Hey film snobs, we’re jumping into this year’s Sundance fresh and bright-eyed starting with compensating for last year’s lack of short coverage. Here’s an alphabetical compilation of shorts that we reviewed. Also: big thanks to the filmmakers and their teams for letting us view some of their films a little earlier to make this happen.
Title: Abortion Helpline, This is Lisa
Director: Barbara Attie, Janet Goldwater, Mike Attie
What it is: An abortion helpline attempts in raising money for aiding women who cannot afford abortions for various reasons.
What We Think: So, abortion. Woo-hoo. After years and years and years and years of having to try to inform what’s left of the strictly (meaning excluding pro-choice) pro-life population about the economic and medical importance of choice, Americans are still left floundering and debating and arguing for what is lawful and what is right or humane or whatever else is associated with defending or attacking the necessity that is abortion. It’s frustrating, I know. Now, frustration and politics aside, for those of whom find themselves willing to gain more context on the subject should definitely watch this film. Hell, I would love to show everyone this film. It’s sad, it’s stressful, and it’s eye-opening. I appreciate the moments shared with us that we get to experience as well as some quite educational snippets from court debates; this is very much the short that serves as a good start when one desires to gain ground on the subject. I personally would have liked to have even seen the BTS of this film (I wonder how they ended up getting permission from the callers themselves, though I could always ask…). It doesn’t go super in-depth, the presentation is very flat (cut-and-dry) and offers a very, very small and brief viewing of the issue itself.
Our Grade: C+, Great supplementary material on the subject, though would need companion pieces in order to really impact and inform. Felt like certain things were somehow missing despite the focus solely being about a call center (although it’s also clear that it’s not just about a call center but aims to prove a much larger point). I could see this being part of a much larger and elaborate documentary.
Title: Bad Hair
Director: Oskar Lehemaa
Starring: Sten Karpov
What it is: A man tries a strange new-age hair treatment in order to have a mane worth taking selfies for. It doesn’t go well.
What We Think: Well, well, well, well. Funny enough, there were two “Bad Hair” films released this festival, and while I didn’t get to see the feature, I’m sure glad I saw this off-the-wall short. Following suit of a subgenre I’m calling male-pattern-baldness horror playing on masculine insecurities and the desperation and devastation that can come from it (see: “Hair” from Body Bags), this is like Cronenburg and Carpenter… but hair and Venom-esque goop (the main character likely ordered this stuff from Gwyneth Paltrow’s online store “Goop”, now that I think about it). It’s funny, it’s edited with a confident intensity, and, in certain moments, it gets pretty fucking nasty.
Our Grade: B, If you’re squeamish, maybe skip out or close your eyes for some thirty seconds. That’ll get some chuckles, laughs, and ew’s out of you for sure. This isn’t just bad hair day… it’s a hair nightmare.
Title: Baldwin Beauty
Director: Thembi Banks
Starring: Raven Goodwin, Caroline Clay, Diarra Kilpatrick
What it is: Farrah, a Detroit-native starts a new life in LA. She takes on a hairstyling gig with an energetic group of women.
What We Think: The style lends itself to this great sort of poppy, contemporary personality with its music and rosy, glowing visual decisions. That in itself was enjoyable. As for the story itself, while the characters were active and distinguishable, there was little plot to make as much of an impression as I would encourage it to.
Our Grade: C, Great potential in its capacity to deliver silliness and lightheartedness, perhaps next time we’ll see this sort of project with a bit more of a polished script. Until then, I need to see more in order to say more.
Director: Bridget Moloney
Starring: Claire Coffee, Mark Webber, Ruha Taslimi
What it is: A mom finds herself in a routine of picking up after her children and taking care of her husband. When she starts frequently throwing up blocks, she searches for a solution.
What We Think: This is a really great little short. It’s clearly very well directed–the editing is refreshing (much like in Danny’s Girl), the score is cute and motivating, and the cast delivers flawless performances. The story is fantastic, a strange and sympathetic tale about nonstop self-sacrifice and maternity. The writing brings an honesty and frankness about things like sex and motherhood and offers nuance that leads so naturally into comedy.
Our Grade: A, Fun and introspective, Blocks offers suggestion to taking care of one’s self in order to continue to provide. I really appreciate that.
