2014 Sundance Film Festival Shorts

Good recon for aspiring short-film maestros, the current Sundance collection brings a handful of live-action narrative, documentary, and animated offerings out for a national tour. “Who hurt you, Rose McGowan?” would not be an unreasonable response to McGowan’s directing debut, Dawn, a meticulously production-designed, quasi-Lynchian melodrama of midcentury Americana which seems all but uninterpretable except as feminist cri de coeur. Equally slick but less affecting, the darkly comedic drama I’m a Mitzvah proves a smarmy showpiece for Parks and Recreation‘s Ben Schwartz as a young American tourist hauling the corpse of his friend around rural Mexico. Slowly building to its dick-pic-intensive catharsis, this seems like the perfectly self-satisfied encapsulation of modern Sundance product. Cleverness prevails in the nonfiction realm as well, particularly in Brett Weiner’s Verbatim, which one-ups the punchline-style storytelling so common to short films by dramatizing a deposition transcript. Meanwhile Yuval Hameiri’s personal documentary I Think This Is the Closest to How the Footage Looked is a grief ritual, an inventive study of absence, and maybe the most sincere movie here. On the animation side, things get truly adventurous. Stephen Irwin’s The Obvious Child — no relation, unfortunately, to the like-named live-action feature comedy with Jenny Slate — takes a sort of tattoo-by-lava lamp trip into weirdo morbidity. Kelly Sears’ handsome stock-footage scrapbook, Voice on the Line, spins archival stock footage into an alt-historical tale of sinister communications surveillance and wonderfully libidinous redemption. Bernard Britto’s Yearbook makes our poignant acquaintance with a meek, sweater-vested functionary who has 17 years to catalog all of human history before an alien missile blows up the world. Similarly, It’s Such a Beautiful Day concludes Don Hertzfeldt’s magnificent trilogy, flowing like a mythic river to the cosmic zenith of stick-figure pathos.