Short films, long on potential

Short films, long on potential


The films Animating Reality, After The War: Life Post-Yugoslavia and Radical Act are indie productions distributed by Portland’s A Million Movies a Minute. // PHOTOS COURTESY OF A MILLION MOVIES A MINUTE

Erin Donovan spends a lot of time visiting film festivals from Ashland to Toronto. She’s always been impressed with how good short documentary films can be, and how impossible they are to find once the festival has passed.

“The lifetime of a short film is pretty much the length of the festival and that’s it,” she says.

With that in mind, Donovan launched in 2008 an independent film distribution business in Portland called A Million Movies a Minute. Even though the economy was collapsing at the time, her first release, After the War: Life Post-Yugoslavia, a collection of nine films, sold well. She followed up recently with Animating Reality, 13 short works by filmmakers from Europe, Australia, Japan and North America. Both collections offer a “multi-lensed look at an issue,” as Donovan puts it, examining a war-torn region in one case and animation as an art form in the other.

The 30-year-old Donovan studied political economics at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., honed her business chops at Kill Rock Stars in Olympia and later got into raising private equity for independent films in San Francisco. Her experience working with skeptical musicians has helped her with the daunting task of negotiating licensing rights with dozens of filmmakers from around the world. “Filmmakers tend to be very leery of distributors,” she says. “But I’m very upfront with them, and I always set realistic expectations.”

Donovan creates the DVDs herself, then rents and sells them through Amazon and, an online retailer that now operates out of Portland. Big customers include schools, universities and libraries. As for future releases, Donovan doesn’t anticipate running out of options anytime soon, as film festivals continue to pack theaters for screenings across Oregon and around the world. Her latest project, Radical Act, examines the role of female musicians in the indie music scene of the 1990s.