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Diverse group of men and women stand in front of a 2024 Sundance Film Festival backdrop

Art of Flailing, the Humor of Sierra Leoneans, and the Reality of Eating Disorders Rule Shorts Program

L–R: Ben Gauthier, Tajana Tokyo, Margaux Susi, Jasmin Baumgartner, moderator Irene Sorano, Gerardo Coello Escalante, Samuel Suffren, and Angalis Field participated in a question session following the January 20 premiere of Short Film Program 3 at the Sundance Film Festival. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Shutterstock for Sundance Film Festival)

By Vanessa Zimmer

Americans tend to flail. Sierra Leoneans have a humorous way of delivering their opinions. And your next-door neighbor could be recovering from an eating disorder.

Those are just three of the takeaways from Short Film Program 3 at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. The program is screening in person and online through the end of the Festival on January 28.

At the January 20 premiere, all seven directors answered questions about their films.

Viaje de Negocios A father on an important business trip from Mexico to San Antonio, Texas, sends his son a pair of rare, limited-edition red sneakers with yellow flames and lights that flash on the sides. Daniel is so, so proud, until classmate Rodrigo walks in with the same shoes. How could that be? Daniel goes off the deep end. Asked about working with child actors, director Gerardo Coello Escalante responds, “Honestly, they were the most professional actors I’ve ever worked with.” He laughs, as does the audience.

guts — A young, jittery woman (Angela Giarratana) pounds on a neighbor’s door and invites her to dinner. Conversation is stilted and awkward at first: Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner? Do you mind if I sing while I pee? It turns out the young woman has been in a treatment center and now she’s out. “It feels like I’m learning to tie my shoes all over again,” she confesses. The older woman (Kate Burton) says, “Wanna know a little secret?” and sticks her sneakered foot out to the side of the table, “Velcro.” In the Q&A, director Margaux Susi says the film is about eating disorders. “I think it’s a reminder that people struggle in silent ways. Sometimes, sitting down and just eating a sandwich with them can be life-changing.”

Dreams like paper boats — A loving mother has sent a cassette tape from the United States to her beloved husband and baby daughter in Haiti. The two listen to it regularly, even as the baby grows into a girl. The father runs an outdoor food booth while keeping up their modest house and tending to his daughter. He patiently combs her hair into a ponytail, mops their floor, and has visions of his young wife. “When,” asks the child, “is Mommy going to send us a new tape?” The short, shot in affecting black and white, was directed by Samuel Suffren, who says he uses nonactors in his shorts by necessity. 

BUST — A trans woman cop with the New York Police Department goes undercover on a drug bust, where she is confronted with her own empathy for those in various stages of sexual transition — particularly the drug dealer Ruby. At the Q&A, director Angalis Field says he wanted to make a film about the trans community in New York. The film serves as his thesis at the New York University Tisch School.

Salone Love — A Sierra Leone-British director, Tajana Tokyo shot a colorful, danceable, and joyous portrait of Sierra Leoneans expressing their unique ideas about love. “In Sierra Leone,” says one man, referring to divorce rates elsewhere, “we don’t have irreconcilable differences.” Tokyo has a dance background, so music and rhythms are important to her. “Before doing anything, I kind of dance [it out,]” she says, unconsciously slipping into a couple of steps. “I like to feel out an energy.”

Flail — Flailing is a popular American pastime. Going to work, picking up kids or siblings from who-knows-where, getting the birthday cake and the balloons, responding to a flurry of texts and notifications, accidentally getting into a car that looks exactly like yours. Actor Allie Levitan does it superbly in Ben Gauthier’s comedic short. Gauthier remembers a specific iconic flail of his own more than a year ago, when he was racing a deadline for a Sundance Film Festival submission. He ran a scooter into a parked car and received a concussion. No, he didn’t make the deadline. But he got in this year!

Bye Bye, Bowser — Director Jasmin Baumgartner had just finished a big project. “We just wanted to have fun again,” she says. So, she made a short film about a punk rock singer in Vienna who writes a song about the construction worker toiling across the street from her apartment. They meet after the song has become a hit, and Luna’s punk, partying style collides with Laugo’s working-class life.