Awards & Festivals

The Smaller, The Better – Student Micro Films

As part of the Nottingham Screen Partnership, the city was host to a three day event in late October for the third Global Chinese University Student Micro Film Competition. The annual competition offers higher education students in participating universities around the world, including UoN, to create and submit their best documentary, extreme short (1 minute) and fictional micro films.It’s a brilliant opportunity for both students and universities to showcase their creative talents, establish valuable international relations, and learn more about the global entertainment and media markets, particularly the growth of micro films.

If you haven’t heard of micro films, you’re not alone. As a fairly recent trend, micro films have become increasingly popular over the past five years, and China, as always ahead of its international comrades, is the first to truly capitalise the movement.

During the first day of the Nottingham Students Micro Film Competition, Dr Wang Zhenzheng of Jinling College, Nanjing University, presented the history, development and popularity of the micro film.

If you haven’t heard of micro films, you’re not alone.

Like Twitter, which is essentially a tool for micro blogging, China’s “We Chat” app, ??, (which literally translates as “micro message”), established in 2011, allows its users to communicate and share aspects of their daily lives via messages and very short films. Dr Zhenzheng credits We Chat as one of the media technologies that catalysed the use and production of micro films.

“In 2014,” stated Dr Zhenzheng, “20,000 micro films were made [in China] and micro film production revenue totalled 20 billion RMB.” That’s £2,045,499,800, give or take.

Hold your Canons! Before you decide you’re going to be the Hitchcock of micro films, you should know that micro films are micro for a reason. Not only can they be shot on your phones, but production rarely exceeds a week, and often multiple productions are made in those 7 days.

In China, the thoughts and opinions of the less affluent individuals of society (referred to as “grass roots”), are often snubbed. The Micro Film’s popularity partially derives from the political and social purpose it provides its users with. “It gives a voice to the voiceless,” says Dr Zhenzheng. “In a few years, the grass roots will be the mainstream of this industry.”

“It gives a voice to the voiceless,” says Dr Zhenzheng. “In a few years, the grass roots will be the mainstream of this industry.”

Typically, micro films are 10 seconds to 20 minutes long although Dr Zhenzheng states the ideal length ranges from 30 seconds to 3 minutes, but what about vines? It’s common to view these 6 second looped films on social media sites. However Dr Zhenzheng argues that content is important in classifying micro films, “[A] vine is a means of communication. Some of them are [for] storytelling, some of them [are] just a video to record something. Micro Film needs [both] story and aesthetic appearance.”

Nonetheless, they are not short films. “Film is a production, but Micro Film is a media,” clarifies Dr Zhenzheng. “In my opinion, this is the key difference. In the process of film making, there’s no participation of [the] audience. Film is a production of professional makers in the industry. There’s much more interactivity in the making of Micro Film. It is the unity of subject and object. Persons [can] form groups through producing, communicating, watching, and commenting [on] Micro Films.”

It seems that the whole point of the Micro Film is to encompass interactivity, communication and accessibility beyond production and distribution. Today we are an increasingly fragmented audience. Why should we watch a few things once a day on just one screen when we can watch various brief things on different devices, and tweet or chat online at the same time? The viewing of micro films is therefore predominately on devices other than the big screen or television, and production costs are usually kept to the minimum.

“Film is a production, but Micro Film is a media”

“Now, in China, [the] Micro Film is very popular amongst business and common persons, just the same,” says Dr Zhenzheng. “But the advertisers and businesses always spend much more in producing micro films, and their works are more professional and delicate.”

In response to rising operational costs, the difficulty of establishing and maintaining original content, and increasing competition to broadcast programs due to The State Administration of Radio Film and Television’s latest regulations, it’s no surprise that Chinese advertisers and media businesses jumped onto the micro wagon too.

The Micro Film appears to have many purposes. While it must communicate a story and be brief, it is defined by its users – the individual and professional filmmakers – and the viewers – and as a result, it is an amalgamated medium of culture and mass communication. Dr Zhenzheng sums this up with the term “multi-spacial fusion”. She believes that, “[f]ilm belongs to art [and] advertising belongs to communication. Micro Film is neither pure advertising nor art, but making and operating it needs the knowledge and techniques of both of them.”

Madz Abbasi

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