Your Sundance 2021 Short Film Guide

Here are the short films we recommend you stream at Sundance this year!

For the first time ever, Sundance is a fully-digital experience. Instead of bringing the world to Park City, Utah, the hub of Sundance is coming to the world! This is an exciting opportunity to see well-curated shorts and exciting premieres. Out of the 50 short films playing at this year’s fest, here’s the list of the films we most recommend you check out.

BAMBIRAK

THE SUNDANCE LOGLINE: When Kati stows away in her father’s truck, Faruk must juggle his responsibilities as a single dad while holding down his first job in a new country. As their relationship deepens, a brush with covert racism tests their bond.

WHAT WE KNOW: Director Zamarin Wahdat is perhaps best known for her cinematography work on the Oscar-winning short Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re A Girl). To learn more about Zamarin’s collaboration on that project, read our interview with the director. This is clearly a personal project, as it deals with those from Afghanistan living in Germany (Wahdat is from both). Whether the experience is auto-biographical or not, Wahdat is surely going to bring the realism ever-present in her documentary projects. But as a fiction film, it also has an eye for composition and finding the beauty even in small moments (or tragic moments). Due to its themes and strong sense of place and character, this could be a big jury award contender.

WHAT TO WATCH FIRST: Learning To Skateboard In A Warzone (If You’re A Girl)

DOUBLESPEAK

THE SUNDANCE LOGLINE: A young woman grapples with the aftermath of reporting sexual harassment in the workplace.

WHAT WE KNOW: Miniflix was fortunate enough to review Hazel McKibbin’s electrifying and tense short film when it premiered online last year. Relying on an inherently dramatic situation (a woman facing the bureaucratic nightmare of reporting sexual harassment) and using strong visual and editing choices to ratchet up the tension (and fear) of the male aggressor, DOUBLESPEAK is a strong entry in this year’s lineup. If you’re looking for a cinematic take on #MeToo that isn’t preachy (but instead very experiential), then this is a short film we highly recommend.

WHAT TO WATCH FIRST: For a great companion piece on workplace harassment and the hurdles women face to get the truth out, watch Tiffany Kontoyiannis’ NON DISCLOSURE.

THE FIRE NEXT TIME

THE SUNDANCE LOGLINE: Rioting spreads as social inequality causes tempers in a struggling community to flare, but the oppressive environment takes on a life of its own as the shadows of the housing estate close in.

WHAT WE KNOW: This unique take on the social justice events of the last year combines multiple forms of animation to tell its story about inequality and outrage. Using the same title as James Baldwin’s essay, this clearly is a short film interested in being part of a larger linear of progressive thinking.

WHAT TO WATCH FIRST: We’re going with a Sundance pick from two years ago (that’s now a Vimeo Staff Pick). It’s called SHIP: A VISUAL POEM. It’s by Terrance Daye and it deals with similar experiences of black youth and trying to grow up in an unjust world.

I RAN FROM IT AND WAS STILL IN IT

THE SUNDANCE LOGLINE: A poetic meditation on familial loss and separation, as well as the love that endures against dispersion.

WHAT WE KNOW: The recent winner at Locarno is an extremely personal and essayistic look at Black being in today’s America. By combining archival footage, home found footage and mood-setting shots of pure cinema, director Darol Olu Kae has created a unique and enigmatic style for his experience. To learn more about the film and Kae’s process, read our extended interview with him.

WHAT TO WATCH FIRST: Before venturing out on his own, Kae worked with Kahlil Joseph on the exhibition art series BLKNWS. See an excerpt from this when it played at Venice in 2019.

THE RIFLEMAN

THE SUNDANCE LOGLINE: Told entirely through archival material tracing Harlon Carter, considered the “father of the modern NRA,” across the decades, this short film reveals the links between the National Rifle Association, the U.S. Border Patrol, and gun culture.

WHAT WE KNOW: This is surely to be one of the more controversial shorts playing at this year’s festival. Yet it’s a very important conversation (about gun control and government policy) that we need to be having right now. So what better way than through a cleverly-constructed short documentary that follows the father of the NRA? Director Sierra Pettengill has plenty of experience with documentary and archival methods, so we can’t wait to see what happens here.

WHAT TO WATCH FIRST: For more historical context around gun culture in America, PBS has put together a documentary called TOWER. It goes into the details before, during and after the fateful 1966 sniper attack on University of Texas’ campus.

SOUVENIR SOUVENIR

THE SUNDANCE LOGLINE: For 10 years, I’ve pretended to make a movie out of my grandfather’s Algerian war souvenirs. Today, I’m not sure I want to hear what he has to say.

WHAT WE KNOW: This looks to be an intensely personal exploration of time and memory. One of the most interesting features from trailers and stills is how the film blends an animated world with real-life photographic stills. No matter what the colors, animation and movement project, the film reminds you that it is grounded in a very specific reality. This dance between form and content will be really interesting to see play out in its Sundance screening.

WHAT TO WATCH NEXT: The Vimeo Staff Pick and highly-regarded GUAXUMA is another film that uses real-life artifacts juxtaposed with animated elements to tell a highly personalized story.

YOU WOULDN’T UNDERSTAND

THE SUNDANCE LOGLINE: An idyllic picnic of one is upended after the arrival of a stranger.

WHAT WE KNOW: We want to end the list with a fun and zany selection. This short is directed by Trish Harnetiaux, a playwright. So while the film’s trailer suggests this is merely a visual watch, we’re sure to expect some solid dialogue and an interesting premise to hook us in. Not much is known but we have to believe it will give people plenty to talk about once they’ve seen it.

WHAT TO WATCH NEXT: While “Greener Grass” is now a hit feature on the festival circuit, did you know its quirky, idiosyncratic premise started as a short film? Taking a Wes Anderson aesthetic to its darkest and most strange conclusions, this modern cult classic is a must watch. We suspect it will be a perfect pairing with this film.

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