News: Short List Turns Ten

The Short List, the Emmy award-winning television series showcasing short films from around the world, celebrated the premiere of its tenth season on November 3. Produced by Jack Ofield, San Diego State University’s filmmaker in residence, and veteran writer/producer Helen-Maria Erawan, this season boasts forty-three shorts—ranging from documentary to fiction to animation—from sixteen countries, all making their North American television debuts. “We have a lifelong love affair with the art of the short film,” Ofield says, “the genre that was the birth of the motion picture and that, in the hands of gifted filmmakers, is a way of presenting stories and ideas from many cultures briefly and arrestingly.”

Among this year’s highlights are Copy Shop, a 2002 Academy Award nominee by Austria’s Virgil Widrich, and Irish filmmaker Barry Dignam’s Dream Kitchen, which won Best Short Film at Galway Film Fleadh in 1999. Other notable films this year include Brazilian filmmaker Jorge Furtado’s O Sandwiche; Félice Dutertre’s Good Luck Mr. Grosky, a French filmmaker’s look at the famous message sent from the moon by Neil Armstrong to his childhood next-door neighbor; and Day and an Arabian Night, by Los Angeles filmmaker Francesca Galesi. “Francesca manages to reflect the loneliness of urban singles, corporate downsizing, the worldwide refugee problem, cultural clash, and simple human need for companionship all in one twelve-minute film,” Ofield notes.

This year The Short List will feature more documentaries, including, for the first time, several Iranian pieces. Other prominent documentaries include Russian director Evgeny Solomin’s Katorga, about a Siberian prisoner, and The Life of Elves, Janina Lapinskaite’s piece about a Lithuanian woman and three dwarf children.

Major funding for The Short List is provided by Cox Communications and Eastman Kodak. Each year, the series awards five Kodak Product grants of film stock (worth $2,000 apiece) to the series’ most exceptional filmmakers. Past recipients have included noted Norwegian filmmaker Pål Sletaune (for Eating Out) and Mexico’s acclaimed experimental videomaker Ximena Cuevas (for Corazon Sangrante). The program is produced at the Production Center for Documentary and Drama at San Diego State University. Headed by Ofield, the Production Center houses the University’s Master’s Program in Media Production, and also produces a renowned documentary series for Cox Channel 4 about contemporary life in San Diego County.

Ofield, who started out directing social and anthropological documentaries for the National Film Board of Canada, first began assembling programs of short films for New York museums and television in the 1980’s. In 1992, Ofield created 1st Frames, an anthology series of short films by local emerging filmmakers. The show garnered a Corporation for Public Broadcasting Silver Award and three Emmys. In 1998 the program changed its name and scope, incorporating both established and new filmmakers from all over the world. Since then The Short List has won four consecutive Southwestern Emmys for Visual and Performing Arts, and gathered an estimated seven to ten million viewers. “Jack [Ofield] was very interested in making a series of snapshots of history,” Erawan says, “these tiny portraits that suddenly grab you.”

The Short List airs on Cox Commun-ications cable channels, most PBS affiliates in the United States, and Movieola in Canada.

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New Report on Media Arts

Study packages field’s issues for public policy debate

by Ernesto Martinez

RAND, the nonprofit research institution by the beach (Santa Monica, California), has just published a new report on trends in independent media arts. The report, From Celluloid to Cyberspace: the Media Arts and the Changing Arts World, is a companion to a 2001 RAND study on the state of the performing arts, funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts in the United States. Commissioned by the Rockefeller Foun-dation, the study investigates the changes in the structure of the nonprofit media arts environment in the United States. The Rockefeller Foundation, noticing that media arts were not included in the previous study, saw an opportunity to partner with Pew and tap into the research already underway at RAND. “As a former mediamaker, I didn’t want the arts in the twenty-first century not to include the twenty-first century art which is media,” says Joan Shigekawa, associate director of the Creativity and Culture program at Rockefeller. “The media arts,” Shigekawa continued, “will be a part of this overall ecology of information, research, and data about the arts in the twenty-first century.”

The research findings conclude that changes in the structure of the media arts environment are focused on four key aspects of the field: audiences, media artists, media arts organizations, and funding. Technological developments are changing how independent media art is produced, distributed, and exhibited. An increase in numbers and diversity of media artists, along with the increase in potential and actual distribution channels, are creating a potentially productive period for media arts. Yet, given this seemingly ripe period, media arts exist precariously. The demand for audience attention is growing with increased demands on their leisure time. Changing finance models and funding policies are changing how organizations pursue money. Federal and state money is going to institutions based on an instrumental model of economic benefit that is limiting the discourse of the arts.

The study has produced a schematic that suggests pressure points within the field. The sketch suits the study’s twofold intentions. First, to “provide a benchmark that can be used to measure progress in advancing the state of knowledge of the arts in years to come (as a policy document).” Second, to influence media arts cultural policy by informing funders, nonprofit media arts organizations, media artists, and most importantly government policymakers about the state of media arts in the US.

Much of the information detailed in the study, such as the decreasing funds and increasing distribution alternatives for media arts, may not be new to most artists who experience the daily realities documented in the RAND study. The document is designed to help bridge the gap between policymakers who require comprehensive studies, and mediamakers who need the tools to be able present their field as a social policy concern.

“The environment of arts in America is changing in some very major ways,” explains Kevin F. McCarthy, coauthor of the study. “It’s going to change in some ways that are going to affect you [media artists] very directly, and because those decisions are being made not by you but by others, making it all the more important that, A) you find out what is going on . . . and, B) you don’t just let it happen to you but you do something to intervene.”

Our Shrinking Public Domain

US Supreme Court mulls copyright extension law

by Charlie Sweitzer

The constitutionality of the latest attempt by Congress to extend the length of copyright is currently under review by the US Supreme Court. Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig recently argued before the court that the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which lengthened copyright protection by twenty years, is one of a series of Congressional acts which infringe on the rights of the public.

Ninety-nine percent of the books whose copyrights were extended are out of print. Similarly, the majority of the film copyrights affected by the 1998 act are not only out of circulation but also decaying or otherwise damaged. Many fear these films will be neither preserved nor restored if they are not allowed to pass into the public domain.

Over the past forty years, Congress has lengthened copyrights eleven times. Copyrights currently last ninety-five years for works created for corporations, and seventy-five years after the death of the holder for works created by individuals. The United States Constitution grants “limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” The first American copyright law interpreted “limited Times” as fourteen years.

On May 20, 2002, Eric Eldred, who runs, a website which offers free texts of literature in the public domain, and others filed suit against the attorney general.

On October 8, Lessig addressed the Supreme Court on behalf of the plaintiffs. “[I]f this Court does not adopt a reading of the form we’ve offered, then there is no limit to the ability of Congress to extend subsisting terms,” Lessig said. “We are asserting . . . that the public domain be permitted as a source for cultivating work about culture without unnecessary legal restriction.”

A ruling is expected next spring.

About :

Charlie Sweitzer is a New York-based writer.