Extremely short shorts are all the rage at Park City this year. Perhaps this is a byproduct of Sundance’s embrace of online–originated material, or the result of a crop of filmmakers used to making thirty-second commercials for a living. The end result is a surprising number of shorts clocking in around the two-minute mark.
Other trends among the 66 official short film selections: Sundance alumni are responsible for crafting some of the most accomplished dramatic pieces the festival has to offer, the handful of shorts with well-known faces either in front of or behind the camera are among the most interesting, and Canada is on a hot streak with the largest representation in recent memory.
Here, in alphabetical order, are five shorts that epitomize the best of what’s trending at Sundance this year.
“The Bravest, the Boldest”
Having been to Sundance twice before with his films “Pop Foul” (2007) and “Crazy Beats Strong Every Time” (2011), filmmaker Moon Molson is now operating at the top of his game with “The Bravest, the Boldest.“ The dramatic storyline centers around a mother who realizes the arrival of two uniformed soldiers at her apartment building can mean nothing but bad news. By putting the emphasis on the characters and their emotions, Molson’s film resonates long after the credits roll.
“Cruising Electric (1980)”
Anyone who grew up playing with toys based on a favorite movie will treasure this pitch-perfect parody of an ad for a kids game based on the Al Pacino movie “Cruising.”
Asked if the two-minute “Cruising Electric (1980)” was the first in a series, filmmaker Brumby Boylston replied, “A sequel? No, the next thing I’m doing is not another commercial – I work in that world. I think part of the thrill of this film is the shock of it, and you really can’t return to that well.”
Working with a script by M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller, actress Rose McGowan stepped behind the camera to helm this period piece about a good girl tempted to walk on the wild side. McGowan is so confident in her filmmaking, especially in building and retaining tension, that it’s hard to believe this is her directorial debut.
McGowan on her inspiration: “Firstly, I set out to make a film, not a short. I do think there's a difference. ‘Dawn’ is a 3-act film, that just happens to be 17-minutes long. I wanted to show what can happen to a girl when her self-preservation instinct is subverted by society's standards for young women. And there's something about the false utopia of the Kennedy era that lent itself perfectly to that theme.”
“Gregory Go Boom”
Michael Cera stars in this captivating portrait of a wheelchair-bound thwarted Romeo.
Nearly a million people have already seen “Gregory Go Boom” on YouTube before it debuts in Park City.
Filmmaker Janicza Bravo, who studied directing and design for theatre at NYU's Playwrights Horizons Theater School, looks forward to comparing the Sundance screening to her online experience. “I think a festival is the best place to experience your film. A comments section on YouTube is the worst place to experience the work you've put all of yourself into. When I made the short I had hoped for a festival run. Unfortunately the film had a hard airdate. We shot in January of last year so festival options were limited. I also kind of assumed I'd be out of the running since my short lived online. Thankfully I was wrong.”
While many festivals will reject a short if it’s on already online, Sundance has an atypical attitude. Shorts Programmer Mike Plante explained, “Although they were found through submissions, ‘Gregory Go Boom,’ ‘Catherine’ and ‘Crime The Animated Series’ were all originally made for YouTube and ‘Untucked’ was made for ESPN’s online 30-for-30 shorts series. We don’t mind if a short was online first. All will be amazing to watch on big screens with live audiences.”
Watch it here:
“Life's a Bitch”
Who would ever think a story of a man experiencing severe post-break-up depression could be made into such a delightful film? Shot in 20 days over a period of a year, this French Canadian short by commercial director Francois Jaros joyfully packs five minutes of screen time with 95 scenes of misery.
Producer Fanny-Laure Malo on the short’s backstory: “The inspiration for the film came from a discussion between the screenwriter (Guillaume Lambert) and the director (Francois Jaros). They thought it would be an interesting challenge to see if a story could be narratively told by scenes that give just the basic visual and audio information about an event. They then developed the concept with director of photography Olivier Gossot. They decided to explore the idea of the stages of love grief: shock, denial, rebound etc. The result is a short drama-comedy where everyone who survived a break-up can relate. And how can you not laugh at all the crazy and pathetic things love and sex can make you do?”
The Sundance Film Festival runs January 16-26, 2014. A sizeable portion of the shorts programming will be viewable online during the festival run. “We selected a group to give a taste of the overall lineup to share with audiences who aren’t making the trip out to the mountain,” said programmer Mike Plante. The YouTube Channel where 15 shorts can be seen is here.