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On the occasion of the Vienna Shorts 2024, Cinema Austriaco had the opportunity to interview co-director Daniel Hadenius-Ebner and lern more from him about this edition of the festival and his work in general. Interview by Marina Pavido.

Marina Pavido: Can you tell us something about this edition of the Vienna Shorts Film Festival?

Daniel Hadenius-Ebner: Basically, our aim with the festival is always to bring an outstanding cinema of short films and exceptional talent to Austria, and we are fully committed to this again this year. The programme includes a total of just over 300 films from 67 countries over six days; the films are always thematically integrated into comprehensive programmes and most of them are screened in Vienna for the first time. While the four competitions form the core (after all, it is not just about prize money, but also qualifying for Oscars or EFAs), this year’s focus is entirely on nostalgia as an inner driving force and the desire for more: more peace, more freedom, more stability, more paradise.

M. P.: Can you tell us more about the different sections of the festival?

D. H.E.: The festival is very broad and offers a programme for young and adults. This year, for example, the children’s and youth section has again been strengthened with the ‘Coming of Shorts’ day, while for fans of animated films there is an entire day dedicated to animation on the Friday of the festival, which includes a six-hour live performance and an open-air programme. Fans of music in front of and on the screen will have their fill with the Austrian Music Video Award, which includes a live concert by Kimyan Law and two great live audio-visual performances. This year there will also be genre cinema at its best in the Late Night – and of course we cannot avoid political themes at the festival, as short films often address the world around us in a very conscious and critical manner.

M. P.: During the festival it will also be possible to meet directors and actors and talk with them about the works they present. How important is it for the audience to be directly involved in these events?

D. H.E.: Even during the Coronavirus pandemic, when we were twice only able to organise Vienna Shorts online, we realised how essential this direct contact and the opportunity to meet the people behind the films are to the festival experience. That is why it is a central concern of ours to create as much space as possible for dialogue and encounters: between the filmmakers and the audience, but also between the international and Austrian industry. In particular the portrait programmes, which this year are dedicated to the French genre auteur Yann Gonzalez and the South African artist Jyoti Mistry, also include in-depth discussions with the artists. But this year we also have many other guests on site, with whom there will always be Q&As, or with whom you can simply talk directly in the bar or club later.

M. P.: You are the co-founder of the Vienna Shorts Film Festival, can you tell us how the idea for this project came about?

D. H.E.: The festival was born out of a kind of inner necessity, if you can call it that. At the beginning of the 2000s, there was no big platform for short films in Vienna, even though more and more films were being produced at the time thanks to the digital revolution. At the same time, several smaller initiatives were springing up, and in 2003 we all sat down together to consider whether all these smaller projects could be brought together in a common festival week. This is how the idea of the festival was born, which, after being very well received the first year, was continued and expanded year after year. In the first years, everything was still mainly run by students, until a clearer programme and organisational structure was introduced in the 2010s and the festival was finally put on a very professional basis.

M. P.: In your opinion, how important is a film festival as a political medium today?

D. H.E.: In our opinion, film festivals play an enormously important political role. On the one hand, when it comes to film politics, because festivals a) are the places where debates take place and because b) many films can only be watched at festivals (without festivals, the whole current system of film financing would be very questionable). On the other hand, festivals are also often our windows on the world: in an age of short news and social media snippets, where else can we find the time to engage more deeply with people, cultures or other countries than in cinemas? The festival plays an important role in this regard, providing a space for films that put their finger on the open wounds of our society or that seek to inspire, confront or explore boundaries through artistic means.

M. P.: What are the most important projects for the next editions?

D. H.E.: Over the last few years we have started many initiatives, especially in the organisational area, which we want to consolidate in the coming years. For example, we have reorganised our entire digital infrastructure, from our festival app to the THIS IS SHORT streaming platform. We now have the Austrian Ecolabel and run a large part of the festival as an environmentally friendly event. Since this year, we have also focused more on the festival as a ‘safer space’ by introducing a Code of Conduct and awareness groups and content notes. In the coming years it will therefore be important to ensure that these many layers of the festival are well integrated, so that we can live up to our ‘fair & green’ standards in the long term.

M. P.: Why are short films better?

D. H.E.: I would answer straight away because they don’t have to follow any rules, but in recent years I have also realised that approaches can be very different. Basically, a short film can be anything (except long): it can tell a story or be abstract, it can play with a genre or be visually convincing, it can raise awareness of current social points in a very short space of time or generate enormous emotional resonance with minimal means. Since by short film we mean anything between 1 and 30 minutes, the range can be very wide indeed. Sometimes it is the radical utopia that literally makes us fall over; then it is the creative way of narration that can surprise us; and then again it is the provocative realisation that makes us laugh or hits us like a punch in the stomach. One thing is certain: if the film is good, it will leave a lasting impression on the audience, and that is our clear goal at the festival.

M. P.: One last question: what is cinema for you?

D. H.E.: Fellini once said that films are a brief void in which you free yourself from your problems. I have always liked that because some films really make me forget space, time and the present. At the same time, I also like the universality of this art form that in recent decades has brought the world closer to us, simply through the power of moving images that are made, seen and understood everywhere. And finally, cinema has also become my profession, which over the years has led me to meet so many exciting and fantastic people, from filmmakers all over the world to my fantastic colleagues in Vienna and my wife, whom I also met through this work. In this sense, the film also fills me with gratitude as a symbol of unity.

Info: the website of the Vienna Shorts Film Festival