The moms at an extended-family Thanksgiving celebration participate in karaoke, in the Grand Jury Prize-winning short “When You Left Me on That Boulevard.”
By Vanessa Zimmer
The winners in the Short Film Program sent audiences on a wild ride at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival — ranging from a sailor propelled airborne by his ship’s TNT cargo, to a man desiring a simple beach vacation, to a raucous gathering of an extended Asian family at Thanksgiving.
Mike Plante, the Festival’s senior programmer in short film, opened the Shorts section of the awards presentation with a fairly outstanding statistic: His department reviews 11,000 shorts for the Festival each year, from which they choose 64 to present.
Acceptance into the Festival is not based upon any kind of agent or industry pressure, he emphasized, but solely on their own merits. “[The presented shorts] get in because you worked really fucking hard and your shorts are great,” he said.
The Shorts program covers the gamut, across fiction, nonfiction, and animation, globally. Alumni include Jay and Mark Duplass, Debra Granik, Rashaad Ernesto Green, Reinaldo Marcus Green, Sterlin Harjo, Todd Haynes, Shaka King, Dee Rees, and Taika Waititi, among others.
Single film tickets, for both online and in person, and Explorer passes for online viewing are still available here.
When You Left Me on That Boulevard — This story of a rowdy Thanksgiving dinner captured the Grand Jury Prize, the top prize among shorts. Kayla Abuda Galang wrote and directed the 13-minute short, which the jury called “a directorial feat of freshness.” It revolves around three teen cousins who get high at the party, although the grownups are pretty outrageous themselves (including the cackling moms singing karaoke). The jury called it an “uproarious take on extended family, irreverence and tradition.”
The Flying Sailor — The big kicker of this animated tale of the TNT-stoked flight of a sailor is that it is based on the true story of Charlie Mayers — who traveled 2 kilometers after two ships collided and burst into flames in 1917, exploding a cargo of TNT that sent him flying. Most remarkable is that the man lived to tell the tale. The film won the Best Animation Short Film Award. The jury said: “This beautiful portrait of both an instant and a life lifted us out of our seats and took us on an emotional, innovative and explosive ride.” The short film was also nominated for an Oscar this week.
The Vacation — Jarreau Carrillo picked up a Special Jury Award for Directing for his story of a Black man setting out for a simple vacation to the beach. The problem: His car won’t start. But that doesn’t stop his friends from coming by and talking about their own hopes and dreams. Carrillo expressed his heartfelt appreciation: “I’ve been crying the whole time I’ve been here,” he said. The jury praised his “comic timing and assured direction.”
Will You Look at Me — Shuli Huang’s story of his mother’s nonacceptance of his gayness, and her wish that he will change, won the Short Film Jury Award for Nonfiction. “This is my love letter to my mother,” the writer-director said at the awards presentation. “For years, I’ve been trying to make her proud of me, and now I feel like I should be proud of myself.”
Rest Stop — Chosen for the prize for U.S. Fiction was writer-director Crystal Kayiza’s short about a mother and her three Ugandan American children making their way by bus from New York City to Oklahoma to reunite their family. The jury called the film “an exquisite song of the ordinary,” adding, “We were struck by this unhurried portrayal of itinerancy and estrangement.”
The Kidnapping of the Bride — Argentinian Luisa and German Fred are getting married in Germany, where they live. Their families convene, bringing along their individual traditions, including an unsettling German tradition of the police kidnapping the bride. The Festival jury presented the short the award for International Fiction, and writer-director Sophia Mocorrea thanked her “parents, who gave me life and their story.”
AliEN0089 — A Special Jury Award, International: Directing, went to this Spanish-language short from Chile, which was written and directed by Valerie Hofmann. The jury citation reads: “A frightening tale blending online gaming, contemporary politics, and genre elements to create a striking horror story.” This short is present only in person, not online.
The awards were presented by Shutterstock.