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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 MeantTo 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.
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.
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.
“Jeffrey Epstein got away with what he got away with because of who was in his address book.”
— John Cook, The Insider
Directed by Barbara Corbellini Duarte and Mark Adam Miller, The Other Little Black Book is a fascinating short documentary about a recently discovered “little black book” that may have been owned by Jeffrey Epstein.
In the mid-1990s, Denise Ondayko discovered the address book on a 5th Avenue sidewalk in New York City. Decades later, collector of the obscurities, Christopher Helali, took ownership of the book, sending it off to Insider for authentication. That little book is a small window into a world of power and corruption.
The Other Little Black Book was part of the 2022 Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival
“What happens to brown girls who never learn who to love themselves brown?”
Dominicans have a long and tortured relationship with their hair. As a Dominican-American woman I know this all too well. My mother and grandmother were both hairstylists who specialized in relaxing Dominican hair to a more culturally appealing state. Wearing one’s hair “natural” was looked down upon. The pain of not being something acceptable and having to change yourself to fit an aesthetic is passed on from generation and the harm lingers for years.
This is why I’m grateful for the precious gift that is The Ritual of Beauty (2022). Directed by Shenny De Los Angeles and Maria Marrone, is a short documentary that sheds light on the social custom of straightening hair and how it keeps Dominican women from loving themselves. The doc focuses on a young Dominican woman who is on a journey to embrace her natural hair. And in doing so, she examines the stories of her mother and grandmother whose different relationships with their own hair spoke volumes of what they thought about themselves. The doc is haunting and poetic and revealing. A truly amazing film.
The Ritual to Beauty was part of the 2022 Slamdance FIlm Festival line-up.
Any woman who has grown up in a culture that prizes male heirs over female children know all too well the pain of being a father’s disappointment. Diana had a great relationship with her Vietnamese father during her childhood in the Czech Republic. However, when, after three miscarriages, her mother finally got pregnant again, their relationship came to an abrupt end. Diana’s father left the family, looking to start again in hopes of continuing the bloodline with his name.
Love, Dad/Milý Tati is a heart-wrenching short film about a young girl who remembers her dad and the bond they had before it was cruelly taken away. It’s beautiful, poetic and deeply melancholic. Directed by Diana Cam Van Nguyen, it tells the story through letters, memories and gorgeous cut paper art.
I was quite moved by this 13 minute film. I’m the third of a string of daughters born to a man who desperately wanted a son. I was lucky that my father never expressed any form of disappointment in only having daughters but I did feel the pang of guilt when the family name died with him.
Love, Dad/Milý Tati premiered at the 2021 AFI Fest as part of their Shorts Competition.