Presenting a consumable cross-section of the 35 shorts that played at this past January’s Sundance Film Festival, the 2017 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour offers seven films of varying length, subject matter, and execution. All of the selected seven are well made, present a specific perspective, and are engaging. What more could a moviegoer ask for?
Come Swim, Kristen Stewart’s first foray into writing and directing, is a fractured dream/hallucination/foreshadow of an unnamed man (Josh Kaye) who both fears and needs the water. He downs water by the bottle, he hears the surf wherever he goes—as well as an unknown woman’s voice—and is constantly tormented by the rain as he tries to enjoy a meal at Waffle House. Stewart provides little story but plenty of impressionistic editing, asking more questions than providing answers.
Of all the shorts featured in the program, 5 Films About Technology, a satirical short from Canadian Peter Huang, is the one I would most like to see expanded into a feature. Using a La Ronde-like structure, 5 Films is sharp, smart, and effortless connects each character, mainly through moments of stupidity. It’s humorous look into the mirror.
Night Shift, from writer/director/producer Marshall Tyler, is a thin-slice of an LA club bathroom attendant’s night. Not only is the attendant (TV on the Radio singer Tunde Adebimpe) in the middle of a divorce, his job revolves around looking after drunken middle-aged frat boys. Working with sparse dialogue, Adebimpe gives a resonant performance of a man of dignity who has found himself in a much lower position than he could have predicted.
In Lucia, Before and After, writer/director Anu Valia keeps the story close to Lucia (Sarah Goldberg), a woman who travels a great distance to abort her pregnancy at a Texas clinic. The clinic requires a 24-hour waiting period between ultrasound and abortion, forcing Lucia to wait around longer than she wanted. Short on cash, Lucia tries to get a free room at a rundown motel, walks out on a bar tab, and whittles away her 24-hours stay in Purgatory. A pitch-perfect naturalistic performance from Goldberg helped Lucia nab the Jury Award for Short Fiction.
Ten Meter Tower, from directors Maximilien Van Aertryck and Axel Danielson, is a study in hesitation as swimmers at a Swedish pool confront the challenge of the ten-meter tower (a little over 32 feet). Using static cameras, mainly the one focused on the diving platform, a range of emotions, heroics, and comedy plays out. In a couple of instances, the directors employ the use of the phantom cam (a super-slow motion camera) to capture the art of the jump, notably Elin Astrom, a diver on the Swedish team.
From Poland, Pussy is an animated short about a woman who indulges in a little alone time after the cable goes out. What starts as a simple comedy of starts and stops turns psychedelic when her vagina sprouts arms and legs, climbs off her crotch and begins seeking pleasure on its own. Written, directed, and animated by relative newcomer Renata Gąsiorowska (with animation assistance from Agnieszka Borowa).
The 2017 Sundance Shorts Traveling program concludes with the winner of the Jury Award for International Short Film: And the Whole Sky Fit In the Dead Cow’s Eye, from writer/director Francisca Alegría. This meditation on death opens with a field of dead cows—with no indication of how they died—and continues when Death visits 85-year-old Emeteria (Shenda Román). But Death has not come for her; he has come for someone else.
And the Whole Sky Fit In the Dead Cow’s Eye is a moody and atmospheric short, one that is exactly as long as it needs to be. Any longer and it would drag. Any shorter and it would leave too many questions. That is the beauty of short films; they are not beholden to the tyranny of feature length runtimes and can be as concise or loose as they want to be.