Short film, the traditional business card of the aspiring director, is enjoying something of a renaissance in Italy as a genre in its own right, with a range of festivals and events showcasing the cutting edge of Italian cinema.

This summer sees the Genova Film Festival, La Cittadella del Corto near Rome, Maremetraggio in Trieste, the Bianco Film Festival in Umbria, Sonar and Filmvideo in Tuscany, and the often ignored short film section at the Venice Film Festival in late August. And this is only scratching the surface, with innumerable short film festivals cropping up in bars and cafes across Italy.

Probably the largest short film festival in Rome this summer is Arcipelago, which took place in the heart of Trastevere. Stefano Martina, one of the three festival directors, explains how it came about.

At the beginning of the 1990s we were the organisers of another festival, Festival di Cinema Italiano, that aimed to highlight feature films and shorts by young Italian autori, he says. In the last edition of that festival we realised that the short films were actually becoming more interesting than the features, and even with only a few shorts in circulation there was already an interested public. So we laid our bets and launched a festival devoted to short film, and 1992 saw the first edition of what was to become Arcipelago.

Their bets paid off and the festival is now in its 11th edition, showing Italian shorts alongside international works. This years competition included sections for Roman, national, international and digital shorts.

There was also a section dedicated to the best Scottish films from the last six-seven years, organised in conjunction with Scottish Screen and the British Council. It included a tribute to Peter Mullen, director of The Magdalene Sisters, featuring some of his short films.

This years edition also had a section devoted to Swiss film and focussing on multiculturalism, something not lacking from the Roman and Italian sections either, with two very different shorts on black Italian music, from 1970s jazz to contemporary Roman hip hop in Negri Romani. As Martina pointed out, Immigration from Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa is now becoming part of our history, and changes in society register in shorts long before they begin to show up in feature films.

The festival also featured the controversial Palestinian short Yawmiat Ahir (Diary of a Prostitute), Oscar-winning animation The Chubb Chubbs! and Steven Grasses sexploitation shorts, the Bikini Bandits (foxy chicks armed with .44 Magnums and skimpy beach attire).

Festivals have long given filmmakers and actors a chance to present their work and push their next project. As Martina put it, People go to short film festivals looking for something, be it new talent or new narrative form.

However, interest in short films goes beyond the festival scene. Emme Film is a company that seeks to promote the genre using its shortvillage.com website, Taglio Corto magazine and a regular Tuesday cinema showing of short films at the Pasquino cinema in Trastevere.

These weekly screenings draw the festival regulars, young people and filmmakers. To the delight of Emme Films Barbara Vetra, they also attract a varied public who hadnt previously known about short films and who ask me, What is a short film? A music video, a small film, a sketch? At the end of each screening they leave content, realising that a short film can be any or all of those things.

In fact, the Short Village event at the Pasquino cinema has been so successful that parallel events have been launched under the Short Village banner in Milan and Pisa.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that short films face innumerable production hurdles, as Vetra laments. Italy is one of the few countries in Europe where state funding doesnt exist, she says. It hardly exists for feature films, let alone shorts. Theres no short film agency such as in France, there is no financing, and we ourselves are independently run and thus have to charge for our services.

Although a few lucky shorts do receive funding, many are made as collaborations between enthusiasts, friends or even relatives, while festival competitions often offer equipment, film stock and other technical means as prizes, giving the maker of a DIY short film more to play with the next time round. Vetra noted that the Italian shorts at last Novembers Imola Film Festival matched the technical standard of the international productions for the first time. Discussing the difficulties, Arcipelagos Martina had a positive attitude. In spite of the difficulties, someone who has something to say and knows how to say it will come through sooner or later, he believes.

Many successful directors, editors, screenwriters and cinematographers of short films later go on to work in features, and some cult shorts have been remade as full-length movies. But does this mean that short films are just a way to break in to the mainstream film industry? Not according to Martina. This is true in part, but it is not the whole truth, he said. The short film has a life of its own, presenting narratives and genres that often do not or cannot gain access to the feature film industry. And Vetra, while agreeing that many short film directors wish to produce features later, is emphatic that a short film that can induce strong emotions in only a few minutes of running time is a beautiful thing.

Some short film festivals in Italy: Arcipelago, Rome, Multisala Intrastevere, Vicolo Moroni 3/a, tel. 065884230, until 26 June; Sonar Film Festival, Agliana (Tuscany), 26-29 June, www.sonarfilmfestival.it; Bianco Film Festival, Perugia, 27-28 June, www.biancofilmfestival.it; Genova Film Festival, 30 June-6 July, www.genovafilmfestival.it; Maremetraggio, Trieste, 5-12 July,

www.maremetraggio.com; Filmvideo, Montecatini Terme (Tuscany), 14-19 July, www.cortoweb.it/fedic/filmvideo/ita/home.asp; La Cittadella del Corto, Trevignano Romano (Rome), 24-28 July, tel. 069999823, www.cittadelladelcorto.com; Mostra Internazionale dArte Cinematografica di Venezia, 27 Aug-6 September, www.labiennale.org/it/cinema.

Picture: Marco Messeri stars in Italo Pesce Delfinos Red Pause, screened at the Arcipelago short film festival in Rome.