Director: Elegance Bratton, Jovan James
Starring: Malik Shakur, Biko Eisen-Martin, Gabe Payton
What it is: In trying to deal with being black and gay and on meds, a young man uncomfortably wanders into a small sex party in order to hook up with someone he knows only to finally have to face the troubles that weigh him down.
What We Think: I’m a sucker for a pretty picture–I really quite enjoyed the technical effort put into this short. There’s a grand intimacy there in the cinematography; the colors perfectly complimenting the sometimes overwhelming or disorienting tone, the editing is quiet and effective. As for the story and performances, it starts off strong but honestly loses me a bit through confusion; plot and writing are a bit lightweight and become murky.
Our Grade: C-, I would nonetheless look forward to the concept moving forward (if that’s where it desires to be taken) into the reigns of a feature film. Buck has some interesting themes going on, certainly reminiscent of 2016’s Moonlight, though it certainly has room for improvement in many areas.
Title: Danny’s Girl
Director: Emily Wilson
Starring: Danny Dikel, Remy Bennett
What it is: When two online daters meet for the first time, things go seriously wrong. But are they perfect for each other after all?
What We Think: It sounds simple and I want it to sound that way on purpose. This was probably the most unexpected thing to come out of the shorts, because you have no idea what’s about to happen. Despite how short it is, it’s freaking wild. With humor and style similar to other dark comedies such as An Evening with Beverly Luff Lin or What We Do in the Shadows, everything about this short hits the comedy G-spot. The performances are kooky yet still somehow down-to-earth. All of a sudden I found myself spewing in laughter, time and time again. I had to rewatch it. This is seriously the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time.
Our Grade: A+, It’s a crazy, uncomfortable, awkward, funny ride with two oddball characters struggling to achieve love (or other things). It’s sweet, well written, well-edited: it’s electrifyingly hilarious. I will definitely be looking forward to Wilson’s next works.
Director: Daria Kashcheeva
What it is: A woman stands over her dying father as they mull over memories in their strained relationship.
What We Think: Oh, this was lovely. Very much unlike any other stop-motion animation film I’ve ever seen, this short carries its cinematography in ways that feels very real and in turn very intimate. The accomplished hand-held simulation and deep focal lengths add to the overall delivery of vulnerability, morose, and delicacy of this father-daughter relationship. Their wordlessness lends itself to the idea of loneliness and emptiness. Despite their lack of conversation is there that tremendous need being expressed; it’s perfect.
Our Grade: A, A beautifully crafted, sad, and sweet dedication.
Director: Nate Milton
Starring: Buck St. Thomas, Nate Milton
What it is: Eli is a young man who is experiencing delusions, mania, and general hallucinations. All this stemming from an object tuned to a certain note that is adversely affecting his everyday life. All he can hear is this frequency. All he knows is this frequency.
What We Think: There’s just something to the squiggly manic nature of the animation coupled with the odd storytelling that just sort of works for me. There are a ton of little details that tell the story and help move it along. Its final conclusion seemed a bit too easy for something SO manic and unique. Almost as if we were dropped into the midst of a psychotic break only to be left with some sort of “it was only a dream” malaise.
Our Grade: B, Definitely something I can recommend you check out even if it comes off a bit too weird for some. I think the fact that it’s animated truly helps this along. What I mean by that is there’s plenty of ways to tell this story but animated is probably the most effective. A really cool short that I’m sure will satisfy the shorts fans.
Director: Sonia K. Hadad
Starring: Sadaf Asgari, Hadis Miramini, Masih Kazemi
What it is: A young teenage girl rushes off to school for an exam after the person she needs to deliver cocaine to doesn’t show up at the spot in time. When an unexpected event occurs that threatens the job, she has to find a way to conceal the drugs or pay dearly.
What We Think: An excellent lesson in dramatic performance and suspense. Asgari is a dream to observe in the wake of her wide-eyed, nervous intensity. I would love to see this as a full-fledge thriller feature with the cast included–the intensity, the pacing, and the realism of the characters make for a pulse-increasing excerpt of what feels like a heavy downward-spiral-to-be. I love the story and think it has tons of potential (namely for what could go wrong).
