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2023 Slamdance Film Festival: Short Films

One of the great joys of attending the Slamdance Film Festival is getting to see so many creative and experimental short films. I always love to see what these independent filmmakers have to offer.

Here is a selection of my favorites from this year’s line-up.

TOOTH (4-1/2 minutes)

Directed by Jillian Corsie, written by Katie Gault

Cast: Janine Peck

Teeth are a great source of anxiety. At some point everyone is plagued by intrusive thoughts about their teeth. Am I brushing enough? Is my dentist judging me for how much I (don’t) floss? Am I grinding my teeth into oblivion?

For director Jillian Corsie, her intrusive thought was “What would happen if I were brushing my teeth and they all fell out?.” Her writer friend Katie Gault’s response was “Well, they’d come to life and kill you, of course.”

This idea blossomed into the short horror comedy TOOTH. We see a woman (Janine Peck) diligently clean her teeth day after day. Brush, floss, gargle, repeat. And the teeth… we’ll they’ve had enough of the abuse. And now it’s time for revenge. 

This is such a brilliant short horror film. It really taps into our shared fears of dental hygiene. I especially enjoyed watching the 3D animated teeth (which are real teeth that came from the director’s mouth!) go to town on their victim. So much fun. And not for the squeamish!

MY EYES ARE UP HERE (15 minutes)

Directed by Nathan Morris, Written by Arthur Meek and Aminder Virdee

Cast: Jillian Mercado and Ben Cura

A drunken hookup leads to a morning adventure in this sexy romantic dramedy. A fashion model (Jillian Mercado) traveling to London for work wakes up in bed next to the studio assistant (Ben Cura) she met the day before. The condom broke during their late night rendezvous which leads to a trip to the pharmacy for the morning after pill. Along the way, she faces challenges of discrimination and accessibility as she navigates the city as a disabled person. This is a very sweet film about attraction and empathy. Great chemistry between the two leads.

LOLLYGAG (10 minutes)

Written and Directed by Tij D’oyen, Produced by Cameron Morton

Cast: Isaac Powell, Alex Sarrigeorgiou and Gaby Slape

Lollygag relishes in voyeurism, hedonism and the macabre. A young woman peers through her window over at the young man next door. He’s tall, dark and handsome. Lounges by the pool all day and is visited by numerous lovers. Instead of interacting with her neighbor, the woman decides she’ll stick with her fantasy even when things get gruesome. This Greek horror comedy definitely has Yorgos Lanthimos vibes. A delicious treat for the morbidly curious who relish the details but can’t stand the gore.

DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT (12 minutes)

Directed by Melissa Kong

Cast: Hanah Chang, Allyson Womack

Hannah (Hanah Chang) is dealing with a lot. Her father recently passed away and she’s not handling it well. Also, she suffers from contamination OCD which leads her to have a high level anxiety of things to be clean and results in excessive hygiene compulsions. At the behavioral health center she works with counselor Callie (Allyson Womack) on a level 7 exposure: eating a chocolate chip cookie off of a toilet seat. Don’t Worry About It offers a nice balance of comedy and awareness. There are plenty of humorous moments to enjoy especially with Hannah’s interactions with the other patients. The viewer can’t help but feel invested in Hannah’s journey and will root her on while she struggles to reach her goal.

Sundance 2023: Short Films

The hybrid Sundance Film Festival kicked off this week. I’ll be attending virtually with coverage on a variety of feature films and documentaries. In the meantime, let’s kick off my coverage with some of my favorite short films from this year’s Sundance line-up.

A still from Inglorious Liaisons by Chloe Alliez and Violette Delvoye, an official selection of the Shorts program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.All photos are copyrighted and may be used by the press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.
Still from Inglorious Liaisons (2023). Courtesy of Sundance.

Inglorious Liaisons (Les liaisons foireuses)

directed by Chloé Alliez and Violette Delvoye

Starting off with my favorite from this year’s festival, Inglorious Liaisons is a superb stop-animation short about attraction and expectation. Youths convene at a party and they go through the traditional rituals of drinking, dancing, flirting and playing a game of spin the bottle. An attraction sparks between two young women but societal pressure forces them to be matched boys they’re only mildly interested in. The characters are all light switches with wigs and painted on clothes. There are lots of small details to enjoy in the form of carefully designed miniatures. But what impressed me the most about this short was how it perfectly captures the subtle intricacies of physical attraction.

