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Sundance 2018: 10 Must-See Short Films, From Armie Hammer to Don Hertzfeldt

Hammer, Simon Helberg, and Lakeith Stanfield appear in some of the best short films from this year's festival.

eve sundance

“Eve”

Dev Patel directs Armie Hammer in a stylish dark comedy. Don Hertzfeldt delivers a second installment of his award-winning animated saga. And Dime Davis documents artist Mark Bradford’s creativity in action. These are just a few of the treats to be found among the 69 live action, animated, and documentary adorts playing the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

The Sundance programmers whittled the 69 official selections from 8,740 submissions (down 245 from the previous year). Making the cut were several shorts with recognizable talent in front of the lens: Simon Helberg and Brett Gelman suffer through an unbalanced relationship in Jessica Sander’s two-hander “End of the Line,” Lakeith Stanfield plays himself in Shaka King’s “LaZercism,” and Armie Hammer undertakes a supporting role as a television huckster in Dev Patel’s “Home Shopper.”

IndieWire previewed 47 films available for advanced press consideration and identified 10 shorts bursting with so much bravado that they will undoubtedly cause a sensation when they screen in Park City. We then reached out to the directors of these buzzworthy shorts and asked them to share their inspiration and what they’re working on next.

This year’s festival runs from January 18 – 28 in Park City, Utah. Check out the full lineup, plus all of our coverage of the festival, right here. Here, in alphabetical order, are the 10 must-see shorts at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

“Blue Christmas”

Director: Charlotte Wells

Blue Christmas

“Blue Christmas”

Elvis Presley’s classic song provides the soundtrack to this dramatic story about a troubled debt collector (Jamie Robson) making his rounds on Christmas Eve in 1968. Perhaps because it is set in a small town in Scotland, this 15-minute NYU thesis film feels like it could easily be part of the Bill Forsyth canon (“Gregory’s Girl” “Local Hero” “Comfort and Joy”).  The short’s tone and feel are spot-on.

Charlotte “Charlie” Wells said her main character’s profession was inspired by her grandfather. “He was a debt collector and I used to ride along with him as a kid. The stories he has about his time on the job were part of what brought me to this.”

This is the second year in a row at Sundance for the recent NYU grad. Wells’ previous student film, “Laps,” was one of Indiewire’s must-see picks for the 2017 fest.  It subsequently took home a special jury award for editing. Editor Blair McClendon worked on both films.

Wells is currently writing her first feature about a young father and his 11-year-old daughter on vacation at a European holiday resort.

“The Burden”

Director: Niki Lindroth von Bahr

A stop-motion animated musical from Sweden about depressed fast food and big box store workers doesn’t sound like a laugh riot, but this 14-minute charmer is a true delight.

Animator Niki Lindroth von Bahr is well known for her previous films “Bath House” (2014) and “Tord and Tord” (2010). Her latest “Min Börda” (the Swedish title) has already been embraced by the festival circuit, playing the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes and winning a slew of awards at Toronto, Annecy, and AFI, to name a few.

With this new film, the animator wanted to pay tribute to the old school Hollywood musicals she loved growing up.  “In contrast to that cheerful atmosphere I also felt the need for a darker theme, containing loneliness, boredom and existential anxiety,” said Lindroth von Bahr, who took almost two-and-a-half years to make “The Burden.” “I mainly wanted to shed some light on low paid, invisible work. If you were night cleaning a hamburger restaurant and suddenly found yourself in a musical, what would you sing about?”

Lindroth von Bahr is in the planning stages of her next project.  “It will have a much more unpleasant content, possibly some kind of animated horror movie taking place in the financial world.”

“End of the Line”

Director: Jessica Sanders

It does this ambitious 14-minute short a disservice to pitch it as “Lemon” meets “Downsizing,” but comparisons are inevitable. Brett Gelman plays a sad sack whose new “pet” is a miniature-sized man (Simon Helberg) held against his will in a birdcage.  Based on a story by Aimee Bender and featuring 67 visual effects shots, this latest and greatest from the Refinery 29/Shatterbox Anthology series is just as powerful and as satisfying a viewing experience as “Lemon” (in which Gelman starred) or “Downsizing.”

“I’ve been obsessed with Aimee Bender’s story since I read it 12 years ago,” said director Jessica Sanders. “I am interested in the themes of power and its abuse, which is very timely. The story and film explore men’s abuse of power but all seen/told through a female lens (female writer, screenwriter and director) which I think is interesting!”

After the film completes its festival run, it’s scheduled to have a limited theatrical release, then debut online as part of Refinery29’s Shatterbox Anthology which supports female directors, followed by an airing on TNT.

Sanders, who is an Academy Award-nominated, Sundance and Cannes-winning filmmaker and commercial director, is next helming a scripted feature about forgiveness entitled “Picking Cotton.”  It’s based on a story from her 2005 Sundance-winning documentary “After Innocence” and the New York Times Best Seller written by Jennifer Thompson, Ronald Cotton, and Erin Torneo.

“Eve”

Director: Susan Bay Nimoy

eve sundance

“Eve”

This 21-minute drama about the rebirth of a grieving widow feels highly personal and emotionally authentic.  Beautifully shot on a four-day schedule, it was written, directed, and stars Susan Bay Nimoy, who was married for over 30 years to the late actor Leonard Nimoy.

One of the original six women DGA directors who banded together to challenge the male-run Hollywood machine in 1979, Nimoy recorded a director’s statement in which she described her short film’s journey. “I wrote for about seven, eight months. I was at a dinner party, and on one side of me was Jim Frohna, well-known director of photography. And on my other side was his wife Diana Kunce, who’s a producer. I told them that I had written this short film and that my objective was to tell a story, make a woman of age as a centerpiece. And after our long conversation into the night, they said, ‘Let’s make this. Let’s make this film together.’”

In her Facebook statement about the film, Nimoy wrote, “From the ashes of my despair came ‘Eve’ – The feature is next!”

“Hair Wolf”

Director: Mariama Diallo

Hair Wolf

“Hair Wolf”

Late at night, a white Instragram hipster (“a Kylie Jenner style villain,” in the words of the filmmaker) invades a black-owned hair salon in this pitch-perfect horror/comedy short scheduled to play the Midnight Shorts program.

Filmmaker Mariama Diallo, whose previous short was entitled “Sketch,” references John Waters, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” and “The Thing” as touchstones.

Asked about the production of this 12-minute short, Diallo reported, “We had a three-day shoot in Brooklyn, primarily in my neighborhood of Crown Heights. Location was incredibly important to this shoot, since at the core of the film is the concept of encroachment on black spaces. This is something I’ve witnessed first hand in my corner of Brooklyn – the relentless way that black spaces and culture are initially fetishized, and eventually devoured.”

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