Our Grade: B–, Despite it being a short film, I felt the endeavor still needs some sort of resolution, a note to end on rather than being abruptly cut short. Otherwise, an enthralling and nerve-racking little experience.
Title: Former Cult Member Hears Music For The First Time
Director: Kristoffer Borgli
Starring: Kate Adams, Alex Warren, Kailee McGee
What it is: A film crew has Kate, the titular former cult member, roam around a luxurious house and listen to music for the first time. When things go seriously wrong, the filmmakers’ true colors are revealed.
What We Think: I honestly went in thinking this was a documentary at first, when I thought the protagonist was acting sort of strange. Yes, this is fiction–nonetheless, what there is to observe in this short is something entirely fantastic and darkly comic. It follows suit of films about the gritty and often gross realities of filmmaking and exploitation. Sure did catch me off guard.
Our Grade: B, Smart, sneaky, pretty, and a little surreal, this makes for a wonderful metaphor in comparing film production and management to a cult itself.
Title: He’s the One
Director: Jessie Kahnweiler
Starring: Jessie Kahnweiler, Luka Jones, Alexandria Churchwell
What it is: A woman is on a very successful date with a man she texts her bestie as “the one,” but after finally recognizing him and realizing they’ve met before, she’s torn between loving or hating him.
What We Think: I found this short super interesting. The subject matter it tackles and how it tackles it is perfect. It’s heartbreaking, thinking that these characters that you vouch for to begin with are existing in some extremely serious circumstances. It’s wild to think about and an interesting conversation is bound to be had from it. Our character has to face what she should do versus what she wants to do, and in a twisted way, you almost want things to work out. It’s sad and strange, yet handled with great humanity and humor.
Our Grade: B+, My only qualm (which very well might be a compliment) is that it’s just one or two minutes short. I really wanted an ending, a choice to be made, even if it was the “wrong” choice. I do want to see how someone would handle something like this, something pretty worst-case scenario, something that unfortunately feels so grounded in reality.
Title: Hot Flash
Director: Thea Hollatz
Starring: Christine Horne, Grace Glowicki, Tony Nappo
What it is: On a stormy, snowy day, Ace finds herself having hot flashes before she’s supposed to report the weather.
What We Think: Pretty cut-and-dry little short, something you’d see from Short of the Week or akin to Gobelins. This smooth animation results in some touching moments dealing with the weirdness and uncomfortable nature of aging as a woman.
Our Grade: B, A chuckle-worthy showcase of one woman’s menopausal plight.
Title: Hudson Geese
Director: Bernardo Britto
Starring: Bernardo Britto
What it is: A goose recounts what he loves about life when addressing the Hudson River incident.
What We Think: This was so adorable. It’s chill, full of heart, a little tragic, but in a way made be feel really motivated to appreciate the big and little things I have in life. No kidding–this sweet if not slightly morbid short had me reminded how good we have it and what there is to enjoy about living.
Our Grade: B, Funny and insightful. I demand justice for the Hudson Geese.
Title: I’ll End Up in Jail
Director: Alexandre Dostie
Starring: Martine Francke, Emile Schneider, Guy Thauvette
What it is: After having raised her son up to adulthood, Maureen decides to strike out for her freedom from her prison of a marriage. In a brief moment of happiness in fleeing her house then follows a horrible mistake that leads Maureen into a situation deeper and darker than she could have ever imagined.
What We Think: Wow. Wonderful. First of all, what a lovely group of characters to feature–we get a fuller sense of every single one. They are kind, they are desperate, they struggle for a life outside of their own. You want the lead to success with the strength she’s carried for so long, you enjoy watching her relationship with her son and want her to live a life of her own. The cast is absolutely brilliant–every single one brings their A-game in performances that bestow depth to an already very human script. I can definitely say I enjoyed this piece, unique in its style, its clever use of music, its twisty plot, and its gorgeous and meaningful cinematography. It is a pretty presentation, a drama-thriller about the worth of self-liberation set in a cold country atmosphere compensated by its admirable lead.
Our Grade: A-, I think this could very well work as a feature. Whatever the filmmakers will do in the future, I will be on my toes waiting to watch the next joint. Be sure to catch this short if you can.
Director: Elodie Dermange
Starring: Fabrice Faltraue, Loic Burkhardt, Judith Rutowsk
What it is: Ines, in the midst of deciding if she wants motherhood or not, catches a moth.
