Technology and the future of short films and documentaries

Technology -- such things as digitization of film and subsequently easier distribution -- is having a dramatic effect on the documentary film industry.

Much like technology has and is transforming the newspaper world and now the popular book and even text book industries, new software and new hardware developments are making production easier, quicker and more affordable for the masses.

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As an example, film festivals increasingly are digital festivals -- offering a wide array of documentaries and shorts that have been converted to a digital format. All of these offerings can be stored on one computer drive, or downloaded via satellite to multiple festivals held across the country.

There are clear upsides to this. Independent filmmakers have a greater opportunity for a viewing. Their work, which might not be commercially viable for a big motion picture house, drops in cost and becomes viable for regional or even local film festivals.

In turn, because these offerings are now being seen at all increases the breadth of film offerings and the possibility that some of these documentaries and shorts will become even more widely distributed. Indeed some of this has already occurred and film festivals -- often featuring short films or documentaries -- have seen increased popularity with people tired of more predictable major motion picture and even major documentary fare.

But, there also are some downsides to the more accessible technology. Anyone can become a filmmaker. But, that means many people with little story-telling experience and little production or editing experience are submitting their work to the masses.

This is akin to the glut of Web citizen-news sites now providing some level of community journalism. Many of these sites are not well-produced and are not high-end journalism by any stretch.

But the good news is that such community news sites do fill a niche; they provide a service. They often produce the chicken dinner news published in years past by small community newspapers. If the local elementary school is having an event, you are likely to be able to read about it at these sites.

In similar fashion, some of these smaller attempts at film-making can serve a need. The ones that don't will likely fail and the ones that do will find a small, most likely local audience or one that is discrete by the topic or issue.

For the viewer though, this means one thing. That the average documentary and short film fan will need to become even more diligent and discerning in the selection process. Not all local film festivals will provide Sundance level work. The key is in knowing the difference.

And, if they don't like what they see, well, they can always grab a camera and produce a film themselves.


Copyright Flavin Media 2010