By Josh Hume
Imagine having only 48 hours to make a short film without being able to plan it. You may not even know what it’s about. Standing at the starting gate, the only thing you know is that the next 48 hours will feel like an eternity stuffed into an impossibly short amount of time. This is the idea behind a series of events that occur every year across Canada and the world: contestants are given an allotted period of exactly two days to produce a final product-from writing the script all the way to completing the final cut. Among these are the ReelFast 48hr Film Festival in Vancouver, held every August, and the Toronto Film Challenge, which holds an annual 48 hour in event in the summer along with two 24 hour mini-events in the spring and fall. Films are submitted for judgment and screened, shortly their after completion, to the general public, as well as to the hordes of exited filmmakers and their friends who participated.
Across the country every year, teams of filmmakers are unleashed upon their city, often laying claim to their favorite landmarks. Parks, street corners and iconic alleys are all common sights, and you’ll always the ubiquitous odes to public transit. The theme of the most recent Toronto challenge, which was not revealed until the day of, was the City of Toronto itself. J. Michael Dawson, the executive producer of the TFC, was looking forward to the featured subject, anticipating many love poems to the city, expressing the “Toronto-specific ways that filmmakers see the city and what it’s like to live here,” and which would all in some way expand on the infinite possibilities of capturing the city through film.
Filmmaking is generally a slow and elaborate process, so this exercise turns the whole art form on its head. It is an Olympian process that attracts both teams and maverick auteurs and includes everyone from novice filmmakers to seasoned pros. These short films, often about five minutes in length, are usually shot in digital video and edited on Final Cut Pro. However, occasionally filmmakers are brave enough to shoot on traditional celluloid, requiring no less than a feat of technical mastery to complete their project on time. Kathleen Duborg, the executive producer of ReelFast, has even received the occasional animated submission, defying the odds even more.
The 48 hour film phenomenon is but one of the many challenges that use restrictive methods to promote the production of independent films. Others include the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers $100 Film Festival and a number of One Minute film challenges (over 60 seconds and you’re disqualified!). These events tackle the perceived limitations of filmmaking head-on. From securing locations to being at the mercy of weather conditions-not to mention dealing with the cost-filmmaking is a process prone to disaster and defeatism. To Dawson, the 48-hour challenge provides a lesson for one of the most important skills a filmmaker must learn: the ability to juggle time and creativity.
Ultimately, most participants feel successful having just completed the weekend with something to show for it. To Duborg, “the defining moment is when they drop off the film,.” Regardless of the result, she says, “the successes are so huge that the deficiencies become ignorable.” The completed works are accompanied with a sense of the latent talent within all the filmmakers involved-that they can only improve on what they achieved in those two days. Indie is by nature the study of potential, and the 48-hour film phenomenon is an affirmation of that ideology.