Sundance is here! Yours truly will be attendance for the first time, but, as it’s been for the last 6 years, all of you at home can partake in the excitement too through the Sundance Online Short Film Program. After a two year collaboration with YouTube, the festival has moved to giant content portal Yahoo! and their relatively new video platform Yahoo! Screen. This year, they present 9 in-competition short films for internet streaming, and for the first time have added a new wrinkle—an online vote that will award the audience-winning filmmaker $5000 USD.
Voting is open through Jan. 27th. As always, we’re here to give you some guide to what you’ll be watching in this, the first part of a two part guide to the 9 films presented. Due to the audience vote this year, we’re not providing grades on the films, but you’ll be able to tell what we like. Overall, it’s the strongest crop of Sundance Online Short Films in a long while. Scroll down our Festival tag for last year’s coverage of Sundance short films and programs, though some are no longer online.
Aquadettes—dir: Zackary Canepari, Drea Cooper | USA | 10min
The Aquadettes are a group of elderly synchronized swimmers from Leisure World, a retirement community nestled in Orange County, California. One of them, Margo Bauer, is fighting multiple sclerosis and using medical marijuana to ease her pain and to keep on swimming.
Included in our previous playlist of 2012 Sundance online shorts, this documentary film belongs to the splendid California is a Place collection, a series of internet films that serve up portraits of residents from the Golden State. The work of Zack and Drea sums up the exciting trends in DSLR documentary filmmaking, with an intimate handheld approach that is lovely to look at and immerses one into the world and storytelling of its subject. The filmmaking subtly bridges the two stories with aplomb—the cheery story of friendship, with that of the recognition and confrontation of disease and disability. Recommended.
Long Distance Information—dir: Douglas Hart | UK | 6min
Da always said not to talk to strangers…but you’ve got to phone home sometimes.
A tricky film to discuss, as it is predicated on a single big reveal. It’s Christmas and a son calls home to talk to his father. The father seems like a piece of work, and both are tense. Something happens to change both their attitudes to the conversation however. Ultimately there is a bit of pleasure in being duped, and reveal isn’t simply shock value value, but powerfully confirms the point the film is trying to make. However 6min is still a fair amount of time to make single point with little else to entertain.
Odysseus’ Gambit—dir: Alex Lora | USA | 12min
A gambit is a chess opening in which a player sacrifices a pawn with the hope of achieving a resulting advantageous position. The protagonist is a Cambodian American guy looking for his place in the game.
A celebrated Spanish director based in New York, Alex Lora has a lot of fancy credentials to his name. They seem deserved, because he really kicks the art of the documentary profile up a notch with this film. With the advent of DSLRs, doc profiles are increasingly popular. Most ape the style but not the heart of California is a Place (featured above) or Vimeo Award winner Eliot Rausch, but fewer choose to actually examine the possibilities for the genre. With an explicit, but powerful central metaphor, novelistic structuring and of course that most important element, an engaging subject, Odysseus’ Gambit however is a stellar contrast to those who shoot and figure they’ll make sense of it in the edit. An excellent example of what short documentary profiles could be.
Una Hora Por Favora—dir: Jill Soloway | USA | 12min
A woman hires a day laborer for an hour and gets more than she bargained for.
Featuring good performances by Michaela Watkins and a nearly unrecognizable Wilmer Valderrama, this is a sex and relationship comedy from a female perspective, centering on a pretty Jewish lady looking for love. She finds it, for a time, in the form of a hispanic day-laborer she picks up at the local hardware store. The setup is fertile material, playing off of tensions between gender, race and class, and goes for an Apatow-style blending of emotional discovery with crude sexuality. But, despite a couple of recognizable attempts, the comedy is tame by modern standards, and the emotional discovery ends up explicated rather than discovered. Still, while critiquable, rather enjoyable too.