The Inside Scoop on the Promise of "Short-Short" Documentaries

We figure that in the age of Twitter, when we're communicating via 140-character messages, it was inevitable that a foundation would offer a grant for a "short-short" documentary film.

A "short-short" film, we surmised, would be under 10 minutes, because that's all the time a really good director needs to tell a powerful story, and people have short attention spans.

And guess what? We were more or less correct. The Manual River-Ortiz Foundation for Documentary Photography and Film recently announced a call for "short-short" documentary film entries, and will award a $5,000 grant to a single "short-short" documentary film project. It began accepting submissions on November 1, and the deadline to submit is March 31, 2015.

So what, exactly, is a "short-short" documentary film project? According to the grant guidelines, an entry must be:

  • An individual, stand-alone non-fiction documentary film of 10 to 30 minutes in length.
  • A film that was completed no earlier than two years prior to the March 31 closing date.
  • An "original subject feature" or a "historical subject feature."
  • Comprised of real people and not actors portraying roles of real people.

As far as content is concerned, the foundation is looking for human interest stories that explore "human unrest, forgotten communities, over-exploited people and environments impacted by war, poverty, famine, disease, exploitation and global distress."

Judging will take place in two rounds. Round 1 judging will assess all entries submitted via URL links to personal or sites like Vimeo or YouTube for quality, content, and "real world impact on humanity." Of these, 10 films will advance to Round 2, during which applicants will need to submit an actual digital copy of the completed project for judging, inclusion on the foundation's website, and for ultimate exhibition during Les Rencontres d’Arles, Arles, France.

Upon further reflection, the foundation's "short-short" approach is both novel and compelling. In an age of YouTube videos and prevalent technology-induced ADD, we can see short documentaries truly resonating with viewers. In addition, it opens doors to aspiring filmmakers. After all, you may be a documentary filmmaker with a great idea, but you may lack the budget and resources for a full-fledged, hour-and-a-half project.

Yet a 14 minute film, shot with a GoPro and edited on iMovie is within reach. In short, this approach helps to democratize the submission process (although, as previously noted, this grant is only for completed films.)

We eagerly look forward to seeing other foundations embrace this "short-short" model.

In the meantime, if you're a filmmaker dabbling in the long-form, we encourage you to check out IP's take on the MacArthur Foundation's grants for documentaries.