Even the totalitarian architecture of a cinema hall fails to convince the viewer that cinema is capable of representing topicality. The requirement to turn off cell phones saves the situation. Sometimes.

Let’s talk about short forms that can compete with the “big cinema” and draw the viewer’s attention from the big screen to the mobile. Perhaps the key to understanding lies in the consideration of time on the screen.

Heroes of the play: film, festivals and new media. And also Deleuze, Duchamp and others.

From Movement-Image to Time Image

In their efforts to define the true nature of film and thus give it the status of a new art, some of the earliest film theoreticians, especially French impressionist authors, have identified image, movement and time as the basic properties of film. A cinematograph uses the models of time created by culture. In films we find cyclical models of time created by mythological culture, vector models that emerged with Christian culture, and entropic models of time that reproduce the dynamics of chaos. 

sprinkler short film

Deleuze divides the history of film into two parts: the movement-image and the time-image: “Faced with an image-movement crisis, cinema plunged into melancholic Hegelian meditations on its own death: since it no longer had any stories to tell, it began to perceive itself as its own object and could now only tell its own narrative… Film in the film does not mark the end of history at all … it is only a method to be found somewhere else to draw its necessity”.

The image formed by movement is replaced by a mental image closely related to thinking, whose object is abstract relations, symbolic acts, and signs approximating pure intellect. The boundary of cinema is lost, tending to the horizon of thought (rather than perception, as in classical cinema), coinciding with the world of images or with the world itself.

According to “Time Metaphors in Film: Understanding the Representation of Time in Cinema” by Silvana Dunat, due to film techniques such as a mobile camera, montage and image manipulation, the time-image seems to transcend the constraints of natural perception and maps onto mental rather than external space, thus giving rise to a new reverse metaphor where space acquires characteristics of the time domain.[link]

Back to the Future

In this way, the evolution of cinema has made it possible to appeal directly to the human mental field. New media contemporary practices have adopted this feature. For example, it is easy to recognize the techniques of big cinema in TikTok clips. It is easy to find videos that quote classic or well-known movies there. We can say that short films have become an intermediate link between big cinema and new media. So what can be said about the time-image in these reels? Indeed, a huge part is reminiscent of the silent cinema birth era short films. The linear plot is represented by the movement-image aimed at receptivity rather than thought. However, the TikTok feed is a set of such short videos, played one after another and matched by the neural network based on the user’s tastes and preferences. It can be said that the user adjusts the tempo and rhythm, the chronotope by skipping. Thus he or she becomes the author of a simulated figurative narrative about his or her own life. The tool is a neural network, the origins are the recordings of other users. This narrative includes the time-image and represents the user’s topicality. It is a virtual proof of his being. By the way, there is more solidarity in TikTok compared to the cinema hall. The time-image is represented by a stream of clips and short videos. They are a fairly true digital reflection of the user’s soul, thanks to a neural network.

In the middle of the last century, sociologists P. Lazarsfeld and R. Merton wrote about the narcotic dysfunction of mass communication, including cinema. There is a known concept, dating back to M. Duchamp, that cinema is a cultural machine that utilizes the energy of the eros. We can say that the timeless feed of TikTok, Youtube reels, and Instagram stories is an endless film with its ideological origins in soap operas, social networks, television, and cinema. It is a film that is simultaneously created and consumed. The director is the only spectator. The rhythm of life, and the economic pressure sets the dynamics of the image and the relative plot. Both digital cinema and festival cinema run the risk of becoming expensive or beautiful artifacts that no one seriously believes in. Belief requires the blessing of a streaming platform and a digital riposte. This situation raises the question of whether filmmaking has an independent philosophical status. Is cinema today capable of generating philosophical discourse on its own?

time image in shorts films

The digital platforms’ algorithms have a significant impact on the format and content of short videos. Sooner or later the rights to the algorithms will be bought out by the big market players. The digital reflection of the user’s soul will be controlled by the policies of the digital platform owners, the transnational companies. The digital platforms become soft power vehicles and they turn into just another stereotype factory. At the same time, the building of alternative global digital platforms will be hindered by the monopolization of this market segment.

Under such circumstances, it will be increasingly difficult for artists and filmmakers to reach their audiences. In this context, short film festivals will remain islands of free thinking and independent point of view. We are talking about festivals that are far from the idea of commodifying themselves, and which do not depend on the large foundations’ influence.