A cherished tradition, every year Sundance releases a selection of short films from their competition lineup onto the internet for the duration of the fest. It is an excellent way for fans at home to connect with the goings on, and for short film fans in particular, a great way to spy some of the year’s top shorts early in their festival run.
After last years tryst with Yahoo!, the festival got YouTube to once again shell out the big bucks and sponsor the entirety of the short film field. Thus after a lengthy period of dormancy, the YouTube Screening Room is revived in order to host these 12 short films.
Having debuted Thursday, we’re a little bit late with our coverage, mostly because I’m at the festival right now and severely overestimated how much time I’d have to work in between screenings, schmoozing and parties. Sorry! Still, you’ve got till the end of the week to watch these incredible shorts, 4 of which were featured in our recent Sundance Playlist. I’ve turned to our crack team of writers to fill you in with more details on the 8 new films along with some recycled copy on the 4 previously online works, so let’s have a look!
Dir: Guillermo Arriaga
A young woman and her four-year-old daughter drive across desolated hills. Everything looks fine and they seem to enjoy the ride, until an accident sends them into the nightmare of darkness.
Written and directed by Guillermo Arriaga—the writer of Iñárritu’s Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel—and with cinematography from Spielberg’s regular DoP Janusz Kaminski, plus a score from Philip Glass, there is an expectation that, at the very least, the production level of Broken Night would be astounding. The short film doesn’t disappoint. Shot entirely on the Nikon D800, a 36.3 megapixels DSLR, Kaminski’s flowing, tumbling and sometimes upside down camerawork bring an immediacy and proximity to Arriaga’s unsettling plot. As the story unfurls and we witness a mother and daughter’s innocuous drive soon develop into the nightmare of darkness, the Mexican director expertly weaves all aspects of filmmaking into a tightly-blended, well-choreographed short. Although Broken Night is more sinister than it is frightening, it certainly goes some way to living up to its billing as being “as frightening as it is drop dead beautiful.”
Review: El Vez
This is the true story of Kendrick, a young, black calf roper grafting through the local, all-white rodeo circuits in the southern United States. He practices and competes relentlessly, with dreams of one day making it to the National Rodeo Finals in Las Vegas.
Quoted from our previous review (which shows that we quite liked it): “The Roper, produced by brand story studio Lucid Inc, is a visually exquisite documentary, with beautiful panoramic shots reminiscent of the best Western movies. Presenting an honest, gritty picture of Kendrick’s life, the film avoids the temptation to romanticize the life of a traveling cowboy. Today’s cowboys spend as much time riding on tarmac roads as dusty tracks, with the city gas station instead of a saloon providing the backdrop. Moreover, as an African-American rider, Kendricks is an outsider in the world of rodeo, an issue the film confronts, touching on themes of race, belonging, and generational differences.”
Review: David Masters
IRISH FOLK FURNITURE
An animated documentary about repair and recycling in rural Ireland.
As someone born in Ireland, this was bound to have some appeal for me right away, but its charm will carry it far beyond the Irish community. Using stop-motion animation techniques combined with voiceover, this short details the history and restoration of a number of pieces of farmhouse furniture.
A straight documentary on the subject of furniture restoration could have been a yawner, but here the storytelling and the wit of the animation really shine. With mischievous hens and mice making appearances, and the lilting accents of some old Irish characters carrying us along, this film manages to literally bring furniture to life. No wooden acting here!
Review: James McNally
Love and a severed foot at the end of the world.
From our recent coverage: “If you search for Julia Pott on our site you will quickly see she is well-loved. Howard won an SotW Award last year, and her RCA graduation film, Belly, was a feature in 2012.
Funny thing is, over the past year, everyone else decided they loved Julia too. Starting with Sundance 2012, where Belly premiered, Julia has been on just about everyone’s hot list, gracing Filmmaker Mag’s 25 New Faces of Film for 2012, starring on Indiewire’s list of breakout stars, and appearing as an Art Director’s Club Young Gun. Now, with The Event, she completes a rare feat—back to back Sundance appearances.
The film is a commission for Random Acts, a stellar program out of the UK that provides original content for the web. Pockets was also from this same scheme. The film itself is Ms. Pott’s most inscrutable yet—based off a poem by UK rising star Tom Chivers it deals with end-of-the-world imagery. But it is also her most lovely film as well, as the refinement of her aesthetic and craft continues its upward trajectory, this time incorporating motion-tracking to her palette of techniques. As much as it pains my hipster possessiveness, I only see Julia Pott’s profile going up and up in 2013.”
Review: Jason Sondhi
Four uninspired friends try to come up with a terrific idea for how to spend their Saturday afternoon.
Unlike the majority of shorts, the special effects reveal which powers Andrew Zuchero’s The Apocalypse isn’t a one shot deal, rendered innert once spent. It’s to the writer/director’s credit (along with those in the visual effects and sound departments) that each use successfully shoves you along a comedic trajectory that begins with shock horror and ends up with you attempting to do the impossible alongside the lead. Vague praise? Yes. But you’ll be glad it isn’t more specific when you watch, after all, it’s the vacuous who shall inherit the earth.
MARCEL, KING OF TERVUREN
Greek tragedy enacted by Belgian roosters.
A documentary animated short, Marcel, King of Tervuren, tells the tale of a tenacious Flemish rooster, who despite all odds—including the bird flu, alcohol, sleeping pills, and his son Max— remains King of Tervuren. Director Tom Schroeder’s visuals are so striking, so unique that it’s easy to get lost in the tangled mass of coarse brush strokes and movement. It’s also pretty easy to completely skip over the the film’s Greek tragedy tropes, completely entranced by the fluid, organic masses of color and lines. Folksy voice over and a staccato strings score round out a film that has a decidedly unique tone and visual style, even if it’s not particularly emotionally arresting.
