Today we are highlighting alumni of Short of the Week who will be presenting features or episodic offerings at this week’s Sundance Film Festival.
It’s ended up being a very, very long post—which is great! With 13 features and 2 series selections, we can’t remember a stronger showing from our community of featured filmmakers in the 10 years we’ve been covering Sundance. While speculators are pessimistic about the commercial market for the festival this year, Sundance reliably launches a few fresh talents into the stratosphere. We saw that last year with Ari Aster and Hereditary, will it be one of the filmmakers below this year?
I’ll be on the ground in Park City alongside S/W co-founder Jason Sondhi to scout the shorts, but also to cheer on our alums as they present their new projects. Embedded is a highlighted short from these talents, followed by a link to the festival page for their new film/series. Below that are links to our original coverage of shorts featured on the site.
THE SOUND OF SILENCE – US Dramatic
Featured Short: ACTOR SEEKS ROLE
Based on a previous short of his, Palimpsest, that won the Special Jury Prize in 2013, Tyburski is back at Sundance with The Sound of Silence in the US Dramatic competition. Featuring Peter Sarsgaard and Rashida Jones, the film explores self improvement when dealing with anxiety and depression. Those themes are similar to those in our featured short, Actor Seeks Role, where Tyburski brought to the screen a disturbingly meta acting class with Alex Karpovsky and Dylan Baker.
HALA – US DRAMATIC
Featured Shorts: HALA, AFTER SOPHIE, PRETEXT
With a trio of confident shorts that side-stepped festivals in finding success directly online, Minhal Baig has been one of our most closely-followed filmmakers of the last few years, as well as a burgeoning voice for inclusion in the film industry. Her new feature is an adaptation of one of her shorts, Hala, which imagines a young Muslim-American girl who bucks her religiously conservative family when she finds herself burning with sexual attraction for a cool, white skater-boy. Boasting Jada Pinkett Smith as an executive producer, and landing a coveted spot in the US Dramatic competition, Hala is one of our most eagerly anticipated films of the festival.
CLEMENCY – US Dramatic
Featured Short: A Long Walk
An underappreciated gem that we featured in 2014, A Long Walk was a meditative story, based on true life, that dealt with themes of memory, trauma and identity. Chinonye Chukwu second feature, premiering at the fest, promises to be similarly thoughtful, as it deals with a prison warden whom is drifting from her husband, as she dutifully carries out the executions her job requires. From the Sundance description, “Clemency is an absorbing and penetrating character study that pulls into deep focus the various ways in which people facing impossible ethical circumstances strive to achieve some state of grace.” Sounds amazing!
LUCE – US DRAMATIC
Featured Short: BIG MAN
We first highlighted Julius Onah back in 2013 with Big Man, his close-your-eyes tense short about brothers in Nigeria which produced through Focus Features old “Africa First” initiative. Onah has been productive in the interim, most notably helming the latest installment of Bad Robot’s Cloverfield franchise, which made a splash when it surprise-dropped on Netflix directly after the Super Bowl. He’s at the festival with Luce, an enticing story that stars Naomi Watts and Tim Roth as parents whom adopt a child from war-torn Eritrea only to find that their new model child has a darkness brimming under the surface.
JAWLINE – US Doc
Featured Shorts: FANGIRL, SUNDOWN
Named one of Filmmaker Magazine 25 New Faces of Independent Films in 2017, Liza Mandelup premieres Jawline in the US Documentary category. She offers an insider look at the social media stardom phenomenon from the celebrities point of view. It is a neat symmetry, as her short film Fangirl pointed the camera at the other side of the equation. With a great access to her subjects, she captures those moments when the lines between online and IRL become extremely blurry, a common and growing tendency with the new generations.
Untitled Amazing Johnathan Documentary – US Doc
Featured Short: HOW TO LOSE WEIGHT IN FOUR EASY STEPS
Ben Berman is back at Sundance in the US Documentary category with his film Untitled Amazing Johnathan Documentary. This genre bending documentary, where the boundary between the filmmaker and subject becomes unclear, promises to be an entertaining, and highly meta story. Berman is an established comedy director, with commercial spots for Old Spice on his reel as well as work for Comedy Bang Bang. An old hand when it comes to Sundance, his short, How to Lose Weight in Four Easy Steps screened at the festival in 2016, and I’m a Mitzvah premiered in 2014, but we haven’t seen him take on documentaries or features yet, so this new work should be a fun surprise.
HAIL SATAN? – US DOC
Featured Shorts: THE VOYAGERS, JUST ADD WATER
Penny Lane’s fantastic archival doc/personal essay The Voyagers really wowed us in 2011, garnering a spot on our inaugural Awards post in 2012. Since then she’s been a fixture on the indie documentary scene with a mix of features and docs. Hail Satan? is her third feature-length, and promises to profile the Satanic Temple as a religious movement. Sure to raise big issues about contemporary American life and politics, we’re equally certain that it will showcase some of Lane’s trademarked comedic wit and charm as she highlights the surreality of a movement that prominently showcases naked bodies and writhing snakes.
