The first Cinema 16 DVD was one of the most intriguing releases of 2003, offering sixteen short films by established and emerging British directors in a new, imaginative and exciting format. Illustrious filmmakers such as Ridley Scott, Mike Leigh and Stephen Daldry rubbed shoulders with new names (including Christopher Nolan and Lynne Ramsay) and no names alike, and the collection spanned the gamut of short filmmaking, from Peter Greenaway’s arthouse experiments to Brian Percival’s ultra-gritty drama About A Girl. Like the majority of short films, most of those included had never received a general release. The opportunity to explore these little-seen films in one handy home-entertainment package was tempting enough; but perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the first Cinema 16 project was to prove beyond doubt that there was a viable and sustainable market for the short film.
After the critical and commercial success of the first DVD comes the second instalment in the series: a compilation of sixteen shorts by directors drawn from across the European continent. Most of the big European nations (and some of the smaller ones too) are represented, and there’s nary a Hollywood studio or big-name star in sight. Once again, there are contributions from both ends of the cinematic spectrum: with the skip of a remote control button, viewers can choose from early shorts by iconic directors like Jean-Luc Godard and Krysztof Kieslowski, or those of little-known filmmakers such as Juan Solanas, Javier Fesser and Virgil Widrich.
Like its predecessor, the real strength of the new Cinema 16 release is its variety. Over the course of one DVD, and three and a half hours of films, viewers are given the chance to explore a truly eclectic range of styles and subjects. Lars Von Trier’s ultra-arty film ‘Nocturne’ (completed as a university graduation project) is typically impenetrable, in sharp contrast to Anders Thomas Jenssen’s Oscar-winning ‘Valgaften’ (Election Night), a smart short about Danish racism which wears its heart very prominently on its sleeve.
The selected films vary widely from light comedy to hard-hitting drama, and from simple stories to technical tours-de-force. Patrice Leconte’s entertaining ‘Le Batteur de Boléro’ explores the frustrations and passions of an orchestral drummer in one single take, while Virgil Widrich’s ‘Copyshop’ relies entirely on some fantastic film trickery for its impact. In the same vein, Jan Kounen’s innovative live-action animation ‘Gisele Kerozene’ adds a burst of surreal fantasy into the mix, following three cyberpunk witches around the futuristic streets of La Defense in Paris. British comedian Chris Morris’ BAFTA-winning ‘My Wrongs’ is even weirder, translating the disturbing dream world of his radio and TV series ‘Jam’ into a bizarre short about one man and his talking dog. But surprisingly, the more disturbing films are the ones which initially seem most banal: ‘Bara Prata Lite’ (Talk), Lukas Moodysson’s bleak tale of modern Swedish alienation, is perhaps the most troubling of all.
Interestingly, many of the films clearly represent early sketches of their director’s emerging style. Tom Tykwer’s ‘Epilog’ and Roy Andersson’s ‘Härlig Är Jorden’ (World of Glory) are unmistakably the first drafts of ideas which would later become feature films (Run Lola Run and Songs from the Second Floor respectively). Similarly, Peter Mullan’s compelling, downbeat portrayal of life on a Scottish council estate in ‘Fridge’ prefigures the dramatic approach of his later films, Orphans and The Magdalene Sisters. Seen in this light, the short film becomes a fascinating gloss on a director’s later work – a draft canvas on which ideas can be worked out, free of the pressures and pains of full-scale feature filmmaking. Once again, all the films are accompanied by illuminating commentaries, many provided by the directors themselves – some are almost as entertaining as the films themselves.
Another excellent and varied addition to the Cinema 16 stable, then, and well worth the attractive £17.99 pricetag. The second edition is bold, innovative and impeccably produced, but again, it’s tempting to wonder where the project will go next. With most of Europe comprehensively covered, it seems inevitable that the next edition will head across the pond. Filmmakers as diverse as Spielberg, Scorsese, David Cronenberg, and Paul Thomas Anderson all directed shorts early in their career, so the possibilities for the Cinema 16 format seem almost endless. Roll on the next edition.