The closest cinemas normally get to showing short films is screening an advert by artist Tony Kaye, but at The Kino Festival of New Irish Cinema they are flavour of the month.

Kino is Manchester's alternative film society, and it's inclusion of 60 shorts, and only 3 feature-length films, is giving the short a rare opportunity to shine writes Jennifer Rodger. What's more, it reflects a genre brimming with experiment and innovation, as often happens in the hunt for solutions to low budgets and shorter narratives.

"We are about showing low budget work, because so many don't get access to lottery funding and it is exceptionally difficult unless there is a track record or excellent script," says John Wojowki, Kino founder and director. The festival shows documentaries (a strand rarely featured in festivals), films from the innovative Irish Film Board/RTE funded Short Cuts series and from Northern Ireland Film's Premiere Shorts, and closes with the Kino Awards. Timed to the end of The Dublin Film Festival and with the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival also running this week, by all accounts alternative film has every audience and film genre sewn up. "But," demurs John, " while other festivals are looking for polished work, we are one of the few who will show the huge number of low budget films."

According to John, a long career at repertory cinemas like London's Scala, Hulme's Aaben and Liverpool's 051, has shown him that there are still difficulties in promoting underground and genuinely experimental films. Four years ago the Aaben was pushed aside by the shinier and more trendy Cornerhouse art house cinema, and John was forced to take his Kino Film Club to clubs, bars and cafes. "Kino is more sociable. Rather than being rushed out of the auditorium people can meet producers and directors and debate," says John. "The good thing for directors is that we give international exposure, as I pass on films to other festivals and clubs."

Director N.G. Bristow, whose short Dah Dit Dah won 1997 Best Northern Lights Awards and is showing in the Best Of Last Year section, agrees that Kino is a unique festival. "Normally they are up their own arses, but rather than have what is usually an audience of other short film makers, the Kino screenings have genuine punters. It was also refreshing that the judges were fine artists, or worked in other media and had a different take on the material."

One highlight of the festival is My Dinner With Oswald, which in fifteen minutes dissects the conspiracy phenomenon as played out by two men's fascination with John F. Kennedy's assasination. Writer Donald Clark says that the short is often mistakenly thought of as a smaller film bite, rather than needing a different mould than feature films. "The general problem is that people tend to have an idea for a feature and do a truncated version as a short, with either the beginning or end missing. Shorts are completely different, and in some ways it has to be structured like a joke, it has to be that neat with things established very quickly."

An alternative festival on Irish shorts is made easier because Ireland currently has the most funding opportunities, with Dublin dubbed an Irish Soho. "In Ireland you always turn up at sets and know at least 3 or 4 people. Dublin Film Festival has just finished, and this was a great example of Irish networking in action. It was like parties in your own house," says Donald. Joel Simon for example is an animator who moved to Ireland because of the availability of funding from the section 35 tax breaks, and schemes like Premiere Shorts and Short Cuts. His animation, Ciderpunks, was financed by personal investors and The British Council.

"Nowadays to get a film on a desk for a festival is an achievement in itself. I switched over to animation shorts when I realised I would be able to have more input as a single person and you can assume almost every task yourself."

Financing still looms large on the agenda, but with the Kino Festival including Kiss FM and Radio 1 presenters, an Orbital soundtrack and Father Ted's Ardal O'Hanlon working on the cheap or even for free, in some mainstream areas at least, the short film is recognised as an important creative project.

But until they are more widely screened, it looks like the temptation to do lucrative commercials and inevitably feature films will mean that short film makers will move on rather than continue to raise the profile of this unique medium.