Big List

20 Short Films for Short Attention Spans

With concentration proving difficult and motivation waning, Ella Kemp suggests some short films to break those lockdown blues

Days blur into weeks, the rumours of lockdowns and unlockings and park days and sheltered days become overwhelming. In times of great confusion, attention spans run shorter, while many have far more free time to fill.

And so: features might have to take a momentary backseat. To consume more, to benefit from entertainment and distraction, we can, in these uncertain times, turn to short films in order to cater to our restless minds. 20 short films, for countless short attention spans: there’s education and entertainment for everyone – ranked in running time order, depending on how you're feeling…


The Band Concert (1935)

Where to watch it: YouTube

The way that Mickey Mouse frowns as he concentrates, here the composer of a big band, is a joy to watch. Physical gags are endless in this bite-sized symphony, as instruments and facial expressions contort and contrast gleefully (3 mins).


Dawn of a New Gay (2019)

Where to watch it: YouTube

Jack Rooke has been breaking the hearts of hundreds of theatregoers at the Edinburgh Fringe for the past few years, and his short film Dawn of a New Gay brings that same sensitivity, the same fearless comedy to the small screen. Like an agony aunt, except infinitely funnier and wiser (6 mins).


Right Place, Wrong Tim (2018)

Where to watch it: YouTube

If you’ve enjoyed Sex Education but need a change of scenery, Right Place, Wrong Tim promises to show you Asa Butterfield as never before. The stylish and schlocky horror short revels in vintage comedy and endless puns, as ticking clocks and countless clones make for one bloody good time (7 mins).


The Fall (2019)

Where to watch it: BBC iPlayer

The mind behind Under the Skin and Birth returns with a fascinating thriller, an engrossing and baffling miniature of a failing justice system and one man’s crawl out of darkness and back into the light. Add to that a score composed by the incomparable Mica Levi, it’s the most unsettling and hypnotic short film for years (7 mins).


Adore You (2019)

Where to watch it: YouTube

From the moment Harry Styles left One Direction and went solo, there was no doubt he’d build an entirely new world. With Adore You, taken from his second album, music is given a whole story. A fish, a companionship, a little town besotted with its strange, beautiful inhabitant. It could only be Harry (8 mins).


Kitbull (2019)

Where to watch it: YouTube

The finest story to come out of Pixar’s Sparkshorts initiative, Kitbull takes the most loveable and imperfect elements of its two main characters – a kitten and a pitbull – and meshes them wonderfully. With a moving score and vivid hand-drawn design, this feels lightyears away from mainstream animated fodder (9 mins).


Father and Daughter (2000)

Where to watch it: YouTube

Before directing Studio Ghibli’s first international co-production The Red Turtle, Michael Dudok de Wit brought his lyrical and emotional sensibilities to short-form animation. He lets an accordion narrate the story here, as the shadows of a father, and a daughter, cycle through life and remember one another. As poetic as it is intelligent (9 mins).


In Dog Years (2019)

Where to watch it: YouTube

The word “owner” here loses its strict meaning, in favour of a look at friends, confidants, partners of dogs – those who care for them and those who are taken care of by them. Sophy Romvari interviews dog people, and films dogs belonging to people with tenderness and curiosity (11 mins).


The Long Goodbye (2020)

Where to watch it: YouTube

Actor, rapper and activist, Riz Ahmed marks the advent of his new album The Long Goodbye with a furious short film accompanying it. What begins as just another day in one family’s life turns into a chillingly plausible nightmare – one fuelled by the racism still looming large in the UK (12 mins).


A Trip to the Moon (1902)

Where to watch it: YouTube

One of the first films ever made, George Melies’ 1902 silent short A Trip to the Moon feels like a remarkable gift in 2020. A professor and five of his fellow astronomers set out on a lunar voyage, and the people they meet, the things they discover, have the vibrancy of anything that could be made today (13 mins).

Guaxuma (2019)

Where to watch it: Vimeo

Nara Normande chronicles a friendship like a love letter in an arresting visual story governed by the eponymous beach in Brazil. Her gentle narration and tactile design – full of clay and sand and paper alike – make this individual story feel personal to all who are fortunate enough to watch (14 mins).


