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Sundance 2013 Short Film Awards Reviewed

Sundance 2013 Short Film Awards Reviewed

Vol. I Issue 7 

Sundance programmed 65 short films selected from 8,102 submissions. The Academy only goes through about 160 films to arrive at the 10 nominations; one might say winning at Sundance is harder than winning an Oscar.  Every year when I watch the Sundance shorts I wonder if they just run out of energy when they get to the end. With over 100 films to choose from for every one of the slots, I am always amazed by the choices. (I also feel that way about the documentary films selected.)

If you submitted one of the 8,102 films you might feel you were robbed or, if you’re honest and critical, you might feel that at least the winners should have been programmed.  You can always make another short and try next year or submit your short to one of the over 200 festivals in the world that run short films.  Many of the winners are on the Web so take a look at them and see what you think.

I feel this year’s Sundance 2013 Short Film Award winners are a mixed bag if one is looking for works that will launch careers, entertain and have artistic merit, which I always insist on when I am teaching.  This group of films, except in one case, gets two of the three: two are wonderful career launching works, five are very entertaining and three have artistic merit. Its great to be “art” but I think it is better to be entertaining “art.”  I have written about all of the films which I had the good fortune of seeing on the web-in all but one case.

Oddly, getting one of the films proved really challenging. The filmmakers decided not to post to protect it from Academy rules (The Academy requires a film first qualify before being shown.) on the web.  Or to even post it with a password which the Academy permits prior to the film qualifying for award consideration.  Sundance did not even have a web version of this work. So they sent a copy over via messenger which I appreciated. I think if a work is out, it makes a lot of sense to have it on the web (with a password) so that critics and festival programmers, etc. can see it.       

I am glad I did get to see it.

Short Film Grand Jury Prize – The Whistle

The Whistle is a special work. It has a large cast, lots of locations and is a successful bigger short film.  Telling the story of Marcin, it is both entertaining and moving. Marcin is a lowest-leagues football (soccer) referee who lives in a small town near Krakow, Poland, and who dreams of better times. At his mother’s urging, he decides to change his life and find himself a girlfriend and a better job. He succeeds. The film is unique among this selection of award winners because it does not depend on any gimmicks, plot twists or narrative surprises. The film is well directed, shot and edited. The filmmaker handles the soccer matches and action sequences well.   Marcin is able to handle the soccer players’ aggression and, to my delight, the filmmaker holds the action at a realistic level.

While this film is not the audience winner as are some of the other films, it is very deserving of the grand prize.

Director:  Grzegorz Zariczny  16 minutes

Production Company Link:

Short Film Jury Award, US Fiction – Whiplash

Whiplash is the story of a jazz percussionist in a high school setting with a faculty member who, while musically talented, should have opted for a career in Marine training (as one can imagine it from movies) instead of being a teacher. This conductor from hell is abusive, a liar and unusually cruel to his students. Whiplash is the name of the jazz composition the band is playing. This short was written as a “calling card” aimed at attracting backing for a feature-length version of the story. Jason Reitman is an executive producer of this short.

Without revealing more about the narrative, this is an exceptionally realized work. Perfect in every regard except its humanity. The directing and pacing is spot on. Camera and the tech credits first rate, professional.  The performance by J.K. Simmons (“Up in the Air”) is first rate. As the parent of a jazz playing high school trumpet player, I must confess that if this character was my son’s teacher I would have him arrested for child abuse. Of course, this is only a movie. The filmmakers got me. Well done. Let’s hope they have the sense to not turn it into a feature or a television series if the longer work follows this concept.

This film is not available on the web.

Director and screenwriter: Damien Chazelle

The Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction The Date

In this student film from Finland,  Tino’s manhood is put to the test in front of two women when he has to host a date for Diablo, the family’s stud cat.

The Date, a wonderfully realized short fiction film from the ELO Film School Helsinki, is a stand out.  This four actor, two cat, one location work (an apartment) deals with a mother (Mirka) and her daughter (Päibvi) bringing in their female cat to mate for the first time with the young man’s (Tino) cat.  This is a process Tino has been through before. As they drink tea and eat cookies the cats are having a great time, very loudly in the back ground. The mother talks about the cats having sex in somewhat graphic terms.  The teens try not to react.  Afterwards the two young people go out on the balcony and she talks about her concern for her cat and the cat’s sexual experience for this first mating. Tino, the young man, is a perfect foil. Despite his youth he handles this in a very mature fashion. This film is deserving of its prize.


