There are many ways to make a feature film and many paths to Sundance. For six filmmakers, short films were key to both.
This year, there were 1,861 narrative features and 1,642 documentary features submitted to the Sundance Film Festival. And due to COVID-19, that number was less than in previous years. Holy hell, that’s a lot of competition!
How do you make a feature film that makes it into Sundance? For some filmmakers below, a short version of a feature is a great way to prove the concept, not to mention get attention and funding. For others on the list, their short film got them noticed by future collaborators. For others, it merely went to sharpen and hone the voice they would need for their feature debut.
Take a look.
Filmmaker: Shaka King
Film at Sundance 2021: Judas and the Black Messiah
Short film: Mulignans (2015)
Made for Warner Bros., Judas and the Black Messiah is one of the biggest films playing at Sundance 2021. With performances from Daniel Kaluuya and Dominique Fishback in the tale of how the FBI tried to infiltrate the Black Panther, King’s “magnetic” directorial vision was honed through short films such as Mulignans. Watch it for yourself.
Filmmaker: Erin Vassilopoulos
Film at Sundance 2021: Superior
Short film: Superior (2015)
Erin Vassilopoulos is a great example of the power to explore in a short what you can expand into a feature. In 2015 she came to Sundance with the same sister actresses (Alessandra and Ani Mesa) in the short version of Superior. This year, they returned to the screen in her feature! The feature film builds and continues her exploration of identity in dramatic ways, with her feature receiving much critical acclaim.
(Click through directly to Vassilopoulos' Vimeo page to watch the short.)
Filmmaker: Carey Williams
Film at Sundance 2021: R#J
Short film: Emergency (2018)
Carey Williams brought his short film Emergency to Sundance 2018, and in fact, it won the Sundance Short Film Award. This attracted the attention of “Screenlife” filmmakers Timur Bekmambetov and Igor Tsay, who approached him to make a movie that could be told through screens. The result is R#J, the tale of Romeo and Juliet as seen through their phones.
Read our interview with Williams on R#J here, and take a look at the teaser for Emergency to get a sense of his style.
Video is no longer available: vimeo.com/225195489
Filmmaker: Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr.
Film at Sundance 2021: Wild Indian
Short film: Shinaab, Shinaab Part 2 (2017, 2019)
Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr. has made tons of short films, but with Shinaab in 2017 and Shinaab Part 2 in 2019, he further honed his directorial voice and paved the way for his visionary feature. This year, his feature Wild Indian premiered at the festival, helmed by renowned cast Michael Greyeyes, Kate Bosworth, and Jesse Eisenberg, the latter of whom also executive produced the film.
While we can’t find either of his shorts online to share, read our latest NFS interview with him here.
Filmmaker: Carlson Young
Film at Sundance 2021: The Blazing World
Sundance Short film: The Blazing World (2018)
Actor-director Carlson Young came to Sundance with her short film version of The Blazing World, where she explored and cut her teeth on the unusual fantasy and horror hybrid that characterizes both the short and the feature. Take a look at the short to get a sense of the tone in the feature.
Video is no longer available: vimeo.com/374192851
Filmmaker: Jessica Beshir
Film at Sundance 2021: Faya Day
Sundance Short film: Hairat (2017)
Jessica Beshir has spent 11 years traveling back and forth from Mexico to her childhood home in Ethiopia to capture her story. Illustrating with her mesmerizing visual style and black and white cinematography, her short film Hairat is the story of a man and his unusual bond with wild hyenas. The short was released by Criterion and helped to show the type of story she was in the process of capturing on a greater scale.
After over a decade, she was able to share the mesmerizing journey of a young boy growing khat (a stimulant leaf) in the feature documentary Faya Dayi. Take a look at her exemplary style in Hairat below.
Do you have a short that has helped you make your feature? Would you consider starting with a short as a path to get a feature one made? Start a conversation in the comments!
A brilliant post. Thank you.
February 6, 2021 at 12:28AM
Glad to hear it resonates, Stu!
February 8, 2021 at 11:14AM, Edited February 8, 11:15AM
Shaka made a whole feature in 2013
February 9, 2021 at 6:52PM