Pardon us Martin Scorsese, GIPHY says that next cinematic opus may take the form of an 18-second looping clip.
The online gif database that introduced us to internet classics such as James Van Der Beek is Crying, Deal With It Cat, and Obama Mic Drop is launching a new film festival to showcase the medium’s narrative potential. Open to all filmmakers, artists, designers, and restless minds residing in the US, The GIPHY Film Fest will highlight loopable “micro films” that take less time to watch than reading this sentence.
The premise of the festival is ballsy. “GIPHY believes that micro-films up to 18 seconds are just as compelling, entertaining, creative, and professional-grade as any other film entering world-famous film festivals,” the press pitch reads.
“Within 18 seconds or 6 seconds you can have a full horror movie, a romantic comedy or a melodrama,” GIPHY spokesperson Tiffany Vazquez told Quartz, adding that, “The first films ever made were microfilms, and they didn’t have sound.”
It’s true that early silent films were very short. And like gifs, they featured only one scene. The oldest surviving footage made by a film camera—Roundhay Garden Scene by inventor Louis Le Price in 1888—lasts for 2.11 seconds. Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat by the Lumière Brothers screened in 1896 was 50 seconds long
Gif makers have also chopped up many Charlie Chaplin films. The Murphy bed gag in his 34-minute film One A.M. makes for the perfect endless looping clip.
But can we really get the same emotional satisfaction as we do with an hours-long film from one scene without narrative arc? How do we get to the climax of the plot without the exposition or the denouement? Saying a gif is comparable to a feature film is like saying a good tweet is comparable to a novel.
“I do think it’s interesting that I’m reading more tweets than I am reading novels these days,” says Vazquez, who doesn’t contest the analogy. “We are at this point when we’re inundated with content. Taking the short forms of these things and ingesting them … that’s just how we’re living these days.”
“One of the biggest things to come out in recent years is Vine,” Vazquez explains, referring to the now-defunct app for making and sharing six-second-long looping video clips. “People were telling stories and entertaining themselves in six seconds. There’s really no reason why filmmakers can’t give us compelling, entertaining, profound art within that amount of time, too.”
Vazquez points to a growing community of gif creators who are already testing the medium’s storytelling potential. For instance, Brooklyn-based designer Kyle Sauer produced Grandma BB, a “gif comic book” following the adventures of a”candid and lovable” Boca Raton retiree with a neck brace played by graphic designer/actress Brooke Bamford.
There are also some startlingly poignant original animations on GIPHY. Cape Town-based illustrator Kobie Nieuwoudt, for instance, captures the heartache of missing one’s beloved pet with Boston Terrier Phone Gif and the excruciating act of flirting via SMS with Girl Typing Gif.
Mexican graphic designer Analí Jaramillo has published charming vignettes with dynamic angles.
To put these gifs in the same category as traditionally produced films is debatable. But what launching the GIPHY Film Festival does well is spotlight the wealth of original content on the platform, beyond the usual reaction gifs that are clipped (stolen) from existing YouTube videos. All entries to the festival must be made with original material.
Vazquez says it’s part of GIPHY’s effort to spotlight original gif creators and artists. The company has partnered with Squarespace, a website-building and hosting service, to reach the design community. The Museum of Moving Image in Queens, New York is currently using the walls and ceilings of its elevators as gallery space for gif art.
Submissions to the festival will be evaluated by a panel that includes Rajendra Roy, MoMA’s chief film curator, and Alex Bodman, Spotify’s creative director. Finalists will be feted in a November 8 ceremony in New York City, and the winning micro-filmmaker will be awarded $10,000—a comparatively macro-sized prize, considering Academy Award winners get $0.