Review: Ivan Kander
CATNIP: EGRESS TO OBLIVION
Catnip is all the rage with today’s modern feline, but do we really understand it? This film frankly discusses the facts about this controversial substance.
More self-plagarism: “A pitch-perfect spoof of alarmist school educational films, this work by Jason Willis purports to expose the dangers of rampant catnip use by at-risk felines. All it really exposes however is what a talented creator Jason Willis is.
With its retro film-styling and talking head interviews, the film passes the visual test of passing for the dusty 16mm reels of the era, but it is writing which makes or breaks these works, and I’m pleased to say that the writing is stellar. Quite an oddball selection of Sundance’s, including this in their 2013 short film program, but a welcome one nonetheless.”
Review: Jason Sondhi
WHEN THE ZOMBIES COME
At a hardware store in the middle of no where fans of the walking dead have turned their love of zombies into an obsession which has warped the way they see the store and costumers.
In recent years, the release of Max Brooks’ apocalyptic novels The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z, coupled with the ever-growing popularity of Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore’s graphic novel The Walking Dead, has seen us become more and more obsessed with the world of the undead. With the aforementioned comic book, now in its 3rd season as a television series (with no sign of it stopping soon) and World War Z now a Brad Pitt fronted big screen adaption, zombiemania might have hit new and dizzying heights.
Attempting to document this new found infatuation, Jon Hurst’s When the Zombies Come is the story of the employees of a remote hardware store whose love for The Walking Dead has begun to warp the way they see the store and its customers. Hurst’s debut short as director sees him delve (all too briefly) into a world of fascinating characters with over-active imaginations, but unfortunately his film never quite matches the fertile levels of creativity displayed by his subjects. Its sub 10 minute duration means far too many angles are left unexplored and whilst production values can often be over-looked in a riveting documentary, the somewhat shoddy and mundane cinematography only amplified my disappointment in a film that held so much promise
Review: El Vez
After a career spent mining his music from the shadows, one fan creates a chain reaction for the lead singer of a black metal band.
Kat Candler returns to Sundance for a second year running with Black Metal. While last year’s Hellion was about misbehaving children, her new film is altogether darker.
Ian is a singer for a black metal band. When he finds out that a young fan has committed a grisly murder “inspired” by his music, he has to face the anger of the public as well as his own feelings of guilt.
What I loved about the film was the feeling like we were only scratching the surface of a subject that hasn’t been explored very much in film. Here is a man with a very dark public persona who also happens to be a devoted husband and father. When something terrible happens, and he’s blamed, it’s difficult for him to reconcile these two parts of himself. Actor Jonny Mars plays Ian as an outwardly tough man who seems about to fall to pieces in the days ahead. As his wife (Heather Kafka) tells him, neither of them are going to be able to “handle it” without some help.
That becomes exceedingly clear when he has to explain to his young daughter why their phone has been ringing off the hook all night. Though he avoids giving her any easy answers, he will have to come up with some explanation. And that’s where the film leaves us.
The disconnect between a wild heavy-metal persona and a comfortable family life isn’t totally brand new, but it’s too often played for laughs. In Black Metal, Candler doesn’t take sides, but she treats Ian and his family with respect. You get the feeling that there will be some real soul-searching in the days ahead for him, and the contrast with the adrenaline-pumping music at the beginning of the film couldn’t be more stark.
Review: James McNally
A boy’s childhood scars his life.
Our final recycled review is this daring Sigur Ros MV: “Like many of the selections in our 2013 Sundance playlist, Seraph is difficult to get a grasp on, as it interweaves biblical theology with the maturation of a young, presumably gay, boy who struggles with his anger and attractions. Somewhat crudely plotted, it is nonetheless thematically rich, and has a big payoff.
Director Dash Shaw is one of the leading lights of indie comics, and he brings his very graphic-style to this work. John Cameron Mitchell (Shortbus, Hedwig and the Angry Inch) took a break from doing Lady Dior fashion films to co-write the piece. Utilizing music from two different tracks off the album, the film is a fine example of the wisdom and potential of Sigur Ros’ hands-off approach with the Valtari Mystery Film Experiment.”
Review: Jason Sondhi
Movies Made from Home #6
Debbie is good at playing hide and seek—so good she is often hard to find.
From California artist and UC Davis MFA student Robert Machoian, Movies Made From Home #6 is a single entry into a larger body of work that Machoian calls MISC. Upon watching the film, it’s fragmented nature is readily apparent—the film doesn’t feel like a standalone short, rather something that belongs as a piece of a much larger experimental art exhibit.
That’s not to say Movies Made From Home #6 isn’t interesting. The film, with it’s old home-movie grain and odd frame rate, is decidedly eerie. We watch from a static camera angle as kids play hide and go seek, waiting with bated breath as grungy, lo-fi titles pop on screen revealing a larger, somewhat disturbing message. However, without the connective tissue of the entire collection, the narrative thruline is lost, and you’re left with an oddball short that would be better suited for a new media exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art rather than an autonomous festival selection.
Review: Ivan Kander
What Do We Have In Our Pockets
A most unusual love story unravels when the objects in a young man’s pockets come to life.
As the director of Wristcutters: A Love Story, Goran Dukic is no stranger to filmic whimsey. In What Do We Have In Our Pockets, he once again adapts a short story by Etgar Keret, but this time employs a playful stop motion approach of pieced together stills and the ephemera found deep within the narrating boys’ pockets. The casting of director Azazel Jacobs is a genius stroke of meta hoarding authenticity (see Momma’s Man).
I really liked Dukic’s film—if a short leaves you with a smile on your face that warms you to the core and makes you believe in the power of postage stamps and cough drops, then it’s got to be considered a success.