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by Andrei Severny
November 4, 2013 9:54 AM
5 Comments
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Why We Must Free Film From Running Time Prejudice

Tribeca Future of Film Blog

With the rise of more time flexible distribution platforms, filmmaker Andrei Severny thinks it's time for cinema to break free from the old established running time restrictions. In this article, which was originally published on Tribeca's Future of Film blog, Severny argues against the bias towards movies that run 120 minutes. Just because two hours has become the norm, doesn't mean we should ignore films of unconventional length. Read an excerpt of his piece below and the full story here.

Time is what cinema is made of. This art form stands out among the rest because its intrinsic nature lies in the visual flow of recorded time. In the book Sculpting in Time (1986), Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky noted how time is the main organizing force in cinema. "The dominant, all-powerful factor of the film image is rhythm, expressing the course of time within the frame." Tarkovsky was the master of long shots of true cinematic magnetism, which absorb and elevate the viewer from everyday life and carry unparalleled spiritual depth.

We live in a time when limitations on content are fashionable. Shorter forms of content often tend to be shallow, encouraging the viewer to jump to the next item without much thought. Back in 1992, Roger Ebert wrote, "Why is it nobody seems to realize how lots of short little things are exhausting? You have to keep setting your mind back to zero. But the long, deep stuff – the long books, the long movies, and even the TV miniseries -- are refreshing, because they give you the time to understand other lives and even, for a time, seem to share them."

Freedom and restrictions in literature and cinema

Every media follows its rules. Twitter limits each entry to 140 characters. Focused and informative newspapers adhere to article word count of around 800. But the highest form of literature -- a book -- enjoys total freedom of length. It is the content that matters.

Similarly, popular apps -- such as Vine and Instagram -- limit videos to a few seconds. Television is constrained by a rigid schedule grid to allow time for news and advertising. Why isn't the art of film allowed the freedom from length limitations that we so freely grant to books? 

As an independent filmmaker your job is not only to conceive and give birth to your film, but to send it off to meet its audience. Even if you gave up the ambition to show your film theatrically and just want to put it online, major platforms like Netflix, iTunes and Hulu would most likely not talk to you. You could proudly put your film on your own website, but no one beyond a fraction of your Facebook and Twitter friends would even know it's there.

You could then try the traditional route. When submitting your film to festivals, you'll notice that films are segmented into categories not only by genre, but also by running time. The most desirable and prestigious is a feature length film defined by different organizations as films longer than 40 or 60 or 70 or 80 or 90 minutes.

While there are many competitions and venues for short films, the running time ranges between 20 and 70 minutes and anything longer than 160 minutes is less likely to get accepted.

5 Comments

  • Nancy Nigrosh | November 4, 2013 12:48 PMReply

    it's exciting to imagine the future of entertainment that has a degree of unpredictability when it comes to mainstream culture...The Clock is a perfect example, well attended and global.

  • Mac | November 4, 2013 10:28 AMReply

    I'm all for longer movies, but you will have to lift the ban on texting because, well, you know...

  • Mac | November 4, 2013 10:27 AMReply

    As if length was an aim in itself.

  • mac | November 4, 2013 10:06 AMReply

    What America needs is a vital cinema. They can't even manage an hour and half, and this person wants more 7 hour films?

  • Andrei Severny | November 4, 2013 1:25 PM

    Hi Mac! Thanks for your comments, but it looks like you were texting while reading my article. I call to stop discriminating films of unconventional running time both short and long. Audience will love a well made film from a 1 min short to 62-hour long Breaking Bad. Forget about distinction between TV and cinema - most films will end up being seen via internet fitting any viewing habits.