Along with all the feature films I watched throughout the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, I was also able to watch a number of shorts. Though I wasn’t able to watch an entire shorts program curated by the programmers, these eight shorts were a diverse group of genres, styles, and topics.
The Affected looks at how a social protest affects every person on an airplane. Set to take off with a refugee who is being deported, one passenger on the plane refuses to sit down and makes a scene claiming that sending the refugee back will kill him and that it is inhumane. We see how a number of different passengers handle this situation.
Director Rikke Gregersen brilliantly never shows the woman yelling and never shows the refugee on the plane. She puts all her focus on everyone else on the plane and their reactions. From the captain who is simply trying to do his job and get the plane in the air to the man who is asleep for the entire confrontation, yet Gregersen does a great job of giving these people full personalities. Great performances from the wonderful ensemble highlight this politically charged, morally ethical, darkly funny script.
Doublespeak is an infuriating, terrifying watch, yet is not a horror movie. Emma (Angela Wong Carbone) meets with her company’s boss and lawyer to discuss a sexual harassment she reported in the workplace. We watch the meeting and the aftermath of it all.
This would be a perfect double feature with 2020’s The Assistant. It’s a cold, dark look at how workplace harassment is handled in today’s world and it is terrifying to see. Carbone wears the stress, sadness, and anger of Emma in her shoulders and her eyes, barely saying anything, yet expressing everything. It is a terrific performance in a chilling, powerful film.
The Fourfold is an eye-opening short that explores of the Indigenous worldview and wisdom based on ancient shamanistic traditions and animistic beliefs in Siberia and Mongolia.
I was floored by this film in every way. This is the first time that I can think of that brought me into a world like this. I know nothing about the Siberian and Mongolian beliefs, and this taught me a lot about their way of thinking. I was also blown away by the stop-motion animation, that was so creative and added extra layers to the topic. The Fourfold is interesting, brilliant, and beautiful.
GNT looks at a woman who is desperate to be at the top of her clique and make it as a social media star and finds the opportunity to do so in an unpopular way.
Though only a speedy four minutes, GNT is a wildly effective animated short. The interesting animation draws you in immediately. Mixing black and white with some bright color spots, the film has a unique and expressive look to it, which only matches the manic energy of the film. I loved the voice work and the messaging about social media success and the things people will do to be famous could not be more relevant.
THE TOUCH OF THE MASTER’S HAND
The Touch of the Master’s Hand looks at Hyde (Samuel Sylvester), a young Mormon missionary in Mexico on some kind of retreat. Hyde is continuously having impure thoughts and feels shame when he is asked to confess to the mission’s president.
Writer/director Gregory Barnes takes us into the world of the Mormon religion, giving us an idea of what being a Mormon is like and growing up in the Mormon church, which is something I know nothing about. The bright, heaven-like lighting mixed with the rustic but bright set design give the film a great look. Sylvester gives an excellent performance as our troubled lead and the film balances its religious themes with humor nicely. This is a smart, insightful, amusing film.
UP AT NIGHT
How do you live in total darkness? In a few Congo neighborhoods that is what they must deal with every single day, as these neighborhoods live in complete darkness after the sun sets due to the building of a hydroelectric dam, which promises a permanent source of energy to the Congo. Though they are promised a new source of energy, these neighborhoods live in an environment of violence, political conflict, and uncertainty.
Up At Night is an in-depth look at how these neighborhoods survive and live during this and it is brutal to watch. Tons of semi-functioning flashlights are the main source of light, but most of these people just sit in the darkness. But it isn’t just the darkness these people are facing, it’s basic things, like fire extinguishers to put out fires, like the one that burned a family’s home down and killed everyone inside. Director Nelson Makengo shows us everything in a unique fashion by giving us three screens at once to show us different angles and different aspects happening. It’s a great use of the footage he captured, though it was a little tough to follow everything that was happening when the subtitles were going on, as you wanted to watch everything happening on screen, yet were unable too. Still, this is a powerful documentary showing one of the many problems that face less fortunate countries.
Wiggle Room sees Daisy (Deanna Gibson), confined to a wheelchair, traveling to an insurance office to collect money that is owed to her and her family for a wheelchair ramp that was purchased over a year ago. However, Daisy’s journey hits a huge bump in the road when she meets with a scummy insurance agent.
Though the end goes a little bit off the rails, Wiggle Room acts as a heartbreaking drama and revenge film all rolled into one. The film highlights how terrible the insurance system is for the less fortunate and how depressing how a world it can be. Directors Julia Baylis and Sam Guest shows how dark this world can be with dark, cold cinematography and setting. Gibson’s performance is sensational, and Sam Stillman plays the scummy insurance agent perfectly.
YOU WOULDN’T UNDERSTAND
A man (Anthony Arkin) is having an idyllic picnic by himself. He has his food, a good book, and a stunning view. But then a man wearing all white (Jacob A. Ware) shows up and changes everything.
You Wouldn’t Understand is a wildly inventive, fun, wild ride. I had no idea where this movie was going to go or what was going to happen, and I was surprised at every turn. The look and vibe to the film is one of wonder, confusion, and insanity and Ware’s performance is spectacular. Saying anything about the events that take place will spoil the fun, but You Wouldn’t Understand was as original as anything I’ve seen in a long time.
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