The Piano Tuner (2010)

Where to watch it: YouTube

Sound and vision, and the limitation such external factors can place on the human mind, are framed at their most dangerous in The Piano Tuner. What begins as a menial day job errand turns into a knotty thriller involving murder, manipulation, and music (14 mins).


Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)

Where to watch it: MUBI

The precursor to psychological thrillers and erotic dramas alike, Maya Deren’s hallucinatory short goes deep into the mind of one woman, as her desires and ambitions start to become increasingly fragmented. The dissonant sound design and jagged visuals have inspired countless experimental dramas today (14 mins).


Robot & Scarecrow (2017)

Where to watch it: Vimeo

Star-crossed lovers aren’t exactly a new concept, but there is a hypnotic alchemy in the ingredients of Robot & Scarecrow that make it feel like the only one in the world. With the music of Nils Frahm, motion capture performances from Jack O’Connell and Holliday Grainger and the voice of Daniel Kaluuya – there are too many things to fall in love with here (15 mins).


Atlantiques (2009)

Where to watch it: MUBI

One of the most beguiling features from last year – and the first film by a black woman to be part of the Cannes Official Selection – Mati Diop's Atlantics told a love story within a dangerous framework, speaking to societal injustice in Senegal via bewitching devices. This short film is where the whole glorious journey began (16 mins).


Whiplash (2013)

Where to watch it: Vimeo

Another foundational text if you’re looking to round out the backstories of some of today’s finest working filmmakers, Whiplash lays the bricks for what Damien Chazelle’s incendiary feature became. There’s no JK Simmons or Miles Teller, but you can still feel the corrosive tension between tutor and pupil here (18 mins).


Ashes (2012)

Where to watch it: MUBI

Ashes gives the singular Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul both a challenge and a release: he was tasked with filming this with the LomoKino, a unique hand-cranked camera. But experimentation also gives way to memory, as the film chronicles dreams and politics as much as abstraction (20 mins).


I Am Easy To Find (2019)

Where to watch it: YouTube

The National consider their eighth full-length release to be as much about the album as the film that accompanies it. The short, directed by 20th Century Women's Mike Mills, sees Alicia Vikander portray a woman from birth to death (sans prosthetics) in a moving monochrome depiction of a life full of feeling (27 mins).


Rocks That Bleed (2015)

Where to watch it: YouTube

Two brothers are sitting together watching the world end. The prospect of a meteor hurtling towards Earth might usually be reserved for big-budget explosive fanfare, but Bertie Gilbert taps into the paralysing fear, and the urgent tenderness, that lies within all of us (27 mins).


The Staggering Girl (2019)

Where to watch it: MUBI

It could only have premiered in Cannes: Luca Guadagnio’s impossibly stylish short film casts an eye-watering roster of actors – Julianne Moore, Kyle McLachlan, Kiki Layne, Mia Goth – in collaboration with Maison Valentino. The plot might feel a bit distant, but it’s still sumptuous to watch (37 mins).

Other Features

Repertory Rundown: What to Watch in London This Week, From Little Women to Sergio Leone

From classics to cult favourites, our team highlight some of the best one-off screenings and re-releases showing this week in the capital

Repertory Rundown: What to Watch in London This Week, From Coppola to Cross of Iron

From classics to cult favourites, our team highlight some of the best one-off screenings and re-releases showing this week in the capital

20 Best Films of 2023 (So Far)

With the year at the halfway point, our writers choose their favourite films, from daring documentaries to box office bombs

Repertory Rundown: What to Watch in London This Week, From Mistress America to The Man Who Wasn’t There

From classics to cult favourites, our team highlight some of the best one-off screenings and re-releases showing this week in the capital


The Innocent review – 60s-inspired heist movie with an existential twist

In his fourth feature film, writer-director Louis Garrel explores with wit and tenderness the risk and worth of second chances

Baato review – Nepal’s past and future collide in an immersive, fraught documentary

A mountain trek intertwines with a road-building project, granting incisive, if underpowered, insight into a much underseen world

The Beanie Bubble review – a grim new low for the “corporate biopic” genre

With none of the saving graces of Tetris, Air, or Barbie, this ambition-free look at the Beanie Baby craze is pure mediocrity

Everybody Loves Jeanne review – thoroughly modern fable of grief, romantic confusion, and climate anxiety

Celine Deveaux's French-Portuguese debut can be too quirky for its own good, but a fantastically written lead character keeps it afloat