The longest film you've ever seen

This is a weekly column written by Annie Howell and Lisa Robinson, two filmmakers and film professors who are wondering where modern storytelling is heading.

What’s the shortest film you’ve seen that’s been satisfying as a story?

In turn, what’s the longest screen story experience you’ve ever sustained?

I’m flashing back to my long long movie-going experiences … a five hour documentary on Cassavetes, A CONSTANT FORGE—THE LIFE AND ART OF JOHN CASSAVETES, dir. Charles Kiselyak, at SXSW in 2001. (After the movie, my husband Michael and I bonded with the five other people in the theatre, including Blaine Thurier of The New Pornographers, a Cassavetes fan and the winner of that year’s Best Narrative Feature for his film, LOW SELF-ESTEEM GIRL.)

The work of Hungarian director Béla Tarr. (Okay, that wasn’t me that endured the 7.5 hour SATAN’S TANGO, it was Michael again, and he stayed for the whole thing at Brooklyn Academy of Music — even after Gus Van Sant left.)

A more recent experience: A four hour documentary about pediatric cancer, A LION IN THE HOUSE, by Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar, which I showed to my documentary class last week.

It’s an amazing film; we get to know five families over six years – one pictured above — as their children battle the disease, some successfully, others not (heartbreaking). I asked my students – was it valuable to be in the theatre for that long? To watch, as a group, uninterrupted? Surprisingly, the answer was no. They felt the value of the film, absolutely, but almost all expressed that they’d rather have watched at home, essentially controlling the remote. Is this generational? I value my long long experiences almost as spiritual encounters.

As the web changes storytelling, will long long survive? All I can say is, I hope so. What about short short? How short can one go and still be effective and innovative? Youtube has dozens of posts that claim to be the shortest on the site; basically, you can’t even see them.

In 1995, a group of 40 international filmmakers each contributed a 52 second film using the original Cinematographe camera invented by the Lumière Brothers, working under conditions similar to those of 1895. There were three rules for this project, titled LUMIERE AND COMPANY: (1) The film could be no longer than 52 seconds, (2) no synchronized sound was permitted, and (3) no more than three takes. You can see a full list of the directors here, and below are two of my favorites, by David Lynch and Zhang Yimou.

- AH