03:39 Webfest

Andy Stead

First there was the 48-Hour Film Project, in which filmmakers had to produce a movie in a weekend. Now the 03:59 Webfest offers a different challenge: creating a movie that runs for exactly three minutes and 59 seconds.

The run time, which includes titles and credits, will be strictly enforced: no film over or under three minutes and 59 seconds, even if it is by a single second, will be considered for entry. The festival will be web-based, with audiences able to vote for their favourite film online. It was founded, its organisers say, to promote, foster and challenge creative filmmakers, and showcase the power of short films. Each submission has to be completely original, having had no previous public screenings in any format.

The 03:59 Webfest takes advantage of the increasing popularity of short film on the internet, as its founder, Fraser Dodge, explains. “Since attending a short film festival 10 years ago, I have been waiting for the right opportunity to present itself and to launch one of my own,” he says. “The upgraded broadband and the increase of ADSL connectivity in South Africa came together to provide the perfect opportunity to launch a film festival online.

“Limiting the time to three minutes and 59 seconds exactly is to fall in line with internet video attention spans as well as to create a full cinematic experience for festival goers. With two categories and an expected 10 films in each category as finalists, we are able to offer 80 minutes of finished filmatic material. All films will be displayed in 16:9 format.”

One of the requirements for entry is that films must have the “compulsory scripted inclusion” or CSI, which is there to ensure originality and inspire the filmmakers. The inaugural CSI for the 2011 festival is “tank”, which, Dodge says, “can heavily influence the finished product or the film may only have tiny, subtle references to it. It is up to the filmmaker to interpret the CSI as they see fit.” Any interpretation or reference to the word “tank”, literal or conceptual, is acceptable.

“As a festival we celebrate the creative process and want people to get involved with filmmaking,” Dodge says. “By insisting on the CSI we are able to prevent people attempting to circumvent the requirement of original material. We don’t allow re-edited versions of previously produced material. Each entry has to be produced specifically for the festival.

The festival has two categories: Standard Short and CellShot. Standard Short entries can be filmed on any device except a cellphone. The CellShot category is open to all films shot using a cellphone camera. Editing is allowed on post-production software.

“I have been involved in numerous start-ups, but never a film festival,” says Dodge. “There are not a lot of people involved in this project; apart from the jurists there are the requisite technical gurus to make it all come together as an online entity then we have the necessary administrative and production support.”

Once entries close, there will be a Festival Day where all the finalist films, as selected by the jury, can be viewed. After that the films will be made available for public viewing and voting online.

Voting will take place over a four week period, culminating in an awards evening where the winners of each category will be unveiled. An overall festival winner will be selected from the finalists by the jury.

Confirmed jurists are Gideon Emery, a South African actor based in Los Angeles; Jorge Rubio, a director and the founder of Gatehouse Films; and director Lizelle Wagner.

The festival dates are as follows:

  • Call for entries – 1 March 2011
  • Closing date – 16 September 2011
  • Public screening of finalists – 22 October 2011
  • Public voting opens – 22 October 2011
  • Public voting closes – 18 November 2011
  • Festival awards – 25 November 2011

“It’s difficult to determine how many entries we are likely to get,” says Dodge. “We will be happy if we receive 100 entries for the inaugural event. Obviously we are trying to tie up all the necessary venues for the planned events. As the awards evening takes place in November, we still have time to thrash out agreements and get things in order. The awards evening will most likely take place in Cape Town.”

The organisers already have R140 000 in cash and products pledged for the prizes. Guidelines and support documents are available on the festival website, www.359.amonline.co.za.