Sundance Film Festival Short Film Program Reviews

By: Amanda Guarragi

These were the 11 short films that caught my eye when looking through the program. Some worked more than others, but more importantly, all of these short films told a powerful story. The short film program is always filled with diverse, emotional, unique stories that will resonate with many. Keep an eye out for these filmmakers as well, as they had a short time to fill the screen with beautiful imagery and make an impact.

Alone
dir. Garrett Bradley

Alone

Review: Alone is a harrowing short film about how the judicial system and mass incarceration break a family apart. The internal dialogue of a young, single mother, who is trying to go on living while her husband is in jail is heartbreaking. Garrett Bradley uses the space within the frame to show how alone she is. There is an emptiness surrounding her when she is just lying in bed. There are some great choices made to highlight voices and arguments instead of showing it on screen, which made it much more powerful.

Appendage
dir. Anna Zlokovic

Appendage
Courtesy of Neon Pig Media

Review: Rachel Sennott stars in this short film about a young fashion designer who must make the best of it when her anxiety and self-doubt physically manifest into something horrific. Director Anna Zlokovic made some great choices when showing anxiety and created an atmosphere that suited that feeling. It was such an interesting watch because of what her anxiety manifested into and what it meant metaphorically for her to cut away the degrading, intrusive thoughts. Really unique and I am excited to see what Zlokovic does next.

Chaperone
dir. Sam Max

Chaperone

Review: Director Sam Max creates a tension-filled evening when an unnamed man with sunglasses picks up a young man in his car. As the two drive together, and settle into a secluded rental house in the countryside, the details of their arrangements become very clear. This concept is a bit dark, but it was still interesting to watch the events unfold. I was surprised to see Zachary Quinto in this but he gave such a strong performance that I couldn’t keep my eyes off of him. There are so many questions and emotions that will run through you while watching this, as the ending is even more interesting than how they got to that point.

Chilly and Milly
dir. William David Caballero

Chilly and Milly

Review: This is the short film that really stuck with me the most. It connected with me on an emotional level because I have personally seen the effects of dialysis and what it does to an entire family. The use of old documentary footage combined with stop-motion animation to show the more emotional aspects of the story was beneficial. You got a sense of the family and who they were through the live-action aspects, only for the animated portions to create more of a visual connectivity to the illness. Really great work from William David Caballero.

Daddy’s Girl
dir. Lena Hudson

Daddy’s Girl

Review: I am a complete sucker for a father/daughter relationship, especially one that is fun, understanding, and loving. In Lena Hudson’s short, we see a young woman’s charming but overbearing father help her move out of her wealthy older boyfriend’s apartment. There are some small moments that build up into a pretty funny and cringe moment between the father and daughter, which hasn’t really been explored before on screen. Really enjoyed this one and how fun it was.

F^¢K ’€M R!GHT B@¢K
dir. Harris Doran

F^¢K ’€M R!GHT B@¢K
Courtesy of Mother Films

Review: Writer-director Harris Doran brought so much flare to this short about a queer Black aspiring Baltimore rapper who must outwit his vengeful day-job boss in order to avoid getting fired after accidentally eating an edible. There is a way to fight the system and explain how to be treated as a worker with factual evidence. We have all had that one boss who is just no fun at all and doesn’t understand how to conduct themselves in a professional matter. So this short touches upon what to do in that situation.

Hallelujah
dir. Victor Gabriel

Hallelujah
Courtesy of BLK MGC Content

Review: Writer-director Victor Gabriel has the best short film at the festival. We meet two brothers in Compton, California, who have to decide if they are willing to take on the responsibility of being guardians of their annoying, bookworm nephew. The script is very well-written and the way the story is structured makes an emotional impact at the end of the film. There are some effective choices made by Gabriel that keeps the emotional weight intact and does so in a tasteful manner to tell this tragic story.

Long Line of Ladies
dir. Rayka Zehtabchi and Shaandiin Tome

Long Line of Ladies
Courtesy of Junk Drawer

Review: Seeing generations of women being able to express themselves through their own traditions was beautiful to see. In this short film, we see a young girl and her community prepare for her Ihuk, the once dormant coming-of-age ceremony of the Karuk tribe of northern California. There are beautiful, natural shots in this film and a wonderful community bond. It was nice to learn something new and watch a young woman come into her own within her tribe.

Love Stories On the Move
dir. Carina Gabriela Dașoveanu

Love Stories on the Move
Courtesy of UNATC I.L.CARAGIALE BUCHAREST

Review: Writer-director Carina Gabriela Dașoveanu shows the daily life of Lili, a taxi driver, who is trying to save her marriage with Dani, an amateur fisherman. Her fares expose Lili to several love stories really different from her own. With each story that she heard, she would wonder where the romance or genuine love went within her relationship. She began to question why she was even staying. Hearing these stories affected Lili because she is missing something from her relationship that she is so desperately craving. The structure really worked, as the start of a new day, came a new story and then an interaction with her husband that changed her perception.

Maidenhood
dir. Xóchitl Enríquez Mendoza

Maidenhood
Courtesy of IMCINE

Review: How do we define virginity? More importantly, why have we been socially conditioned to think that virginity is something so sacred to a woman? In this short film, Catalina submits to the tradition of her people to demonstrate her purity and worth as a woman to her beloved, but her body betrays her and she fails to demonstrate her chastity.

Night Bus
dir. Joe Hsieh
Night Bus

Review: Writer-director Joe Hsieh really surprised me with this one. On a late-night bus, a panic scream shatters the night’s calm, a necklace is stolen, followed by a tragic and fatal road accident. The series of intriguing events that follow reveal love, hatred, and vengeance. The way the events unfold continues to shock you because of how well-paced this short film is. It does have a great story that instantly connects you to the characters. The animation is great and the use of the animals throughout the film gave you a sense that something wasn’t quite right. As the film went on, these characters got worse and it definitely became darker than expected.

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