Sundance Film Festival programmers maintain there is no one thing that defines a “Sundance short.” Official selections don’t need to be world premieres, can already be online, range from very short to very long and can cover any and every subject. What matters, of course, is the shorts represent original filmmaking voices.
Picked from 7,675 submissions by a team of eight programmers, the 64 shorts selected to play the 2012 festival include pieces by short filmmaking heavyweights Don Hertzfeld, Nash Edgerton and Lucy Walker, along with a host of weird and wonderful films from new voices.
After watching dozens of the Sundance 2012 shorts, here’s 10 that distinguish themselves by pedigree, filmmaking or storytelling technique, or just pure chutzpah. In alphabetical order, these are the 10 must-see shorts playing this year’s festival.
“Bear.” Australian Nash Edgerton teams with screenwriting collaborator David Michôd (“Animal Kingdom”) to create a sequel to his popular 2008 short “Spider.” Edgerton is back as the hapless prankster romantic lead, this time with Teresa Palmer as his new girlfriend. This 10-minute comedy previously played Cannes. Side note: Palmer and Nash’s brother, Joel Edgerton, are also appearing in the Sundance world cinema dramatic competition feature “Wish You Were Here.”
“The Black Balloon.” Only filmmaking frères Josh and Benny Safdie of “Daddy Longlegs” fame could have come up with a 21-minute-long sci-fi urban fable about a rogue balloon in New York City. This is not a children’s film.
“The Conquerors (Les Conquérants).” This black-and-white experimental French/Canadian film tracking the establishment and inevitable destruction of a family-based civilization packs an amazing amount of ideas and imagery into a 12-minute storyline. It’s the brainchild of the filmmaking duo Sarolta Szabo & Tibor Banoczk, also known as Domestic Infelicity.
“It’s Such a Beautiful Day.” Animator Don Hertzfeldt returns to Sundance with the 23-minute final chapter to his “Bill” trilogy that began with the 2007 Sundance award-winner “Everything Will Be OK.” Laboring for nearly two years to complete his most ambitious animation to date, Hertzfeldt has been touring America with the short, which has already racked up prizes along the festival circuit, including best animation at Flickerfest.
“L Train.” Writer/director Anna Musso has spent the last five years working at Alexander Payne’s Ad Hominem production company, and as a result Payne is the executive producer of her 11-minute drama. A surefire audience pleaser, the short about a tough teenager providing a random act of kindness premiered at the Chicago International Film Festival (where it won the “Chicago Award”) and will play Clermont-Ferrand after Sundance. “L Train” is one of the dozen shorts playing online as part of Yahoo’s showcase of the Sundance 2012 shorts.
“Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke.” Give Jillian Mayer credit for the moxie it takes to bill this 13-minute film as a rethink of “La Jetée,” now set in Miami and telling the tale of the notorious 2 Live Crew front man, Luther Campbell. Rumor has it that Uncle Luke himself will be attending the Sundance screenings and the promotional Lukey Whoopee Cushion will be the most desired souvenir item at the fest.
“Robots of Brixton.” In six minutes, UK director Kibwe Tavares creates a world in which robots inhabit one of England’s toughest, riot-torn neighborhoods. This captivating film, which took six months to make, is Tavares’ final project for his masters’ degree in architecture. Viewable here.
“Song of the Spindle.” Who is superior – whales or humans? This is the question Seattle-based animator Drew Christie tackles in this extremely charming four-minute piece, which aspires to encourage humans to sing more. And yes, that is Christie voicing both the man and the whale. Viewable here.
“The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom.” Clocking in at 39 minutes, this documentary by Oscar-nominee Lucy Walker is the heavyweight of this year’s short docs program. As the title implies, this film follows survivors of Japan’s recent tsunami during cherry blossom season. Walker’s previous doc, “Waste Land,” won the audience award at Sundance 2010. Moby contributed the music to this short, which previously played Toronto, the Hamptons and BFI London.
“Una Hora Por Favora.” Michaela Watkins plays a single white female with mother issues who picks a handsome Spanish-speaking day laborer (played by Wilmer Valderrama) in this 13-minute amusing culture clash romantic comedy by veteran TV writer/producer Jill Soloway (“Six Feet Under“). Like “L Train,” this is one of the 12 Sundance shorts Yahoo will be streaming during the festival run.