15 Second Film Festival

The majority are longer than 15 seconds, but this film festival is more than just a gimmick

What can a film deliver in 15 seconds? Successful drama, actuality, humour (live action and animated) and, it has to be admitted, sometimes a big 'duh?' from the audience. But an entire film festival, plus a six minute documentary in an hour is no mere gimmick.

The 15 Second Film Festival at Queen's Film Theatre is the brainchild of Peter ‘Magic’ Johnston. You may recall Johnston’s nostalgic two-seater cinema kiosk that toured Ireland and beyond a few years ago: a small cinema showing small films.

Johnston’s company, Media Zoo, is no flash in the pan, nor are its productions amateur. Each 15 second film is developed as an idea and then made in exactly the same professional way as any other professional-standard short films, or indeed, feature film.


With a background in media and advertising, Johnston got together the first batch of short shorts and gradually attracted critical recognition and, more crucially, funding. In the past year Northern Ireland Screen gave £10,000 and this will soon go up to £15,000. In these straightened times, no official body gives that kind of money without being convinced that the projects and the products are beneficial to Ulster film-making as a whole.

Johnston wants to expand the production of these micro movies into a kind of 'boot camp' to train media hungry youngsters. In this regard, his vision for Media Zoo is similar to the ethos behind the old Hollywood and British film studios, albeit writ very small.

Add in the fact that Media Zoo owns the largest green screen in Ireland (for shooting effects) and that it has been used by HBO’s Game of Thrones – the multi-million dollar series shot at the Paint Hall in the Titanic Quarter – as well as the National Geographic channel, and you can see that the 15 second films are part of a very professional, but thankfully, still quirky organisation.

As for the films shown at QFT, some date back to 2007 whilst others are brand new. There is no space here to list all 49 – yes, 49! – films shown, but a few examples can serve to stand for all.

Even the titles of three, The Filing Cabinet of Dr Caligari (filmed in impeccable German Expressionist style, watch above), One Million Years JCB (two mechanical excavators fight to the death, dino style, watch above) and 2001: Throw Me A Bone (spoiler alert: the black monolith was an ATM) reveal two absolute truths about all these films.

Firstly, everybody concerned knows the methods and histories of fiction and documentary film inside out in terms of icons, techniques, tropes and stereotypes... and, more importantly, they know that less is more.

Think of these films in terms of stand up comedy. You can have Billy Connolly fill an entire hour with tangents of one storyline (feature film) or you can have Milton Brown or Tim Vine deliver a surreal stand alone one liner (the micro movie).

Don’t think that all the 15 second films are pastiche or comedies: evidently you could produce a telling documentary in that time. Example, Day and Night; Essex Street, Dublin. At 3pm a crowd encircles and applauds two street performers dancing. At 3am a crowd eggs on two drunken people fighting savagely.

And. I have to say, 15 seconds is exactly the right length of time to watch a rattlesnake being professionally gutted and its disconnected heart continue to beat...

So, a high ratio of hits to misses. Some big names also appear on credits – Roddy Doyle, Seamus McGarvey and Patrick McCabe. You would be missing something if you didn’t want to learn more about this on-going project, so visit info@mediazoo.ie for more information.