Short Rounds is a biweekly column dedicated to spreading the love of short film. Every other Wednesday we'll curate a number of flicks around a theme, from current film festivals to whatever is in the air.
This Sundance Film Festival first-time filmmaker preview might be my favorite project of the year. Back in January of 2012 I opened by talking about discovery, the excitement of seeing talent emerge at a festival built around the new. Sometimes it seems as if entire filmmakers just popped out of the blue in Park City, like Venus from the sea foam. Yet a lot of these budding directors have work already available for anyone to watch online. When they suddenly become wildly successful, you’ll feel a step ahead of everyone else.
And boy, did the shorts I put together last year turn out to be a sign of things to come. Benh Zeitlin’s feature follow-up to Glory at Sea, Beasts of the Southern Wild¸ has had quite the ride since it won the Jury Prize at Sundance. I wouldn’t say that I called his Best Director nomination a year in advance, but I was talking about his work before the festival even began. And if that doesn’t make you interested in watching some more shorts, I don’t know what could. Here are five stellar films from directors who will be premiering their first feature film at Sundance. Will one of them by the next indie success story, maybe all the way through Oscars 2014? Only time will tell.
The Braggart, by David Andalman
Mona, the child protagonist of David Andalman’s first short, has a bit of a truth problem. She lies to her friend that she’s getting a Jacuzzi, and then gives a report to her class at school about the lost city of Atlantis. Her world of make-believe might have something to do with her mother, who seems to spend almost all of her time passed out in an easy chair. Andalman alternates between simple, unadorned moments of childhood and rich, musical sequences with a quiet frankness that reminds one of Todd Solondz.
Milkshake, Andalman’s Sundance film, is a much stranger project. The setup is the fictional life of Jolie Jolson, the great-great-grandson of Al Jolson who strives to be black. It sounds far cry from the simple world of The Braggart, but his deadpan comic style might be the perfect way to deal with something as inherently problematic as minstrelsy.
The German, by Nick Ryan
The story of The German is a simple one, a little vignette taken from the grand history of aviation in World War II. Toby Kebbell plays a young fighter pilot pursuing a German ace high over the British Isles. The twist ending, a uniquely Irish conclusion that teaches us a bit of mostly forgotten history, is a nice touch. Yet the real story here is Nick Ryan’s special effects, 120 aerial shots that he put together on his own over the course of six months in 2008.
His Sundance feature is The Summit¸ a documentary about an expedition up K2 that ended in disaster, one of the worst in history. Again, this seems like quite the departure from military historical fiction in the style of The German. However, the admirable detail of the firefight sequence in this short is perhaps a sign that the documentary will include equally impressive re-creations of the mountain disaster. Kevin MacDonald’s Touching the Void comes to mind.
Herkimer DuFrayne: 7th Grade Guidance Counselor, by Shaka King
Herkimer DuFrayne is the worst guidance counselor in America. It’s his first day at work, in an office under the stairs next to the boiler room. He’s been assigned to meet with the parents of a girl he hasn’t even met, to discuss her inappropriate behavior that was caught on the school’s security cameras. He’s tactless and bumbling, the caricature of useless bureaucracy in the public school system. Director Shaka King’s dark sense of humor is the backbone of this short, a simple satire of the highest order.
King’s Sundance feature is Newlyweeds¸ a stoner love story. If Herkimer DuFrayne is any indication, we can expect a sharp-edged comedy with a sense of biting wit well beyond the typical drug comedy.
The Lady Lovelace Deception System¸ by Alexandre Moors
With this mind-boggling short, Alexandre Moors has set himself up for a career in trippy science fiction. The Lady Lovelace Deception System is deceptive and opaque but also beautiful in an urban noir/steampunk sort of way. There is a dark universe lurking on its edges, hinting at a complex universe in which we could spend hours. Yet we don’t need to – Moors understands that you don’t need to explain everything in sci-fi. It’s like a miniature Primer with a sexual gratification apparatus rather than a time machine.
Moors’s Sundance feature is a narrative of the Beltway sniper attacks. Straightforward true crime does not at all seem like his cup of tea, so perhaps this will veer off in a more mysterious direction. The title, Blue Caprice, certainly doesn’t sound like a typical no-frills thriller.
Successful Alcoholics, by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
I began this preview with slightly irresponsible children and I’ll end with staggeringly irresponsible adults. T.J. Miller and Lizzy Caplan are hilarious as a couple who do nothing but drink, yet still totally rock their working lives. Their problem is not so much that they are ruining their lives, as that they don’t ever quite know what to do with themselves. What if they run out of booze, for example? A big hit on the festival circuit in 2010, Successful Alcoholics is still hilarious.
Toy’s House will be Jordan Vogt-Roberts’s first feature, a comedy about a group of boys who head into the woods to live off the land. If they are even half as dysfunctional and brashly immature as the alcoholics, it could be the funniest film of the festival.
MORE: 15 Movies People Will Be Talking About at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival