If American short films live or die by a Sundance or SXSW acceptance, “Actresses” died and went to heaven.
Let’s do some math. Of the 8,061 short films submitted to the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, 60 were chosen. That’s a 0.74% acceptance rate; at least six times harder than getting into Harvard. Compound that with the 1.4% chance of getting into SXSW that year and you’ll begin to appreciate the odds that were stacked against Jeremy Hersh’s short film.
“I was in disbelief and truly didn’t believe it was real until the end credits were rolling on the screen at each festival,” Hersh, a 25-year-old graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, told Indiewire.
“Actresses” displays many of the qualities that have become associated with Sundance and SXSW. The film is a deceptively simple relationship story brought to life by great direction and acting. The two leads, Taylor Hess and Rebecca Henderson, have palpable chemistry. Hersh, who is also a playwright, has a penchant for naturalistic dialogue: His characters talk over and around each other, and their misunderstandings and conflicting intentions are painfully familiar.
“I feel like when you downplay yourself, you’re just asking me to compliment you,” says Danielle. “I’m not asking you to compliment me; I’m just telling you how I feel about the show,” says Sara. The relationship between the two actresses, one accomplished and the other aspiring, illuminates the paradox of extreme insecurity. At best, self-deprecation and doubt can be humanizing, but at worst, it’s a form of deep-rooted narcissism.
The short also displays confident technical prowess. Benjamin Rutkowski’s understated cinematography enhances the verisimilitude; the camera is inconspicuous, as if the intimate access we’re given to this relationship is a privilege Hersh wants us to consider. Cecilia Delgado’s editing brings us seamlessly through many different jumps in time without feeling disorienting.
Hersh has directed one other short film, “Natives,” about a lesbian couple from very different backgrounds, which screened at SXSW in 2014.