Kali Racquel, Deirdre Friel, Nicole Michelle Haskins, Dana Powell, Rachel Harris and Kate Flannery appear in Help Me Understand by Aemilia Scott, an official selection of the U.S. Shorts program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Mike Maliwanag
Still from Help Me Understand (2023). Courtesy of Sundance.

Help Me Understand

directed by Aemilia Scott

cast: Kali Raquel, Deirdre Friel, Nicole Michelle Haskins, Dana Powell, Rachel Harris, Kate Flannery, Ken Marino

When a group of corporate women are tasked to decide between two bottles of laundry detergent, it’s clear that the man leading the study wants them all to pick A. And most of them do pick A. That is until they all realize that there is one outlier. One of the women prefers B. Can they come to a consensus? Help Me Understand is like a modern day 12 Angry Men (1957) in a corporate setting. It demonstrates the dangers of caving to a single mindset and showcases the benefits of female solidarity. Thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable.

Kitoko Mai appears in Thriving: A Dissociated Reverie  by Nicole Bazuin, an official selection of the Shorts program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.
Still from Thriving: A Dissociated Reverie (2023). Courtesy of Sundance

Thriving: A Dissociated Reverie

Directed by Nicole Bazuin

Cast: Kitoko Mai, Dustin Hickey, Myfanwy Charlesworth, Morgan Bargent, Grace McDonald, Andrea Werhun

As a fan of Nicole Bazuin’s short films Modern Whore and Last Night at the Strip Club, I was excited to see another offering from this director. Thriving: A Dissociated Reverie has the same style and vibe as Bazuin’s previous work—and even includes a small role for Andrea Werhun who was the subject of two of her shorts. Thriving is about a Black, nonbinary , disabled artist and her experience with DID (dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder). Based on Kitoko Mai’s real-life experience, Mai plays the host and alter Cheyenne, while other actors play the remaining alters. Stylish, sex-positive and educational, Thriving treats a sensitive subject with great reverence.

Adina Verson and Michael Braun appear in Troy by Mike Donahue, an official selection of the Shorts program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Ryan De Franco.
Still from Troy (2022). Courtesy of Sundance.

Troy

Directed by Mike Donahue

Cast: Adina Verson, Michael Braun, Florian Klein, Dylan Baker, Dana Delaney

New York City couple Thea (Adina Verson) and Charlie (Michael Braun) share a wall with their neighbor Troy (Florian Klein). The trouble is Troy is loud. VERY loud. He’s a full-time escort serving a male clientele and Thea and Charlie can hear every single sound. The couple soon becomes invested in what’s going on on the other side of the wall. Troy is a lighthearted film about the social complexities of urban life. It does a fabulous job demonstrating how we learn to adjust to our environment.

Still from The Family Circus (2023). Courtesy of Sundance.

The Family Circus

Directed by Andrew Fitzgerald

Cast: Elyse Dinh, Michael Ironside, Scott Subiono, Michael Nguyen Manceau, Blake Dang, Christian Seavey

A mixed Vietnamese-American family faces a crisis when their wayward son gets into a drunk driving accident. No one is hurt but if the police catch on to what happened their son will go back to prison. The father concocts a plan to have their other son pretend to have caused the accident. When they call the police, their plan seems to work. That is, until the police officer becomes a little too comfortable. The Family Circus has a terrific build-up that leads to an incredibly satisfying ending. Pay close attention to Elyse Dinh’s performance as the family matriarch.

Still from We Were Meant To (2023). Courtesy of Sundance.

We Were Meant To

Directed by Tari Wariebi

Cast: Tim Johnson Jr., Amin Joseph, Karimah Westbrook, Jordan-Amanda Hall, Skye Barrett, Luke Tennie

Directed by Tari Wariebi and co-written with Christina K. Licud, We Were Meant To imagines a world where young black men sprout feathers and wings and take flight in a cultural rite of passage. Akil (Tim Johnson Jr.) is a teen in high school who just came into his new wings. He and his friends travel through their community looking for the perfect spot for their first flight. However, No Fly Zone signs are posted all over town and a drone follows their every move. Akil prepares for his big day but unfortunately the odds are stacked against him. We Were Meant To is symbolic of the plight of young black men in American society. Even something joyful as a first flight is seen as a threat by a drone meant to represent an unnamed law enforcement. It’s an inherently political film with a strong social message skillfully disguised as a coming-of-age story with a touch magical realism. This short could easily be expanded to a feature length film.

