by offering ever-more elaborate extravaganzas.

But just as theatre survived cinema, short film adapted and lived on. Instead of offering comedy sketches or Broadway-style musical vignettes, shorts became a training ground for young directors, the preferred format for documentaries and an experimental laboratory for visual artists and the cinematic avant-garde.

Brevity is the soul of wit

Vienna Independent Shorts celebrates the vibrant, eccentric and unapologetically non-commercial underbelly of moviemaking. Begun in 2004 as a student project, the VIS festival has steadily expanded, from the back rooms of Top Kino and Schikaneder to the auditoriums of the Gartenbau and Künstlerhaus, its repertoire and reputation growing along with it. This year’s focus will be on themes of Strange Days (taken from the cyberpunk cult classic, where recorded human memories are consumed and traded like drugs).

There will also be a special tribute to Irish avant-garde animator David OReilly at the Österreichisches Filmmuseum, as well as midnight movie specials on porn, the absurd and animated horror (and occasionally all three simultaneously). For those new to the festival, there will also be a “best of the decade” selection screened on 1 June at the main venue, the Künstlerhaus.

As with most festivals, there are a number of post-screening parties and clubbings, granting respite from sensory overload and offering great networking opportunities to budding filmmakers.

The festival culminates on 2 June with an award ceremony to crown the winners among the 75 entrants in the categories “Fiction and Documentary”, “Animation Avant-garde” and the “National Competition”. There are additional prizes for best newcomer, best female director, best music video and audience awards.


Shock and awe

Back in the 19th century, viewers of the early short Train Entering the Railway Station cowered in terror as they watched a steam engine approach them head on. With over a century to get accustomed to the transformation of film, few cower in their seats. But if even a few of these minute-long masterpieces can provoke a visceral reaction, Vienna Independent Shorts can congratulate themselves a job well done. ÷


Vienna Independent Shorts

28 May – 2 June,



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