What We Think: A pretty and comforting style, one that feels much like gouache or watercolor, this little film is a wonderful expression concerning the fears fo motherhood.
Our Grade: B-, Sweet and to the point, the story is quite simple.
Title: Little Chief
Director: Erica Tremblay
Starring: Lily Gladstone, Julian Ballentyne
What it is: A teacher steals hotel resources to donate to the school she teaches at. When a student with troubled home life is isolated and teased by his peers, she’s left trying to figure out what to do.
What We Think: The plot above is pretty much all there is to find in this short. While the lead performance is pretty cool to watch as a chainsmoking, tired-eyed woman who makes it a point to redeem herself, the story leaves us before it feels like it’s even really begun. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was quite a bit of story at its conception that was just left on the cutting room floor.
Our Grade: C-, There is so much potential despite the empty space we’re left with. If there was more story I would definitely have more, likely positive, things to say. I think it’s an interesting concept in the first place to have the setting be a run-down little town in a reservation. I would love to see that and the presented characters elaborated on.
Director: Ashley Williams
Starring: Ashley Williams, Gian Carlo Sbarbaro
What it is: A pregnant vegan tries to appease her cravings by going to a butcher shop to eat a lamb.
What We Think: Not really too sure what this was going for. Maybe a quirky character-driven comedy about the irony of the situation and the ridiculousness of this lady trying to appeal to her vegan sensibilities, but it never ended up going as far as comedy. Nor drama. It really just ended after she chops up lamb and takes it home with her.
Our Grade: D, There wasn’t much story… not a badly made short, but one who seems to still be looking for the angle it’s going for.
Title: Narcissister Breast Work
What it is: A masked group (most with breasts, another with breast-removal scars) walk around the city of New York for a day where it is legal to go topless. They take off their shirts and travel without words, inciting the strangers around them to react as Americans do.
What We Think: Huh… to be very honest, I don’t think about this sort of thing very often, the whole “Free the Nipple” movement. I’m an American born and raised, thus consequently instilled with many American sensibilities. I’m aware that there are other parts of the world where it is different, women are allowed to go around as clothed, more clothed, or as unclothed as men, and that’s also okay in many respects. I think personally I never had a second thought about it locally because the idea of being able to go topless is honestly terrifying to me. The education, the standards of thinking we have set for men and women makes it too hard to come out and just bare yourself without shame or fear. I fear being sexualized by strangers, I fear the male gaze, I fear being attacked or taken advantage of, and that’s just my every day as a woman. Even young girls are sexualized, and it’s absolutely terrifying. I’ve seen it, heard it, lived through it. And that was with clothes on–it stings. I have family members and friends who have been harassed in these tiny little moments that end up sticking with them and creeping them out for the rest of their lives. And that’s just the lower-level shit. Men aren’t constantly looked or sexualized or judged on the same stature as women, it’s true. Not that there isn’t anything that one or the other doesn’t go through, necessarily, but it’s just a reality that we deal with on the daily. This small experiment/performance makes that ring true, although to be fair, the results weren’t as nasty as I would have expected. Maybe they also picked specifically what they would and wouldn’t show as far as those reactions, but it was still a very confrontational and brave and wild thing to watch, such an abnormality in our culture… I’m glad I saw it, that they had so much diversity and representation in all the body types that bared their breasts out in the open. As uncomfortable as it sort of was to watch (as much as I and anyone else see breasts, it was still a bit shocking and unnerving), I wish we were a country where people with breasts or changed bodies don’t have to fear to be able to be as exposed as men. Yeah, there have been times where I wish I could just walk around freely without having to worry about tan-lines or overheating or any sort of judgment period; especially as a kid, I would have just loved to run around like anyone and not have to worry about that. I would love to feel that sort of little freedom. But as a kid, you have that talked out of you. You’re in a way sexualized through the effort to be de-sexualized by your guardians and over-sexualized by media as a little girl. “Close your legs and wear long clothes that cover your body” kind of thing, “but still look feminine and cute and pretty.” It can be confusing. And it can be angering. This was a reminder of that.
