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Daniel Walber

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Daniel Walber is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. He sometimes wishes he were French Canadian, loves any movie under 80 minutes, and is gay for Bette Davis.

The 15 Must-See Sundance Shorts

When it comes to a film festival, size matters. At an event like Sundance, which is as much of a market as it is a showcase for the best in independent cinema, the feature films invariably hog the lion’s share of the attention, which is a shame because Sundance has a long tradition of offering a wonderful lineup of short films from around the world. That being said, no type of film – at least when it comes to distribution – has benefited from the internet the way that shorts have, and Sundance has been quick to embrace that, making several of the best shorts at this year’s festival available to stream online. Below, we round up some of our favorites.

“Afronauts” – Frances Bodomo
Zambians in Space. This is director Frances Bodomo’s second Sundance film following last year’s “Boneshaker,” a short starring Quvenzhané Wallis. Her newest, “Afronauts,”is the story of the Zambia Space Academy trying to beat the United States to the Moon in 1969. It’s “inspired by true events” and the trailer is awesome.

“Burger” – Magnus Mork

Magnus Mork’s first short film, “Flatmates,” won a number of awards in Norway and showed a real intuition for the sex-crazed clumsiness of overgrown youth. “Burger,” his newest, returns to the world of the twenty-something with a vengeance. Drunk, rowdy Brits fill up a kebab joint late at night, and Mork lets us sit back and watch the meticulously edited fireworks. And you can watch the whole thing on YouTube already!

“Catherine” – Dean Fleischer-Camp

Dean Fleischer-Camp and comedian Jenny Slate are already hilarious and prolific collaborators. “Marcel the Shell” is probably their biggest hit, but “Bestie by Bestie” is also pretty brilliant. This time they’re going for something even dryer, assembling a theatrical short from a prior web series. “Catherine” is a comedy so deadpan that one worries that the characters are just a hair’s breadth away from a violent psychotic break. It’s defiantly ridiculous and available in full on YouTube.

“Choreography” – David Redmon and Ashley Sabin

David Redmon and Ashley Sabin are the directors of acclaimed feature documentaries, such as “Girl Model,” “Intimidad” and “Downeast.” Their newest film is nine minutes long and about donkeys. I cannot wait.

“Dawn” – Rose McGowan

Rose McGowan’s directorial debut, “Dawn” is a brutal and perhaps even cold coming of age story. Yet in spite of its chill, it fascinates with the way it treats the innocence of 1960s youth and the horror of growing up too fast. Or maybe McGowan is just a little depraved, and good for her.

“The End of eating Everything” – Wangechi Mutu

Commissioned by the Nasher Museum of Art as part of a new exhibition of her work (currently at the Brooklyn Museum), “The End of eating Everything” is artist Wangechi Mutu’s first foray into animation. Her large scale collages are extraordinary works of surreal beauty, and the trailer for this short suggests that her moving images are equally stunning. Starring Santigold, “The End of eating Everything” seems to exist in an entirely new universe, a cosmos somewhere between “Leviathan” and The Brothers Quay.

“Gregory Go Boom” – Janicza Bravo

Janicza Bravo’s first short, “Eat,” premiered at SXSW in 2011. It’s both unsettling and a little bit funny, and you can watch it here. Her newest film takes the darkness of “Eat” and doubles down, following a paraplegic Michael Cera on his quest to strike out on his own and find a woman. This pursuit is not helped by the fact that he’s basically a total jerk, which Bravo exacerbates by cultivating a distinct sense of doom. It’s quite something, and it’s available to watch now on YouTube.

“The Lion’s Mouth Opens” – Lucy Walker

A new Lucy Walker film is always worth seeing. She’s had quite the prolific year, actually, with three short documentaries in addition to “The Crash Reel.” This new one is a young actress facing the possibility of Huntington’s Disease. Parallels with Walker’s recent look into the post-injury life of snowboarder Kevin Pearce may emerge, but mostly it’s just intriguing to see yet another character study from this always empathetic filmmaker.

“Marilyn Myller” – Mikey Please

Animator Mikey Please’s Oscar shortlisted thesis film, “The Eagleman Stag”, was the best short of 2011. I mean that. You can watch it on his website. His new short, “Marilyn Myller,” looks like another fusion of immensely ambitious philosophy, staggeringly intricate stop-motion and a surprisingly nuanced intuition for character. We should all be very excited.

“Notes on Blindness” – Peter Middleton and James Spinney

This is a bit of a turn for filmmakers Peter Middleton and James Spinney, whose comedy-drama film “Wavelengths” was a hit on the festival circuit in 2012. This time they’ve made a documentary of sorts, an adaptation of the audio diary of writer and theologian John Hull. The thinker went blind in 1983, and these are his reflections from much later in life. It’s a meditation on loss, parenthood and the simple beauties of cognition. It’s also on YouTube in full.

“Of God and Dogs” – Abounaddara Collective

In 2010, Abounaddara Collective was formed by a group of anonymous Syrian filmmakers to counter prevailing images of Syrian society. This particular film is the confession of a young soldier, racked with guilt over his killing of an innocent man, and furious with God over the act. As a documentary it looks fascinating, and as an act of subversive, revolutionary art it might be something of a miracle.

“One Billion Rising” – Eve Ensler and Tony Stroebel

Eve Ensler, Tony Award-winning writer of “The Vagina Monologues” and founder of V-Day, co-directed this documentary with South African cinematographer Tony Stroebel. The subject is V-Day 2013, in which a billion people participated in a world-wide mass action to end violence against women. The film looks like an impressively global affair, and a well-shot one at that.

“Person to Person” – Dustin Guy Defa

Dustin Guy Defa has an offbeat filmography, bouncing between fiction and non-fiction, features and shorts. His “Declaration of War” and “Lydia Hoffman Lydia Hoffman” were hits at BAM Cinemafest last summer, and his feature “Bad Fever” premiered at SXSW in 2012. His newest, “Person to Person,” looks like a new twist on an old theme, an awkward and portentous meeting of strangers that worked so well in “Lydia Hoffman Lydia Hoffman.”

“Rat Pack Rat” – Todd Rohal

The best word to describe Todd Rohal’s “Rat Pack Rat” is probably “grotesque.” This is entirely on purpose, of course. This bleak and aggressively stranger tale of a Sammy Davis Jr. impersonator down on his luck and taking shady Craigslist clients is nothing if not willfully unpleasant. The house call in question involves a young man on a respirator, a birthday and a great deal of physical awkwardness. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s definitely remarkable.

“Syndromeda” – Patrik Eklund

Swedish filmmaker Patrk Eklund got an Oscar nomination for his 2008 short comedy “Instead of Abracadabra”, which was well-deserved (watch it here). That said, I actually think his follow-up short “Seeds of the Fall” is even better, more absurd. His Sundance short “Syndromeda,” a comedy about alien abduction, looks to fit perfectly into his style of bleak, deadpan ridiculousness.


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Tags: Daniel Walber, Rose McGowan, Short films, Sundance, Sundance 2014, Todd rohal