The Inaugral AACTA Shorts + Web Fest Presented By Mini

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Inner Western Sydney's Factory Theatre in Marrickville is strangely a lot like a film set. The husk of industrial space, like a large proportion of the former working-class migrant mecca, has been gutted and re-purposed into one of the essential bustling cultural hubs in the country. Different lighting draped from beam to beam; each room and segment is an opportunity to make a new mood. Food trucks line the courtyard and direct you into the entryways to four or five shows at any one time. It's the perfect venue on a cold and rainy winter evening. It's an oasis from the increasingly regimented, warden monitored, and invisible line of locked out Sydney. You're allowed to spend days and nights living and breathing creating, discussing movie-making magic - no matter your experience or chosen form or portal. 

Short Films, typically live for a festival setting. They are mostly a proof of concept for ideas, themes or aesthetic experiments aspiring to the sustained production funding of their feature cousins with more significant running times. In practicality, they distil and execute an idea that a more substantial text can afford to ponder. 

In a post-YouTube/iPhone world, the paradigm has shifted significantly, and in the tsunami of competing for content, Australian creatives are creating art that spans all the boundaries of distribution and consumption. 

Walking into the first AACTA SHORTS + WEB FEST, it felt like other great concepts; you're sure that it should have existed before. My entree to the two-day fest (miniature in size, MINI also by sponsor) was the golden glow after Friday's Masterclass. An energised crowd of creatives or curious people in our community were humming from the powerhouse LUDO brain's trust Daley Pearson, HOMECOMING QUEENS' Michelle Law, SKITBOX'S Adele Vuko and BONDI HIPSTER'S Christiaan Van Vuuren. For something brand new, the entire event and the intent feel lived in. 

It was a full two-day line-up. Featuring; masterclasses in Web Series and Short Film production, candid interviews with prominent creators, tossing your idea to the wolves at AACTA pitch, screenings of shortlisted features/content and plenty of opportunities to network. 

During a Q&A with Van Vuuren and Vuko that lead into their post-apocalyptic parenting sit-com mash-up OVER AND OUT, they discussed a moment where this story had occurred to them. It carried with it an urgency - where oddly - both creators have found themselves time and again. Wrangling something that feels spat out of the hive mind of the zeitgeist like a wild brumby that they know they can break. It's insightful to hear the post-production wrangling of finding an outlet that helps elevate that one powerhouse premise and turn it into a series. For those in the room though, Van Vuuren and Vuko are most inspirational because, despite their ongoing success, they continue to cultivate that urgency to create. They stress that if the form can't harness an idea fast enough, they will shrink it to its most elemental spark and shift. 

Pearson too had a democratised view of mediums and lengths. That feels right for a creator working in animation (BLUEY), live-action genre fables collaborating with thrilling and fresh voices (ROBBIE HOOD) and radical new screen-specific storytelling approaches (CONTENT). Pearson framed his entire approach through the question - does it have the pathos to endure?  

In a Q&A with Head of Production for ANIMAL LOGIC, Ingrid Johnson, she spoke about how her scouts remember great talent - in a showreel. However, her biggest piece of advice for emerging creators is the necessity to be a team player and to elevate your team to create the best possible art. The event, like the success of these established creators, is in expanding their crew, collaborate with people who stretch and inspire them. Each cohort at its fundamental level are all bands of little rascals who join forces to put on a show. Closing the distance between bedrooms and studios is perhaps the intent for the event, linking a multi-generational chain of creative folks together.

As I'm writing this, I realise that that most of the people reading may have an inherent bias toward the cinema experience, but I think it's vital to call-out. Having the opportunity to break through the virtual shared experience and move into the theatre setting for all these forms of content, but especially the short films feel so damned essential. Documentary shorts get a boost on the big screen - elevating the experiences and causes of elements on the Australian experience missing from our most prevalent outlets. Animated shorts continue to blur the boundaries between animation disciplines. Seeing the narrative short film, THE EGG, with an excited crowd was one of the complete thrills of my viewing year. There's nothing like the comfort of a full audience, slightly 'tiddly,' dedicated film fanatics riding the lightning of something so potent and fresh.

Another highlight was Daley Pearson introducing a screening of the marvellous CONTENT - produced by LUDO. It was incredible to experience the evolution of movie storytelling explicitly designed for a specific screen. In 2018, the terrific cyber-thriller SEARCHING, starring John Cho, was a vastly more effective film to be watched from the comfort of your laptop. CONTENT lends itself to that specific screen relationship. Viewing it on your phone (as you'll be able to from 4 September) is like a conductor for your insecurities and desires in a unique way.

The final role of the evening was to narrow the shortlist of nominees for the 2019 AACTA Awards for Best Short Film, Best Short Animation, Best Short Documentary and Best Scripted Online Video. One can only hope that this is the first of many programs of its kind. In a future line up, one hopes that there's a block of time carved out to showcase the ideas conceived in the idea sex of this year’s Shorts + Web Fest. 

Blake Howard is a freelance Film Critic & Producer of Movie Podcasts THE TAKE on Flicks.com.au, ONE HEAT MINUTE, JOSIE AND THE PODCATS & INCREMENT VICE. Follow him on Twitter.

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