Some of the greatest movies have been long, sweeping epics. Lawrence of Arabia runs 218 minutes. Gone with the Wind stretches over 238 minutes. The oceanic soap opera Titanic commands 194 minutes to literally take its final bow, as long as it took for the real deal to sink.
But good things also come in small packages, as I learned a few days ago at the Muvico Centro Ybor for screenings of this year's Tampa Bay entries for the 48 Hour Film Project. The project was an artistically challenging international competition to create, film, edit and produce a seven-minute movie in just two days.
In another life in this business I spent time as a film and television critic. I am an unrepentant movie junkie, willing to sit through repeated viewings of truly horrible flicks like Plan 9 from Outer Space for the sheer joyful dreadfulness of it all. I sometimes joke that I probably spent more hours in dark rooms than most Nebraska Avenue floozies. But I had a better time.
The 20 local teams competing in the 48 Hour Film Project could produce anything they wanted, with one caveat. Each film was required to include a purse, a character named either Jonathan or Janice Simon, and this line of dialogue: "Whatever happened to her?"
The results were amazing. The 20 entries covered the gamut from science fiction, to romance, to action/thrillers, to fantasies, with first-rate production values and even special effects. The teams spread out across Tampa Bay using locations in Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Channelside's American Victory Ship and the old federal courthouse in downtown Tampa.
The winner will be announced Aug. 17 at Muvico and move on to Hollywood to compete to be the U.S. entry at next year's Cannes Film Festival. This is a big deal — if you love movies.
It will be a tough choice. What the 48 Hour Film Project demonstrated is just how much talent and creativity — flourishing under tight deadline pressure — can be found here.
I was especially taken with Flight of Phobia, about two obsessive compulsive people who communicate by paper airplane; Jonathan Simon: The Exchange, an espionage thriller; and especially Ladybug, about a cop contemplating his life while caught up in a violent hostage standoff.
Ernest Hemingway once bragged he could write a six-word story: "For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn." And now we also know it is possible to create cinematic brilliance in a mere seven minutes.
Daniel Ruth is a Times editorial writer and columnist.