It’s great to see a student film where the focus is on execution of a clever and simple idea. A cat date.  This is also perfect. While one might quibble about some small things, the filmmaker shows control, excellent coverage of scenes, executing humor, making a film that has characters that seem real and no violence. I think the director should have not had his characters smoke and perhaps use the “F” word for the sake of getting a young audience, rather than an older teen audience. It would be nice for middle-schoolers to see this work and to see it on television/cable. Jenni Toivonlemi has made a work that is truly international and a great portfolio film. 

Directed and written by: Jenni Toivoniemi    7 minutes

This work is not available (at press time) on the Web.

Company Link:

The Short Film Jury Award Documentary Skinningrove

This short documentary narrated by British photographer Chris Killip shows his unpublished images that chronicle the time he spent among the residents of a remote English fishing village, Skinningrove.  It feels like a home movie or very minimal despite the distinguished reputation of filmmaker Mr. Almereyda or the subject. Because of the slow pacing it is doubtful it will get much broadcast or cable exposure. The work is all shot in one location, Mr. Killip is speaking but we never hear the filmmaker nor is there any interaction between them. While the photographs are striking, they are shown without a critical context and no information is provided by the filmmaker about Mr. Killip so we must evaluate the images as shown without a critical context. This makes the work very challenging.  It is a shame the filmmaker does not share Mr. Killip’s biographical information or his critical reputation. (He is a tenured professor at Harvard.)

Director: Michael Almereyda  15 minutes

Link to Mr. Killip’s web site:

Short Film Audience Award – Catnip: Egress to Oblivion

This mocumentry while sure to be a crowd pleaser is a one note film. It’s a shame. Had the filmmaker seen one film by Marc Lewis (Cane Toads: An UnnaturalHistory) for example, the film could have been great.  Less is more.

Directed by Jason Willis  7 minutes

Short Film Special Jury Award – Until the Quiet Comes

Directed by: Kahlil Joseph about 4 minutes

This music video by Kahlil Joseph is beautifully shot, performed, choreographed, cast.  It was shot in the Nickerson Gardens housing projects in Watts, Los Angeles. The narrative comes from the music. The film is silent and reactive to the music. It’s eye candy with a serious subject.


Short Film Special Jury Award, Acting – Joel Nagle, Palimpsest

Kathleen Wise and Joel Nagle in Palimpsest

A successful house tuner provides clients with a unique form of therapy that examines subtle details in their living spaces. This is a perfect short film. A very simple idea done with skillful filmmaking, a wonderful cast and nuanced directing it is magical and full of surprises. Let’s hope it is put in for Academy consideration. Tyburski was robbed.

Palimpsest stands out as one of the Sundance star films it is beautifully directed and acted and succeeds doing all of the things a short film should accomplish. The film’s male lead Joel Nagle won a jury award for his amazingly nuanced performance of a home audio tuner.  This work resonates both as a work of art and an audience pleaser. The other lead actor in the film Kathleen Wise also should have taken an award. She is unknowingly being upset by the sounds her home makes. What a delightful and original concept for a short film. Let’s hope it launches a theatrical career for its director, Michael Tyburski and its two stars.

Director: Michael Tyburski  17 minutes

Link: Not available.

Website for film/filmmaker:

Short Film Jury Award, Animation – Irish Folk Furniture

This stop action animation short is a straight narrative documentary about some dressers.

Perhaps more than we’ll ever want to know about Irish traditional dressers. It’s an interesting choice since it is not drawn or computer generated. Not very “flash” but, with the use of the voice over interviews by, I assume, the filmmaker, the work is sensitive and deceptively simple in its approach. It is an excellent work that some audiences will find challenging.

Animation and Camera: Tony W. Donoghue   8 minutes

Credits: Editing by Jessica Just for SydneysBuzz

Block Doc Workshops in Los Angeles February 2013  IDA Doc U

The International Documentary Association will be hosting Documentary Funding and Documentary Tune-Up Workshops with Block on February 9/10.

Mitchell Block specializes in conceiving, producing, marketing & distributing independent features & consulting. He is an expert in placing both completed works into distribution & working with producers to make projects fundable. He conducts regular workshops in film producing in Los Angeles and most recently in Maine, Russia and in Myanmar (Burma).

Poster Girl, produced by Block was nominated for a Documentary Academy Award and selected by the IDA as the Best Doc Short 2011. It was also nominated for two Emmy Awards and aired on HBO. He is an executive producer of the Emmy Award-winning PBS series Carrier, a 10-hour series that he conceived & co-created. Block is a graduate of Tisch School and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business. He is a member of Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, the Television Academy, a founding member of BAFTA-LA and has been teaching at USC School of Cinematic Arts since 1979. Currently Block teaches a required class in the USC Peter Stark Producing Program.

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