The Sundance Short Film Tour is starting to make the rounds across the country, and I had the wonderful chance to see them early. For those unfamiliar, the collection is a small snippet of the shorts that play at the Sundance film festival every year, a showcase of the incredible diversity the festival sees year in and year out. Overall, they're definitely worth a viewing, despite the occasionally varied quality, if not simply to see facets of our country and our cultural consciousness you wouldn't have the chance to see otherwise. Here are my thoughts on each of the shorts as I watched them in order of programming.
EDITORS NOTE: These short films are coming to Cincinnati World Cinema's Garfield Theater June 21-30. I had the chance to see these films thanks to this organization, an organization which I also volunteer for.
Sometimes, I Think About Dying
Starting off the list of shorts is a heartbreaking film from Stefanie Abel Horowitz. The 12 minute film grips you from the opening moment to the credits thanks to an incredibly genuine performance from its lead, Katy Wright-Mead. She is absolutely wonderful in the main role: timid, shy, reserved, but thanks to a great use of voiceover narration, thorough and dynamic. That said, it doesn't really feel like it's saying anything about it's subject matter - a quiet character who's obsessed with death. The short frustratingly cuts to black right before a moment of coping is able to take place, instead leaving us with a film that simply stars a character who thinks about death, despite simply knowing that's not healthy. I don't know, maybe that was the point, and the abrupt cut to black at the end was supposed to signify the beginning of this coping phase, but it frustrated me personally. That said, it's still a good short, with a great lead and some great editing / cinematography. (Mad kudos to how director Horowitz handles texts.... Sherlock would be proud.)
My Number: 7/10
I'm not sure what I'm supposed to take away from this one. A docushort about a Native American horse relay team, Fast Horse doesn't seem to know what it wants to say. Sure, there's some interesting cinematography, (particularly in the finale of the relay itself) but the short seems to be rather aimless, a Free Solo knock-off with a far less satisfying ending. (Seriously, the main jockey is built in the exact same mold as Alex Honnold.) There's really not much else to say about this one. Good cinematography, enjoyable (albeit not satisfying) finale, but no message, heart, character, or really any substance worth mentioning. Hard pass.
My Number: 3/10
I've mulled over this one in particular the last week or so, and the more I think about it, the more firm my low number becomes. There was an opportunity here to showcase the depressing struggles of the Native American population in our country, an opportunity this film let slip away in order to tell the story of this race team. Which is totally fine, but if you're going to go all-in on the race team, the final result needs to at least showcase some room for future improvement. We get none of that, and the result is exactly what I mentioned before. Sure, the filmmaking is very good, but it alone is not enough to make this short feel truly worthwhile.
Suicide by Sunlight
I'm very torn on this one. On the one hand, it's a bold / interesting premise that's executed fairly well. A world where vampires are widely known / accepted to the point that there's intriguing societal issues surrounding them, (similar to the issues facing our society today) but the main character, Valentina, isn't particularly alluring to boot the premise. The first half of this 17 minute short is spent almost in a "is she or isn't she a vampire" story, which feels like a total waste because when we finally do establish that she is, (something which you'll know by reading the actual first sentence of the synopsis on IMDB) the short abruptly flies through its most interesting bits, not even taking the time to establish that Valentina is even struggling at all to contain her bloodlust. (She's a vampire who works in a hospital, Only Lovers Left Alive taught us that there's plenty of ways for a vampire to sustain themselves in a flippin' hospital. A single scene of this not being enough would've gone a long way.) So, while this short does present some interesting ideas, it spends far too much time establishing the simple fact that Valentina is a vampire for it to reach its full potential. Sacrificing this first half and speeding through a lot in the second half is as criminal an oversight as it is a frustrating one. But hey, at least the end credits song is great!
My Number: 5.5/10
This one is extremely short, clocking in at just 4 minutes in length, but it's 4 minutes of adorableness. It's animated wonderfully and has a charming message about how one interacts / interprets art that's executed well in the brief runtime. Also, the art that's interacted with here is wonderful and hilarious. You'll definitely get a solid laugh out of it, and it serves as a nice change-of-pace from the serious tone of the rest of the shorts to this point.
My Number: 7/10
Buckle up, y'all. This one is WILD, and I loved it. This is a crazy short that has a lot to say about friendship and showcasing your talents wrapped up in two characters with mostly useless superpowers. It's shot in a very Arrested Development kind of way, highlighted by some comedic zoom-ins and totally ADHD editing, which hammers the unknown / unpredictability of growing up aspect of the short. There's a LOT going on in these 15 minutes, and while I think it will be rather divisive among the general public, something like this is exactly what I want to see in the Sundance batch. Crazy, zany, quirky, and unpredictable, but still bringing quite the wallop. Despite some so-so acting from the leads. Wasn't a huge fan of their performances. It felt like they, too, were going "Whaaaaaa?" when they were reading the script. But, still. It'll stick with you simply because it's so uncanny. Also, it is easily my favorite to this point.
My Number: 8/10
This film continues to resonate with me a week+ after watching it. It has such a relatable message encrusted in its zaniness, I can't shake the look into these girls' lives while also having (mostly) useless superhero powers. While it may be divisive, I think this short has the boldest filmmaking in the bunch.
We're on a roll now. This short, from director Robert MacHoian, stars a real-life grandfather and his grandsons, showing a small portion of their everyday lives. The genuineness of this short is its selling point - MacHoian does a phenomenal job eliciting great performances from his cast of first-time actors; certainly not an easy thing to do with 3 of them are kids. It's a very simple, yet heartfelt story, as it merely captures a quick scene in their lives - band practice - but peel away the topmost layer of the short and there's a lot more going on. A grandfather yearning for a past life while enjoying spending time with his grandsons. Kids who are just discovering music and still approaching every moment as if they've never experienced it before. How music is a common language that transcends all barriers. All of which is conveyed in a very brisk 10 minute runtime. It's lovely, and far more approachable than Crude Oil. I have one short left to go, but this one is a surefire crowd-pleaser.
My Number: 8/10
And Brotherhood provides the emotional wallop to bring us home. This devastating short film from Meryam Joobeur follows a family from a Middle Eastern country around Syria, confronted with the return of their son from Syria with a new wife. The elements at play here are ancient yet devastatingly current: a father who sees his son for the first time in over a year and cannot accept his traditional Muslim wife, and a son who returns seeking acceptance from his father. As the events of the short unfold, a picture is unveiled that leads to easily the most emotionally devastating climax in this entire collection. The performances are genuine and grounded, the cinematography is amazing, as director Meryam Joobeur makes great use of shooting on film throughout the 25 minute short, and it all leads to a simply incredible finale that will leave you speechless. This short alone is worth the cost of admission for the group, the definition of perfection in under 30 minutes. Don't miss it.
My Number: 10/10
Hope you enjoyed my takeaways from these shorts! Do yourself a favor and don't miss them if they are playing at a theater near you!
https://static1.squarespace.com/static/51b3dc8ee4b051b96ceb10de/t/5bff15171ae6cfb7775d0efd/1543443741245/?format=2500w (Sundance Banner)
http://www.sundance.org/images/filmguide/2019/19914-2-1100.jpg (Sometimes, I Think About Dying)
http://www.sundance.org/images/filmguide/2019/19918-1-1100.jpg (Fast Horse)
http://www.sundance.org/images/filmguide/2019/19931-4-1100.jpg (Suicide by Sunlight)
http://www.sundance.org/images/filmguide/2019/19912-4-1100.jpg (Crude Oil)
http://www.sundance.org/images/filmguide/2019/19913-2-1100.jpg (The Minors
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