All of the nine shorts Yahoo and the Sundance Film Festival have put on the web are pretty good. It’s an impressive crop, and I’d say more consistent than a lot of the stuff festivals have put online in the last year. Yet in any batch of films a few rise to the top. I’ve rounded up the other seven, and the oddly consistent problem they have. Here are my two favorites and some gushing about why I think they’re absolutely worth your time.
Long Distance Information, by Douglas Hart
I suppose it doesn’t reflect too well on my attention span that one of my picks is the shortest film on the list, but oh well. While it may not be excellent because it cuts out before the eight minute mark, that comparatively small running time makes the brief screenplay even more noticeably tight. There’s not a single wasted second.
Writer/director Douglas Hart’s film is one of subtle relationship shifts. That applies not only to the emotional connections between the father and son at the center of the story, but also the physical structure of the set. Are these two rooms in the same building, or are they not on the same continent? Is this a tightly-knit family, or has it been years since they’ve spoken to each other? We spend the entire film changing our minds.
Click on the images to go watch the films
Yet none of this is accomplished through any pyrotechnics, in either the screenplay or the visual style. It’s only an exceedingly well-choreographed narrative. Little details about the characters are slipped in one at a time, giving us glimpses of a family picture that only seconds later we’ll need to revise. Peter Mullan (talented actor and scariest living Scotsman) is at the center, holding a balance between the vague reacting that keeps the story open and the minute character detail that lead us on. Excellent work all around, until an inevitable final twist that somehow manages to avoid overstepping.
The Debutante Hunters, by Maria White
For a second I was sort of hoping this short would turn out to be a contemporary Southern Belle reality show in miniature, TLC goes to Sundance. Thankfully, I didn’t get my misguided Toddlers-and-Tiaras-induced wish.
There are women in the South who hunt. They’re also role models. This documentary short from Maria White focuses on a group of mothers and daughters in the Low Country of South Carolina who have built a little community for themselves. Shotgun in hand, these ladies venture out into the wilderness to track down game and bring it home for dinner. Deer, turkeys, boar, and the rest of thePalmettoStatemenagerie.
Of course, there’s so much more to it. This is a family tradition, fathers and mothers teaching their daughters to bring in pigeons and other fowl from an early age. There’s even a mother/daughter hunting team in the mix. Heartfelt interviews and buoyant trips out into the forest bring a humane touch to the film, which could easily have been lost amidst all the animal shooting.
The centerpiece is the cookout these friends organize once they’ve all gotten the best game. It highlights not only the sense of tradition and community, but also how smart this turns out to be. It turns out that one deer can feed a family cheaply and healthily, and for a long time. This isn’t just hunting for sport, though the women involved get a great deal of fulfillment out of the act itself. It’s a marriage of good planning and a sense of family fun.
And I say this as someone who would be much too queasy to even think about shooting poor Bambi’s Mother myself.