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BY JASON GUERRASIO

ELIZABETH MARRE AND OLIVIER PONT'S MANON ON THE ASPHALT.

Each year filmmakers, sales reps, buyers, programmers and the press descend on Toronto for one of the industry's must-attend film festivals. No, we’re not talking about the Toronto International Film Festival but rather the Worldwide Short Film Festival. Celebrating its 15th year this coming June, the WSFF has built itself into a respected venue for exhibiting and promoting short films. With the addition of a Marketplace nine years ago, it has also become a realistic place for filmmakers to sell their shorts while also being a destination for executives to discover burgeoning talent.

Run through the nonprofit Canadian Film Centre, the festival screens around 250 shorts and awards more than $125,000 in cash and prizes during its six days. (In addition, the winners of the Best Live-Action and Best Animation awards become Oscar eligible). This year the festival will also feature close to 3,700 shorts in its Marketplace, easily making it the largest short film market in North America.

“Along with the Marketplace we run a four-day symposium on the art and commerce of shorts called ‘Short Film, BIG IDEAS’ that’s aimed at emerging filmmakers who are looking to learn about who’s funding and who’s buying,” says festival director Eileen Arandiga. “But I guess the thing that makes our Marketplace a little more forward-thinking is the fact that it has entered the digital age.”

With the impossible task of trying to view thousands of shorts in six days, WSFF made their Marketplace digital last year, and the ease with which films could be accessed for viewing by buyers led to more than 400 shorts being acquired for Internet, theatrical or television distribution. This sophisticated software, which WSFF teamed up with Toronto-based Hot Docs to develop through a grant from the Ontario Media Development Corporation, allows Marketplace attendees to build a user profile that gives them access to the full slate of titles and lets them make their own playlist of films that can be viewed throughout the fest. “I know it becomes frustrating when you’re at a festival and you’re trying to borrow DVDs and you can only take out two at a time,” says Arandiga. “This makes things a lot easier.” The feedback was so positive last year that Arandiga says the Market is now considering extending the digital service online for perhaps as long as one month following the fest. (Password protected, of course, to prevent piracy and not ruin the film’s Academy Award eligibility.) “If it doesn’t happen this year it will definitely happen next year,” she says.

The access to more shorts will certainly make what’s already a large number of acquisitions coming out of the market increase even more, and contrary to the global economic crisis Arandiga is confident many buyers from around the world will be coming to WSFF this year with checkbook in hand. “Unlike North America, there are channels in Europe that have dedicated shorts programs so they need to buy a number of shorts to keep the industry going, and of course, this is a way for them to find new talent.”

With the festival spotlighting shorts like Elizabeth Marre and Olivier Pont’s Manon on the Asphalt — which won Best Live-Action at last year’s WSFF and went on to get nominated for this year’s Oscar Best Live-Action shorts category — there’s greater hope for short filmmakers who are often pessimistic about finding an industry audience for their work.

The CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival takes place June 16-21. Learn more at worldwideshortfilmfest.com.



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