Next to a feature, "short film" sounds diminutive, almost dismissive -- but it's a hell of a lot harder to get one into Sundance. Out of 6,467 submitted shorts, only 81 were invited to screen at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival (up from 70 last year). Among those who made the cut: Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim of Adult Swim’s “Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job!” So did new work by Neil LaBute, Isabella Rossellini and Beastie Boy/Oscilloscope Labs head honcho Adam Yauch.
Whether you’re watching a shorts program on the big screen in Park City, or viewing individual pieces on YouTube, no one can deny you’re sampling the most imaginative filmmaking at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival in its most distilled form. Bon appétit.
SHORTS PROGRAM I
This should prove to be the hottest ticket with Tim & Eric’s outrageous “The Terrys” (which will air on HBO’s “Funny or Die” series sometime after its Sundance debut), Adam Yauch’s highly anticipated half-hour Beastie Boys riff “Fight for Your Right Revisited” and actress-turned-director Lake Bell’s comedic “Worst Enemy.”
It also contains a trio of pieces by filmmakers who are well respected on the festival circuit. Australian director Ariel Kleiman’s Victorian College of the Arts graduate film “Deeper Than Yesterday” has already premiered at the 2010 Cannes Critics Week, where it scored the Kodak Discovery Award for Best Short Film plus the Rail d'Or. Kleiman’s earlier short, “Young Love,” garnered an honorable mention when it played Sundance last year. David O'Reilly’s (“Please Say Something,” 2009) is back with “The External World,” an animation saga so odd and disturbing that the end credits reassure the viewer that “none of the events portrayed actually happened.” It premiered at the 2010 Venice Film Festival. “Cigarette Candy” director Lauren Wolkstein teams up with Christopher Radcliff to co-direct the pitch-perfect drama “The Strange Ones.”
SHORTS PROGRAM II
The marquee name is Neil LaBute, who will screen the black-and-white “sexting.” Marc Fratello’s half-hour “Babyland,” which has already won Columbia Eniversity’s Focus Features Best Film prize, Student Choice Best Film trophy and Audience Award, exhibits all the strong writing, acting and pacing we’ve come to expect from a festival-favorite graduate film; it ends with memorably excellent use of music. Zachary Treitz’s “We’re Leaving” is consistently excellent, from its opening shot of a man escorting a free-roaming alligator down the hallway to its leave-taking 13 minutes later.
SHORTS PROGRAM III
This one has Dean Fleischer-Camp’s internet sensation “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On,” a top-notch half-hour drama from “Pop Foul” director Moon Molson called “Crazy Beats Strong Every Time” and the world premiere of Eliza Hittman’s engaging Cal Arts student film “Forever’s Gonna Start Tonight.”
SHORTS PROGRAM IV
Jeremy Konner, who won the jury prize in short filmmaking at last year’s Sundance for “Drunk History: Douglas & Lincoln,” returns to Park City this year with a humorous ecological short doc narrated by Jeremy Irons entitled “The Majestic Plastic Bag.” (Heal The Bay has also made the four-minute film available on its YouTube channel.) Carter Smith, whose “Bugcrush” won the Sundance short jury prize in 2006, premieres his edgy “Yearbook” in the same program, as is Daniel Mulloy’s latest, a 25-minute piece entitled “Baby.” Mulloy’s 2006 short, “Antonio’s Breakfast,” premiered at Sundance and then went on to win a British Academy Award. “Baby” has already picked up the Best British Short Film Award at Edinburgh. Newcomer Tahir Jetter’s relationship piece “Close” is another must-see; it will be available to view in full online via the Sundance 2011 YouTube channel at some point during the festival’s run.
SHORTS PROGRAM V
Two shorts in this program will also be viewable on YouTube’s limited-run Sundance ’11 channel. Emily Carmichael’s “The Hunter and the Swan Discuss Their Meeting” is an amusing take on the double-dating icebreaking question of “how did you two meet?”. Nick Paley’s entertaining buddy comedy “Andy and Zach” is a charmer, thanks in no small part to the easy rapport between the real-life ex-roommate lead actors.
“8BITS” by Valere Amirault, Sarah Laufer, Jean Delaunay & Benjamin Mattern is already available online, but it will be a treat for festival-goers to see the fight between the 8-bit superhero and the HD villain blown up on the big screen. Acclaimed Swedish animator Jonas Odell, who previously unleashed the shorts “Lies” and “Never Like The First Time,” contributes “Tussilago” to this program. And Brooklyn-based duo Ru Kuwahata & Max Porter charmingly animate and perform the San Francisco-set criminology adventure “Something Left, Something Taken.”
DOCUMENTARY SHOWCASE I
There are two laugh-out-loud shorts here: Matthew Rankin, who previously directed the much-favored short doc “Cattle Call,” spent three years directing “Negativipeg,” a hilarious recounting of a decades-old 7-Eleven confrontation between a teenage troublemaker and a local rock star. Chris Beckman’s “oops,” an ode to inept videographers everywhere, should be lots of fun to watch with an audience. (It’s already viewable on YouTube.)
DOCUMENTARY SHOWCASE II
“Green Porno” superstar Isabella Rossellini’s 47-minute “Animals Distract Me” originally was made for Discovery Channel. It's the longest contribution to Documentary Showcase II, one of two new short programs added to this year’s festival.
The other inaugural program is Indigenous Shorts, which features a preponderance of pieces directed by women. The best known is probably New Zealander Katie Wolfe, who impressed audiences around the world with her 2009 short “This is Her.” Wolfe’s “Redemption” is her first Maori film. It premiered at Berlin.
Arguably the most adventurous shorts program, it includes new work by Martha Colburn (“Triumph of the Wild”), Jem Cohen (“Anne Truitt, Working”), Francis Alys de Smedt (“Tornado”), and Kelly Sears (“Jupiter Elicius,” available on YouTube). It also boasts “All Flowers in Time,” a highly intriguing 14-minute piece starring Chloe Sevigny from Jonathan Caouette of “Tarnation” fame.
In addition to the 10 dedicated shorts programs, several key shorts are playing before features. The most toe-tappingly loopy is Jerome Sable’s “The Legend of Beaver Dam,” a horror/musical/teen comedy that precedes Park City at Midnight feature “Hobo with a Shotgun.” Also of note is Tiffany Shlain’s 3-minute “Yelp, With Apologies to Allen Ginsberg,” screening with the New Frontier feature “The Woods” and on YouTube. (Shlain's feature-length "Connected: An Autoblogography about Love, Death & Technology" is also competing in the U.S. Documentary category.)