This was the first year I was able to see the Sundance Live Action short films. Therefore, the only comparisons I have are to other film festivals and to the Sundance animated shorts from last year.
Many people consider Sundance to be a festival that launches the careers of independent and relatively unknown filmmakers. Each year audiences around the country get to see their live action and animated short film collections.
In their collection description, Sundance stresses diversity, and this is something that is true without a doubt. Ranging from astronauts training in the desert to a BDSM-themed opera remix, the short films brought forth a wide range of emotions. This inconsistency was as much a weakness as a strength, however. Some shorts had clear and provoking deeper meanings, while others were simply entertaining little pieces that didn’t have as much staying power.
One of the best–if not THE best–was “Afronauts,” a fictional recreation of Zambian exiles preparing for a trip to the moon in 1969. Beautifully shot in black and white, it is a chilling commentary on the lengths we go and the sacrifices we make to achieve a perceived goal. My favorite part about this was the actors’ performances that didn’t even require dialogue to do most of the work.
An interesting thing about this collection of films was the importance of the story. Two examples here are “Dawn,” about a young teenager seeking to escape from her sheltered life, and “I think this is the closest to how the footage looked,” about a man striving to recreate the memory of his last day with his mother.
The film quality and production design of these two films is not even in the same ballpark. Yet, despite “Dawn’s” superior look and beautiful shots, I found myself enjoying “footage” much more. “Dawn” plays to tropes and its ending is basically a punchline, whereas “footage” strikes at the raw fears that we all have of losing those closest to us. This was an amazing example of how even films with lower budgets can shine brighter than more cinematic films.
Sundance’s selection of foreign films was refreshing. We had films in Hebrew, French, Russian, English, and a smattering of Mexican Spanish. Not all of them were thrilling, but they were genuine and unflinching depictions of the cultures that produced them. “Love. Love. Love” transported us to Russia and gave us different way to look at intimacy. “I’m a Mitzvah” was a fantastic collision of Hispanic and Jewish cultures in a foreign country.
Overall, a great slate of films. Completely incomparable to the animated films, these films are worth your time if you ever get to see any of them.