Sefu Weber-kal appears in Mulika by Maisha Maene, an official selection of the Shorts program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.
Still from Mulika (2023). Courtesy of Sundance.

Mulika

Directed by Maisha Maene

Cast: Sefu Weber-Kal, Faustin Biyoga, Ibrahim Twaha, Sarah Bahati

When an “afronaut” (Sefu Weber-Kal) emerges from his spaceship, he finds himself in the volcanic crater of Mount Nyiragongo in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This mysterious figure travels to Goma where he encounters locals and goes on a spiritual journey of enlightenment. Mulika is written and directed by Africanfuturist filmmaker Maisha Maene.  Sefu Weber-Kal plays the lead role of the afronaut wears a silvery suit adorned with switchboard like plates and an illuminated helmet. The suit suggests that the afronaut symbolizes technology and DRC’s mineral rich land. An encounter with an older man dressed in more natural garb suggests a coming together of both the old and the new. Cryptic and thought-provoking.

A still from Pro Pool by Alec Pronovost, an official selection of the Shorts program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.
Still from Pro Pool (2023). Courtesy of Sundance.

Pro Pool (Piscine Pro)

Directed by Alec Pronovost

Cast: Louis Carrière, Alexis Martin, Sylvie de Morais, Sébastien Rajotte, Oussama Fares, Louis Girard-Bock

Charles-Olivier (Louis Carrière) recently graduated with a degree in history and a minor in Viking studies. With no real job prospects in his chosen field, he reluctantly applies for a job a pool store. The film follows Charles-Olivier as he becomes purposefully terrible at his job and releases his frustrations by singing to hardcore metal in his car. Written and directed by Quebecois filmmaker Alec Pronovost, who himself used to work at a Club Piscine, this irreverent comedy gives a big middle finger to those meaningless jobs many of us have to endure at one point in our lives. Pro Pool is reminiscent of both Billy Budd and Office Space and offers modern sensibility that Gen Z-ers will easily identify with.

Double Exposure: The Family Statement

Directed by Grace Harper and Kate Stonehill, The Family Statement is a 15 minute compilation of WhatsApp messages exchanged by the Sackler family during the time of their lawsuit. The Sackler family is particularly notorious for their company Purdue Pharma, which marketed and distributed OxyContin and is considered the root cause for the deadly opioid epidemic. Its alleged that the Sacklers filed for bankruptcy during the lawsuit as a means to shield themselves from financial loss.

The WhatsApp message, released in December 2020, are shown against images of your typical American suburban landscapes. The messages appear in small white text making it difficult for the viewer to read. This, and the fact that the messages aren’t that revelatory, strips the film of any real shock value. Throughout the film there are also snippets of pre-court interviews with the Sacklers. Will appeal to anyone interested in getting more insight into the opioid epidemic.

The Family Statement was part of the 2022 Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival.

Double Exposure: Sealed in Blood

Since the Iran-Contra Affair, US presidents have taken a firm stance that the government does not negotiate with terrorists. This stance leaves the families of those kidnapped and held captive by terrorists in an impossible situation. Directed by Sofian Kahn, Sealed in Blood examines this issue through the lens of one story, that of the family of  journalist Steven Sotloff, who in 2014 was kidnapped and killed by ISIS terrorists.

The documentary effectively evokes a sense of helplessness and brings back to light a dark time in recent history.

Sealed in Blood was part of the 2022 Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival.

Double Exposure: 8 Days at Ware

Directed by Meg Shutzer and Rachel Lauren Mueller, 8 Days at Ware is a sobering exposé of the inhumane treatment of minors at the Ware Youth Center in Louisiana. This 27 minute documentary tells the story of two troubled youths and the juvenile detention system that failed them. In one case, a 13 year old is put in isolation and commits suicide after just 8 days at the facility. Another case follows an investigation into officer abuse when a youth suffers a head injury after an altercation. 

8 Days at Ware offers viewers insight into a damaged system that ultimately creates a vicious cycle of abuse for anyone who gets trapped in it.

8 Days at Ware was part of the 2022 Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival.

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