In 2007, the Sundance Film Festival programmed 28 international short films. This year, a record number of 42 international shorts make up the 2008 Sundance Film Festival roster. While world cinema representation has expanded, running time of the 83 official short film selections has shrunk, with 25% clocking in at five minutes or less. And with only eight films exceeding the twenty-minute mark, it’s clear that extremely-short shorts are enjoying a comeback in Park City. “I’ve always felt that anyone who is truly interested in independent film should pay attention to shorts,” notes Sundance founder Robert Redford in this year’s festival catalogue. “They are often an indication of what’s coming down the creative pike.”
Indeed, the festival boasts an impressive list of directors who first strutted their stuff at Sundance as short filmmakers: Todd Haynes, Spike Jonze, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, David O. Russell, Tamara Jenkins, Nicole Holofcener, Alexander Payne, and Jason Reitman. Reitman is back in Park City this year as part of the short film jury, along with actress Melanie Diaz and Jon Bloom of the Academy’s short films and feature animation branch.
Last year’s jury awarded its grand prize to animator Don Hertzfeldt‘s 17-minute “Everything Will Be Okay.” This year, there is an animated short that is ambitiously longer than Hertzfeldt’s, the 31-minute “The History of America,” a sprawling cowboy saga created by a Missouri-based design/ filmmaking collective called MK12. But for the most part, this year’s animated pieces fall into the under-five-minutes category. Among the American-made standouts: Mike Blum‘s talking testicles comedy, “The Adventures of Baxter & McGuire: The Boss;” Dana Adam Shapiro‘s environmental twist on a how love can be thwarted, “My Biodegradable Heart;” and Signe Baumane‘s frank sex-talk anthology, “Teat Beat of Sex.”
The international five-minutes-or-less animation selection includes Yi Zhou‘s “Paradise,” a French film featuring an idyllic Garden of Eden populated only by flowers and insects busy doing their business. Argentina is represented by “Lapsus,” Juan Pablo Zaramella‘s playful depiction of a nun falling apart. And Josh Raskin from Canada contributes his Oscar-nominated teen-interviews-Beatle delight, “I Met the Walrus.”
Narrative/doc/experimental films to watch for in the five-minute-or-less category: Jules Nurrish‘s art gallery dance piece “Bend It;” Matthew Lessner‘s laugh-out-loud portrait of the Myspace generation, “By Modern Measure;” Danny Roew‘s title-says-it-all “Dog Lovers;” Shawn Bannon‘s experimental fire piece “Ignite;” Thomas Barndt‘s intentionally oddball “The Mark;” Jake Mahaffy‘s slow-mo wonderland “Motion Studies: Inertia;” Nao Bustamente‘s purposely nutty fake-history “Untitled #1 (from the series “Earth People 2507);” and Irish master short-doc-maker Ken Wardrop‘s two new works, “Farewell Packets of Ten” and “Scoring.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the longest shorts in the festival are Andrea Fasciani‘s “Buyo,” a strange 37-minute saga from Italy about a strange man and an even stranger woman that strangely doesn’t outstay its welcome, and Amanda Micheli and Isabel Vega‘s 40 minute Oscar-nominated Colombian prison pageant doc, “La Corona (The Crown).”
Among the medium length narrative films, there are many standouts showcasing real talent. If the next generation Holofceners, Paynes, and Reitmans are to be found at Sundance, they’ll be among this crowd. Remember these eighteen directors’ names:
Dan Beers sets overenthusiastic fact checkers on Bill Murray‘s case in the Funny or Die comedy “FCU: Fact Checkers Unit” (USA, 2007, 9 mins).
Kevin Lee Burton sonically experiments with the Cree language while capturing beautiful images of Canada to create the poetic “Nikamowin (Song)” (Canada, 2007, 12 mins).
Benedict Campbell delivers a confident teenagers-in-transition story in “Lloyd Neck” (USA, 2007, 16 mins).
Jed Cowley also tackles a teenage boy story with a gutsy move of letting visuals carry the narrative instead of relying heavily on dialogue in “The Loss of a Wrestling Match” (USA, 2007, 11 mins).
Wyatt Garfield and Ed Yonaitis co-direct a taunt execution-gone-wrong drama, “The Execution of Solomon Harris” (USA, 2007, 8 mins).
Tony Gault employs powerful imagery to make a family tragedy specific yet universal in the experimental film “Count Backwards from Five” (USA, 2007, 8 mins).
Peter Glanz displays great panache in his black-and-white hipster love story “A Relationship in Four Days” (USA, 2007, 25 mins).
Myna Joseph gets remarkable performances from her teen leads in her sexual power play student film, “Man” (USA, 2007, 15 mins).
Adam Keker constructs a political electronic press kit that resonates with viewers long after the film ends in “On the Assassination of the President” (USA, 2007, 6 mins).
Sami Korjus makes a strong statement about marital relations in “Harvest Time” (Finland, 2007, 15 mins).
James Lees picks mesmerizing images to fill the screen as we listen in on telephone messages left on “The Apology Line” (United Kingdom, 2007, 10 mins).
John Magary sets his Columbia short in post-Katrina New Orleans, resulting in an arresting depiction of everyday crimes and misdemeanors in “The Second Line” (USA, 2007, 19 mins).
Mads Matthiesen crafts a touching film about a hulk of a bodybuilder caught between his mother’s demands and his desire to find a girlfriend in “Dennis” (Denmark, 2007, 18 mins).
David Michod does double-duty as director and narrator in his intriguing drama about memorably unsuitable neighbors in “Crossbow” (Australia, 2007, 14 mins).
Sara St. Onge displays a fine comic touch by having her lead character apply wedding-planning-like zeal to a memorial service in “The Funeral” (Canada, 2007, 9 mins).
Benjamin M. Piety fashions a seductive he-said/she-said tale in “Sunlit Shadows” (USA, 2007, 14 mins).
Erin White hones in on an unexpected wedding guest in the Aussie family drama “Dugong” (Australia, 2006, 18 mins).
Kudos to the Sundance programming team of Matt Anderson, George Eldred, Trevor Groth, Todd Luoto, Shane Smith, Hebe Tabachnik, and Kimberly Yutani, who reviewed 5,107 submissions to cull the officially selected 83 films. Their picks are indeed work that anyone who is truly interested in independent film should pay attention to.
indieWIRE’s coverage of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival is available in iW’s special Park City section.