Our Grade: B+, I would like to see this as a series or even a whole feature; I can imagine this being explored even more deeply through more places, more people, and having more conversations with everyday Americans. What if it was just normal to not always sexualize breasts, to be like men and go topless. How would our culture change? I, as someone who is a woman and loves and cares for a lot of women and our safety and freedom of expression, want to see and know more. I want to know it’s possible for us to not feel as much of the shame and disgust that all of us (or a majority of us, at least) feel about our bodies–women, men, boys, girls, and beyond. It could be a statement for all of us that we aren’t just a collective standard type of person, and that “standard” we compare ourselves to aesthetically / “morally” doesn’t matter as much as we are taught. This sparks a beautiful conversation that we need more of and need to be more open to as a collective society. This is education.
Title: No, I Don’t Want to Dance!
Director: Andrea Vinciguerra
What it is: When a song catches people on the air, it compels them to dance uncontrollably, leading to some serious consequences… or not.
What We Think: This is so cute. I love the (stop-motion) animation. I watched it more than once and laughed a couple of times. I love the detail that went into all of the set pieces, the puppet’s little clothes, the odd little shenanigans. This is an unbelievably brief watch, so why not go see it.
Our Grade: A, A funny, quirky, well-animated, and crudely adorable agent to de-stress your senses. Give this weird little flick a view.
Director: Ariane Labed
Starring: Romanna Lobach, Gregoire Tachnakian, Jenny Bellay
What it is: A man inexperienced in love meets his foreign online girlfriend who loves to dance, “Olla,” and lets her stay at his home. Under the impression they have a relationship, he leaves for work every day leaving her to her own devices. Olla does as she wants, needs, and pleases in starting her new life but soon finds something getting in the way of her own happiness.
What We Think: Oh. My. Lord. I’m loving this so much. Right off the bat from the first shot of our Olla leaving a great dusty fog to enter the town of her pining host, I was blown away. The whole short is just so gorgeous, the blushing colors in delightfully squarish compositions framing our bright and lively protagonist. It’s kind of refreshing to see this character is thrown into the situation she is, something as awkward and sensitive as two people who are suddenly thrown into the thralls of what could be a relationship in spite of language barrier and different levels of experience. It’s refreshing to see a character so unashamedly and naturally ruling her self-expression in being physical and sexual, and how not being able to express herself audibly in a country whose language is foreign to her suppress her. It’s a strange and tense struggle we see her stride through; when she feels, you feel despite barely hearing a single word out of her. Through the powerful performance, the circumstances, you see so much in her; going through her head. I love this character, I love how she’s photographed and, I don’t know if I’ve ever said this before, but the story is absolutely perfect from start to finish.
Our Grade: A+, A devilishly enjoyable, stirring, and almost surreal championing of a person who’s set out to live life to its absolute potential. To say the least: I want more.
Director: Everlane Moraes
What it is: Based on a poem; a haunting sequence of shots of older people, water, and fish.
What We Think: If you’re a filmmaker, or in the very least can appreciate some upper-level cinematography, look up to this piece for some inspiration. All the images are so pretty and so powerful, they could work as photographs in a gallery on their own. What you have to witness in front of you is something unique and interpretable, reminiscent of works like the OVA Angel’s Egg with similar motifs and atmosphere. Meditative and soulful, the images at times look as if they’re being ingested by the darkness and summoned by the moonlight; a strange balance invoking both cleanliness and/or suffocation. There’s an underlying creeping awareness of mortality, a sort of macabre commissioned by the surreal and painfully detailed nature of this film.
Our Grade: B+, Otherworldly and certainly poetic, this slow-paced yet hypnotizing piece is worthy of your viewing eyes.
Title: Sh_t Happens
Director: Michaela Mihalyi, David Stumpf
What it is: On an arc, Noah has to take care of an ungrateful bunch of animals and keep the ship from sinking. When the lives of a widower deer and Noah’s lonely wife collide, Noah deals with the consequences in the worst way.
What We Think: Despite its cute and storybookish presentation, it’s quite the adorably morbid antithesis and a creative spin on Noah’s Ark. Humorously dark, I could see the story easily being a throw not too far away from a dark European romance drama (just sayin’). It’s akin to media such as Bojack Horseman, obviously because of its use of anthropomorphic characters as a means to help add personality as well as its dark and adult sense of humor.
