Inside Encounters #2- In conversation with Gaia Meucci

Photo by Anne Oswald

Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival was the first festival that Gaia Meucci ever volunteered for. Six years later, she’s programming it. Inside Encounters sits down with her for a chat about the future of short film.

IE: What is it about short films that really does it for you?

GM: What I love about short films is how free they are. I think they are more bold, and more inventive than feature films could ever be. The stakes are not as high, there’s less pressure – there’s no money to be made! And so, I think filmmakers are able to express themselves at their most free. And their most creative. And in that respect, shorts can explore much more. A short film can be made about anything, whereas with a feature film, you still have that kind of restriction of having to sustain something over ninety minutes, or two hours… With short films, you can be as bold and as creative as you want, and that really keeps me excited. It’s something that keeps surprising me. Every year I do a selection, I’m just blown away by what I see.

IE: The Brief Encounters strand contains both fiction and nonfiction shorts. Can you tell us a little bit about how the documentary shorts differ from the fiction ones?

GM: What I have seen over the years is that shorts seem to be the format in which documentaries are really pushing boundaries. Especially with short documentaries, you see a lot of experimenting; using archive images, mixing archive and live action footage… there’s a lot of experimentation with the visuals of documentary. This experimentation means it’s very hard to pinpoint what documentaries are. Sometimes we have to ask ourselves, “Is this a documentary? What is a documentary these days?”, because the word documentary is just a concept.

IE: How would you define the term documentary?

GM: Documentary as a format is really becoming something that has evolved into a creature of its own. I would still  define a documentary as something that is connected with representing real life, but in terms of the way it’s approached, that’s a very loose way of defining it. What we can see this year in the programme with documentaries such as Home (dir. Thomas Gleeson, New Zealand), or Rogalik (dir. Pawel Ziemilski, Poland) and Sottoripa (Gugliemo Trupia, Italy) is the complexity of the concept. Sottoripa, for example is experimental, it’s got archive footage, it’s based on a poem but it’s actually about a real place with real images, with real footage of people also. This complexity is really, really exciting.

IE: And I think so much more powerful when you can condense those things into a short space of time!

GM: Working within the thirty-minute guideline is something that somehow makes filmmakers very creative, and forces them to be very inventive with their material.

IE: What do you think about the new wave of pop-up cinema, like London-based documentary shorts programme Doc Heads, as a grassroots approach to exhibition? How does this feed into festival culture?

GM: It’s a great thing that these things are happening; however, I still think that cinemas are there for a reason. So, I think these things should coexist. We have a pop-up space the Cine Chalet at Encounters that I’m very excited about, but I think as a festival, we also have to make sure that we continue to show films in the cinema with the best possible technical conditions, and the best possible viewing conditions.

IE: Cinema-going is kind of a sacred experience!

GM: With certain screenings, a festival is more special because you get to see things you wouldn’t see otherwise. Sharing them with an audience in a cinema and having the filmmakers there (we do Q&As with the filmmakers every day) is a very different kind of experience than watching a film at home on your laptop.

IE: What are your top two highlights of the festival?

I wouldn’t miss the Franz Treichler event on Friday night. If you’re a film buff, I think that would be a real treat, because he’s going to screen a selection of gems of avant-garde filmmaking from 16mm, and then re-score them live. I’m also particularly excited about a programme put together about animals this year, so maybe I would recommend that – it’s an international programme called ‘All Creatures Great and Small’. It was overwhelming how many films we had about animals.