Ivete Lucas + Patrick Bresnan
PAHOKEE – US DOC
Featured Shorts: THE RABBIT HUNT, SKIP DAY
We previewed this upcoming feature in our coverage of The Rabbit Hunt, our pick for Best Documentary of 2017. After a series of award-winning shorts set in the Florida town of Pahokee, Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas take their verité approach to a feature format in documenting the lives of 4 Pahokee teens, capturing their challenges, their fears, and the hopes and expectations thrust upon them from this small community.
JUDY & PUNCH – WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC
Featured Short: FLORENCE HAS LEFT THE BUILDING
Actor/Writer/Director Mirrah Foulkes stayed behind the camera for her feature length directorial debut. Part of Australia’s famous Blue Tongue Collective which gave us Spencer Susser, David Michod and the Edgerton brothers, Foulkes’ Judy & Punch is a period piece that feels more relevant than ever, centered on a strong and determined female character looking for revenge. Her previous short film Florence Has Left The Building already showcased her sharp writing, and likewise centers around a strong woman going after what she wants, albeit in a less dramatic situation.
LATE NIGHT – PREMIERES
Featured Short: Beholder
Nisha Ganatra has extensive experience directing high profile TV comedies such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Last Man on Earth, Love, and Transparent to name a few. It thus seems fitting that she would direct a comedy about the TV Late Night world written by, and featuring, Mindy Kaling. We first encountered her in a totally different context however, when, in 2011, she wrote and directed Beholder, a sci-fi short film that was part of the public television’s Futurestates series—a fun project that could be seen as a predecessor to Black Mirror. It is, unfortunately, one of the few lukewarm reviews on our site, but obviously Ganatra didn’t let that slow her down!
THE BRINK – DOCUMENTARY PREMIERES
Featured Short: WHO’S AFRAID OF AI WEI WEI
Klayman parlayed unique access to the international art superstar Ai Weiwei into a series of works that culminated in her feature debut—the celebrated doc Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry. The piece above was very unusual for us, it is actually a segment of the long-running US reporting program Frontline, but its self-contained nature, and insightful storytelling told us that it was a short film through and through. Maintaining steady work since then, she had her next breakthrough with Take Your Pills, a pharmaceutical industry exposé that premiered at SXSW 2018 and then landed on Netflix right after the fest. The Brink is another new Doc feature, and Klayman is a big enough name to land in the premieres section! A fly on the wall look at former Trump advisor, Steve Bannon, the film promises plenty of political drama, and has already been bought by Magnolia in advance of the fest.
THE DEATH OF DICK LONG – NEXT
Featured Shorts: INTERESTING BALL, POSSIBILIA, POCKETS, MY BEST FRIEND…
Scheinert is one half of DANIELS, the famous directing duo responsible for untold numbers of viral hits. We’ve been singing their praises since 2011, and they seem poised for big things coming off the success of their Sundance feature Swiss Army Man, and with a new feature in the works, Everything Everywhere All At Once. The Death of Dick Long isn’t a DANIELS joint, but should hit some of the same pleasure centers. Two bandmates try to ineptly cover-up their friend’s death, but word spreads fast, and they suck at being smart. The NEXT category is home to some weird cinematic visions, and it will be fun to see how zany this one gets.
Jocelyn Deboer + Dawn Luebbe
GREENER GRASS – MIDNIGHT
Featured Shorts: GREENER GRASS, THE ARRIVAL
Premiering to an award at SXSW 2016, Greener Grass was my favorite film out of that fest, and the two ladies behind it—comedy alums from the UCB—quickly embarked on a film career. Development of the short into a TV series for IFC stalled, but more shorts followed, as well as TV directing gigs, and now Greener Grass has arrived as a feature! I can’t do the bizarre tone of the Deboer and Luebbe’s comedy justice with words—if you haven’t watched the short yet, remedy that now, and we’ll keep our fingers crossed that the feature can re-capture its singular voice.
Becky Sloan + Joseph Pelling
DON’T HUG ME I’M SCARED – INDIE EPISODIC
Featured Shorts: DON’T HUG ME I’M SCARED
The cult favorite webseries is back with new episodes! Fun trivia, the initial short is still the only film we’ve ever featured twice. A Kickstarter campaign allowed the team to expand the web series to 6 episodes, but now, with the backing of UK prod co BLINK, Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared returns as a more conventional 23min pilot premiering in the Indie Episodic category. Don’t worry, Red Guy, Yellow Guy, and Duck are all back though, with new adventures that promise to be just as colorful and twisted.
Samantha Jayne + Arturo Perez Jr.
QUARTER LIFE POETRY – INDIE EPISODIC
Featured Short: Dan Miller
Writer/Actor Samantha Jayne and Director Arturo Perez Jr. join forces again in this new project premiering in the Indie Episodic category. Based on the Instagram account and book by Jayne, Perez directs Quarter Life Poetry, a series of vignettes articulated around poems that will resonate deeply with the young, broke and hangry. Perez had already directed Jayne and her words in Dan Miller where her tone and carefully written character already struck a chord within our team.