Our Grade: B+, A lovely-looking animation with a cool score that wholly entertains.
Title: Slug Life
Director: Sophie Koko Gate
Starring: Jeanette Bonds, Sophie Koko Gate, Vincent Oliver
What it is: In a strange world does a woman drool over a photo of “Ben,” her newest crush. Scientifically combining his DNA with a slugs does she finally create the perfect lover.
What We Think: Yeah, it sounds weird, and it absolutely is. If you don’t like weird–get out. Just step out of the room for a little bit. I freaking love this. David Firth (Salad Fingers) meets Fantastic Planet in this mesmerizingly random trip.
Our Grade: B+, Funny, weird, and hypnotic stoner’s dream of a movie.
Title: Takoyaki Story
Director: Sawako Kabuki
What it is: A music video about craving takoyaki.
What We Think: Reminds me of works such as the music videos for Chad Vangaalen, Lorn, and Chelou, the short film Hunger, and the animated intro to Araki’s Smiley Face. That’s a lotta references, I know. Overall this was a fun Lil short that serves as a trippy, colorful, lively two minutes.
Our Grade: B, A cute lil acid trip. An octopus flosses.
Title: The Starr Sisters
Director: Beth Einhorn, Bridey Elliott
What it is: Two sisters talk about their childhood, family, and interests as we follow them throughout the day.
What We Think: This was a very enjoyable experience for me, especially considering a lot of things about it and about the sisters hit really close to home. I love how this short is structured, how its edited with a certain spunk and a fun, dreamy paper-cut-out aesthetic. The sisters are enthralling to watch as they present their stories of child abuse and sexual journeys and ultimately healing.
Our Grade: B+, A beautiful and joyous little case study in living your best life–this is a motivating, inspirational, funny, and absolutely sweet character study about two opinionated and intelligent sisters healing each other’s wounds. I would love to see more from them.
Title: Three Deaths
Director: Jay Dockendorf
Starring: Ilise Weiner, Keith Williams Richards, Sam Stillman
What it is: The telling of two stories about people on the verge of death.
What We Think: Two very brief yet slow-paced vignettes of two very different passings. Dunno why it’s “Three Deaths” and not two, but perhaps I’d have to refer to the source material (a Tolstoy short story). Overall, it looked lovely, a chilling and lonely cinematography wrapped in 35mm. The performances were good, and the music was well-cued and adds an extra layer of a cold atmosphere as we observe some very sad situations.
Our Grade: C+, It is sad and will probably add a bit of perspective and food for thought when it comes to dying, but the story had the potential to lend a bit more insight and depth to the plot despite its runtime.
Title: Valerio’s Day Out
Director: Micahel Arcos
Starring: Monika Leska, Catherine Caldwell
What it is: Based on the graphic novel “Lula”, this short recounts the event of a 3-year-old jaguar Valerio who managed to escape his enclosure and hunt for the animals from his very own perspective.
What We Think: This was another strange one. Formatted and presented as a VHS, or one of those pseudo-documentary VHS horrors (eg, lightly reminiscent of works such as Faces of Death), this off-kilter short was kinda funny and cute, putting it into the context that it’s about a scorned jaguar out for revenge. It’s fun, a little disturbed, and brilliantly edited.
Our Grade: B-, Should you watch this random, silly flick? Sure, why not! It’s about a pissed-off cat, what else do you need?
Title: While I’m Still Breathing (Tandis Que Je Respire Encore)
Director: Laure Giappiconi, Elisa Monteil, La Fille Renne
What it is: A woman takes us through her experiences with love and sex, narrating staggered images of herself and others displaying a range of sensual behaviors.
What We Think: I thought this was really quite lovely. As our lead shamelessly disrobes, we are invited into her world of pleasure and comprehension of diversity and its importance in the face of mortality. I loved how personal this felt, how freely the subjects express themselves through sex and intimacy and laughter. The poetic writing gives almost a nostalgic sense of discovery, of awakening for those of us who allow it. The imagery is pretty, reminding me of surrealist films of old (Meshes of the Afternoon). It feels as if you’re being lead through someone’s fuzzy and stranded memories, equal parts dreamy and eerie.
Our Grade: B, Provocative and genuine, this is a personal and intriguing voice that lends itself to a strange acknowledgment of impermanence.