Looking for the Freshest Films at Sundance? Seek Out the Shorts
"Filmmakers are using shorts to explore the world of a story they're interested in—that can lead to very unique and challenging films."
Something about the narrowed runtime of a short film can open all kinds of creative possibilities that a feature may not be able to explore in the long form. As a result, the short films being programmed at Sundance this year offer windows into the most daring experiments and topical subjects that filmmakers are tackling.
As a Sundance Short Film Programmer, Emily Doe gets to see thousands of these experiments first-hand, and develops an eye for trends that emerge out of a such a big selection. "We received over 9,000 short film submissions, so trends are certainly endless," says Doe. "Working from memory, I can make hundreds of connections between films. Thinking about some of the shorts we are programming this year, there are some definite trends that emerged in terms of style and subject matter. When you look at what's going on in our culture right now, a lot of that is reflected in the short films at the festival, which tells you what a lot of filmmakers have on their minds."
"...of the 68 shorts in the program, 34 of them are female directors. We hope that we continue to see that happen."
Before getting into the trends emerging across the shorts, Doe made an interesting note about who is making the shorts playing at Sundance this year: "I don’t know if this is considered a trend, but it's certainly something that we pay attention to – of the 68 shorts in the program, 34 of them are female directors. We hope that we continue to see that happen."
Doe sat down with No Film School to give us some insight into prominent trends her programming team noticed this year. Here's a taste of what fellow filmmakers are playing with in the short form right now.
Style: Colors, Drones, and Aspect Ratio
In terms of aesthetics, Doe noticed a few particular common threads. "We don't look for this when we program a film, but we noticed these trends. We noted that we saw a lot more use of drone shots this year. Drones are being used now a lot for establishing shots. Part of that is seeing what technologies filmmakers are learning to play with and incorporate into a style they already have. On the flip side, we are seeing a lot of 4:3 aspect ratio. We also saw a lot of brighter color palettes this year."
Emily Doe cited the Midnight short, A Nearly Perfect Blue Sky by Quarxx, as a stylistic gem with a unique story, a strong set and costume design, and a filmmaker who is fully committed to his vision.
Big Issues: Social Media, Race, and Authority
According to Doe, short films like I Know You From Somewhere, 5 Films About Technology, Toru, and Deer Squad are good examples of how filmmakers are reflecting on the role of technology and social media in our lives, either through the subject, or the way the short is filmed.
Additionally, short films like American Paradise, New Neighbors, Project X, Alone, and Broken - The Women's Prison at Hoheneck, give us a taste of two types of relationships filmmakers are exploring: race relations and power struggles with the authorities, governing bodies, and cops. American Paradise, for example, is based on a true story about the perfect crime in post-Trump America.
Poignant Stories of Refugees & Immigration from International Filmmakers
"If you look at the international films, there are a lot of poignant stories about the state of refugees," says Doe. With numbers of displaced refugees in the world right now overshadowing numbers World War II, it’s not surprise. Mare Nostrum, White Riot: London, and Dear Mr Shakespeare (which you can watch online below) are three films that exemplify a trend of filmmakers addressing the subject.
Genre of Near-Future Post-Apocalypse
What is it about a global, catastrophic event that has populated our minds of late? Something about underdogs starting fresh usually resonates too. An interesting illustration of this one is inventive entry Dawn of the Deaf, where an unknown sound wipes out the hearing population at which point a small group of Deaf people must band together to survive.
A Sundance Worthy Camera?
Not surprisingly, Doe noted that people are shooting on everything. "If someone is shooting a short on the RED, we say, 'Oh wow, that looks very fancy.' But sometimes that can be distracting, too. Bigger, more expensive doesn’t always mean better. I think it's really about the relationship between what the filmmaker has made and what the film is about. Films that have a grittier story to tell could be better served by shooting on something more lo-fi. We're definitely seeing films shot on phones, and everything in between. We are looking for what the story and what the style is; we don’t care if your budget was $100 or $100,000."
Thank you, Emily! If you're in town for Sundance, make sure to include a short film block to your screening plans if you're interested in seeing some of the most daring films at the festival.
For more, see our complete coverage of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
No Film School's video and editorial coverage of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival is sponsored by RODE Microphones.