VIS 2016. Short Talk with Daniel Ebner

Yellow Bread has had the opportunity to chat with the director of Vienna Independent Shorts, Daniel Ebner, about the creation of the festival, its development, the Oscars as well as this year’s strong political statement and focus and the plans for the future.


How was the festival founded? What was the motivation behind it?

Daniel Ebner: We had a small website and we found out there were so many people out there making films with their new digital cameras and lots of people just wanted to have feedback. So, we asked them to send us the films and we offered feedback. Originally, I came from a film criticism background so we took every film that we received seriously. If it was bad, it was bad but there was still the possibility of a feedback. At some point, we received so many films – and some were good – that we thought we wanted to present them, show them to the audience. So, this was kind of the starting point; to do initiatives so that we could work together. And, this also where the name came about; it’s not a proper festival name, it’s more like a roof for making initiatives – Vienna Independent Shorts. It was six or seven initiatives that needed a roof and the festival was a roof the first year and became an organism the next.

How did the festival evolve? What was the most challenging part in creating it?

D.E.: The most challenging part for us was to see what we were doing and what we were doing wrong as well. And I guess, it’s like with every young initiative; you learn the most through the mistakes you do. And so, after a few years, when we finally saw that it turned out well – it was still small but it turned out well –and we got feedback and our network grew, we started to take it more seriously. First, we were like a grassroots democracy and everyone did everything and five or six years ago, we started to develop a certain hierarchy that you’re used to when you go to festivals. So, there is a responsibility for each department. I took over the artistic part – I was elected by the team to do the artistic part because that was always the thing that interested me the most and I was traveling around the festivals as well and at this time I also worked as a film critic and film journalist. So, I guess I was the one who had the most experience with this. So, now we have a huge network – especially a European network. We’re working together very closely with festivals from Tampere to Clermont-Ferrand, the Berlinale Shorts, Encounters in Bristol, Winterthur and Hamburg as well in German speaking countries…but also with DokuFest in Kosovo. This is always a very important aspect.

All that work and hope certainly paid off! Now you’re an Oscar© qualifying festival. Can you talk about that?

D.E.: Last year we found out that people checked our website and that we had developed a certain reputation as well. So, we received an invitation, which was really, really nice. The Academy asked to collect statistical data from the past three years and we needed a recommendation by Academy members and a lot of stuff, catalogues, etc. We sent a huge package to Hollywood and we didn’t hear anything for many, many months. But, a few days before Christmas, we received a letter that we were now an Oscar© qualifying festival. On the one hand, this is great because it’s a huge honor, of course, and we are the youngest festival on the list and on the other hand, it’s also a big responsibility because our partner festivals that are already registered and accredited at the Academy told us that we could expect to get the double of submissions, which is something where the term “Fear is Not an Option” is suddenly not valid anymore because we are very afraid of not being able to look at the films in the way that they deserve. It takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of engagement as well to deal with the films, to watch the films, to watch them again if they are shortlisted during the internal process so you can do it with 3500 – it’s still a lot – but it’s impossible to do it with 7000 films if you are not able to pay your staff, especially the programmers and the curators. We do pay them but we cannot pay for many months of watching films so this is kind of going to be the responsibility that we have to deal with. But, the honor is bigger than the fear.

Now that we are talking about fear, can you elaborate on the festival’s strong political statement and the “Fear is Not an Option” focus this year?

D.E.: “Fear is Not an Option” came up last year in the summer when we talked a lot about the refugee crisis and the whole terrorism thing. On a very sociopolitical level, we were very touched by the pictures of the many shipwrecks that we saw and we didn’t really know how to handle it, how to approach it at first. So, we talked a lot about it inside the team but also with our partners, the Go Short Film Festival and Le Festival du Nouveau Cinéma about what we could do to not be too negative and not to have this feeling that everything was bad anyway, that everything was going down and that Europe was just a dream from a former time. We still believe that it is a good time and that the options are open. It was said during this time that you have to respect the fears of the people in refugee camps and we have to respect the fear of the people that there’s too many of them. But, I think that fear really is not a good advisor when it comes to sociopolitical issues and matters of coexistence. I think it’s about dialogue and all about talking to each other and finding out how to help each other. And, that’s kind of what we tried with this focus; to have a few programs that show what’s happening right now but at the same time offer an optimistic perspective and a different angle. It shouldn’t be a news angle; it should be a more optimistic approach.

And last but not least, what are your plans for the future of VIS?

D.E.: We started with almost no money at all and now we have a budget of about 250,000€, which is not a lot. It’s good for the basics but not good enough if you want to pay your staff and there are lots of people. The team consists of almost ten people working year round so it’s impossible to pay someone properly with such an amount of money. So, this is something that we tried – especially in the last two or three years; we want to reduce the work for many and pay those that work for the festival better. On a technical and internal level, this is something that we are working on very hard because it’s important that you don’t lose your staff every two or three years because they need a proper job, they need money and if you have to rebuild the whole festival staff all the time, every two or three years, it’s impossible to keep up the work. You need well-educated and well-trained people who know what they’re doing because otherwise it’s not possible to make a festival like this. And content wise and what the festival is about and what I have been doing during the last four or five years was to kind of build a stronger structure of the festival so the competitions are clearly marked, everyone knows – everyone should know – what to expect when you go to the competitions. We have a strong focus with a big theme like “Fear is Not an Option” this year which is always developed during the summer months and then we have the specials when we invite other festivals, curators, or program parts that we really like and think could make sense to show to an audience. But, the structure building is finished so now, for us, it’s very important to strengthen the network and the festival inside.

Latest from Short Talks