This year's Shorter is Better, the shorts-film-specific programming in the Milwaukee Film Festival, features a cast of unusual characters. It includes a little boy imagining his mother's new boyfriend is a crow, a used furniture salesman moonlighting as an administrator of euthanasia, and the true story of a holocaust survivor giving away the violin he had since WWII.
Filmgoers can choose from eight different programs, focusing on themes like love and sports, or genres like animation and documentary. For about the same time as a 90 minute feature film, audiences see five to ten shorts, each transporting the viewer into a new setting with a new story and cast of characters.
Anna Sampers is a grant writer and the programmer for Shorter is Better. She and a committee receive about one thousand short film submissions, viewing each of them in order to create just eight programs for the festival. “It’s a balance to try and find shorts that are right for our festival, right for our audience, that work within the different themed programs that we have,” says Sampers.
There’s a common thread in her picks for the festival. “I am looking for an interesting story,” she explains. “A story that you haven’t necessarily seen before, or if you have seen that story before, that it’s told in a unique way.”
Sampers says that short filmmaking is an effective medium for storytelling, in part because of its time limitations. “You have to make some very calculated cuts, edits,” she notes. “You have to know exactly what you’re putting in and why you’re putting it in.”
For moviegoers new to the genre, she suggests the Stories We Tell compilation, because it combines all types of shorts, from documentary to animated to narrative. And she says that although moviegoers new to shorts may underestimate them, these films are often just as powerful as a feature.
“What people don’t realize is that you can get just as attached to the characters in a five-minute film as you can in a 90-minute feature film,” she says.