Shorts are sweet, say cinema audiences

If you think there must be more to the cinema than a feature film, a gigantically expensive vodka commercial and a set of trailers which reveal every major scene and punchline of the movies they're supposed to be promoting, then you're not alone.

If you think there must be more to the cinema than a feature film, a gigantically expensive vodka commercial and a set of trailers which reveal every major scene and punchline of the movies they're supposed to be promoting, then you're not alone.

According to a survey for the mobile phone company Orange and published today, nearly half of cinema-goers would like something extra before the main feature: the return of the short film.

There is a strong feeling, too, within the movie industry that it might be time to reintroduce short films to cinemas, with the form enjoying an increasingly high profile in recent years. While it is still not practical to download an entire feature film from the internet, 10-minute films are ideal for the medium. Such websites as IFILM and Atomfilms (slogan: "Get into our shorts") offer mini-movies to millions of subscribers every month.

The form is a lot hipper than it was when you would watch wholesome Disney documentaries about lions, before adverts for Indian restaurants located "just opposite this cinema". Last year, the Jim Poole Award was launched for short films by Edinburgh's Cameo cinema, and in June the Short Circuit agency was set up to pair new short films with feature releases. Sony, Volkswagen, Swatch, Fuji and Levi's - keen to associate themselves with new talent - have been sponsoring short-film festivals and productions around the world, and Warner Village cinemas has bankrolled the Jerwood Film Prize, specifically for short film scripts.

In 1999, the winning script was directed by Stephen Daldry, who went on to make Billy Elliot. "People are rediscovering cinema," said David Goldersgeyme, executive producer of the Jerwood. "They don't just want to see the same Hollywood output. They're interested in things that are a little more quirky and varied."

Featurettes used to be screened as a matter of course, and recognised as a valuable calling card for fledgling film-makers. In 1967, for instance, Martin Scorsese made The Big Shave, a six-minute anti-Vietnam film in which a man shaves off his face. In the same year, George Lucas wrote and directed the 15-minute THX 1138:4EB, which was expanded into a feature film - THX-1138 - in 1971.

In the early 1980s, declining attendances discouraged cinemas from running anything other than the main film. "Between the release of ET in 1982, and the introduction of multiplexes from 1985, audiences fell out of love with cinema," said Tina McFarling, spokesperson for the Film Council. One reason for this slump was the video. "Its arrival had an enormous impact on cinema and it meant a lot of business was lost," said Ms McFarling, "but in the longer term it made people interested in movies again."

That interest has now reached a level which would have been unthinkable in 1983, when only 52 million cinema tickets were sold. On Wednesday, a survey conducted for the Cinema Advertising Association announced that there were 142.5 million admissions last year - three million more than in 1999, and the highest number in 26 years.

In the Orange survey, 39 per cent of respondents wanted "featurettes" to make a comeback, with a further 8 per cent requesting cartoons.

We are a nation of cineastes again, and ready for the added stimulation that short films offer. Either that or we're just after value for money. In the Orange survey, 90 per cent of respondents complained that cinema chains charged too much for food and drinks.

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