Rose McGowan’s Dawn and the Problem of Short Films

Dawn clocks in at an efficient seventeen minutes.

It’s the story of a female teenager, a restrictive home life, and the perils of of desire. In other words, it’s a story we’ve seen and heard before. The most obvious antecedent is probably Smooth Talk, the adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’s “Where are You Going? Where Have You Been?” that helped propel Laura Dern to stardom. There are hints of Flannery O’Connor as well, although those similarities may be more structural than tonal. Even within a short story there is build up to the central event, and as it unfolds it seems both surprising and inevitable.

Short films put perhaps a bit more emphasis on visuals than narrative, and Dawn has two or three shots that were very memorable. The opening shot of its eponymous protagonist is just long enough to be foreboding; the closing shot is just short enough to punctuate our surprise at the outcome. The compositions and camera angles aren’t particularly innovative, but it’s refreshing to see emphasis created through timing and editing rather than always, only through close-ups.

Dawn was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival last year, but we are in an age in which only an Academy Award will get a short a theatrical screening outside of New York or Los Angeles, and that may only be for animated ones. Dawn got an Oscar qualifying run in Los Angeles last month but only as a Trojan horse in a curated retrospectives of films with iconic female performances. That may sound a bit pretentious, but any method for getting shorts before the public is a welcome one.

Film Movement‘s DVD of the month usually has a short film accompanying its feature, and most film festivals will have a slot for shorts. Why is it important to support these ventures? Making movies costs money…a lot of money. That means that it is hard for new artists to experiment, learn their craft, and refresh the medium with new voices. There have been plenty of complaining in the last few years about the sequel-heavy, comic book dominated movie offerings at the multiplex. But put yourself in the studio executive’s shoes: would you green light a film with a 100 million dollar budget and then give it to a relative unknown?

There are ways in which young talent can get experience. I tend to wonder if one reason why we seem to be in a golden age of television is because of the greater need for shorter content there and the proliferation of cable channels needing it. Fiction writers often cut their teeth writing short stories before tackling large novels. We get thirty minutes of commercials before the previews start at the cinema. Would it be too much to ask for a short film every now and then? I know one pretty good one; I’ll bet there are others where this came from.



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