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Highlights

Mad Scientists, Impostors, and an Excess of Bleach Populate the 2024 Midnight Short Film Program

PARK CITY, UTAH – JANUARY 22: (L–R) Masha Ko, Whammy Alcazaren, Landon Zakheim, Carlos A.F. Lopez, Renee Zhan, Adam Wilder, Nicole Daddona, and Dimitri Simakis attend the 2024 Sundance Film Festival Midnight Short Film Program premiere at The Ray Theatre on January 22, 2024, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Stephen Greathouse/Shutterstock for Sundance Film Festival)

By Lucy Spicer

“Good evening, all you weirdos and creeps!” says Sundance Film Festival short-film programmer Landon Zakheim to a raucous audience. “You’re at the Midnight Shorts!”

There’s nothing like the crowd at the premiere of the Sundance Film Festival’s Midnight Short Film Program. It’s a full house on January 22 at The Ray Theatre in Park City, Utah, and the audience is eager for laughs, confusion, surprises, and thrills. In short, they’re ready to be entertained. And boy, does the 2024 Festival’s Midnight shorts lineup come through.  

This year’s Midnight Short Film Program includes six wildly different projects, and all of the shorts’ writer-directors took the stage at the post-premiere Q&A to, in Zakheim’s words, “answer for what they’ve done.”

The Rainbow Bridge — Tina (Thu Tran) just wants to talk with her elderly dog, MeeMoo, before he passes, so she goes to a clinic that advertises human-to-pet communication. When she arrives, the two scientists who run the clinic get a little too excited at the results of Tina and MeeMoo’s compatibility screening. 

Writer-director Dimitri Simakis’ hilarious 13-minute madcap sci-fi short was inspired by ’80s fantasy films and the attitude of “more is more.” “I’m very obsessed with world-building and immersion,” says Simakis. “I’m sure a lot of us have this feeling of when you’re making something, you get scared that there’s not enough of whatever, so, ‘I’ve gotta cram more in.’… It just kept going and kept going.” Come for the overly decorated pet shrine, stay for the 11-foot-tall puppet.

The Looming — “I’m going to get very morbid now,” warns writer-director Masha Ko when asked what prompted her to make this spooky 15-minute film. “My grandfather passed, and I didn’t get to say goodbye, so I wanted to make a film about the topic of being alone at the end of one’s life and about realities that are scarier than any monster or ghost.”

Ko’s film, which combines elements from both horror and drama genres, follows Chester (Joseph Lopez) as he is gradually terrorized by a noise that others tell him is in his head — until his virtual home assistant speaker, Luna, hears it too. “My main goal was to explore the horrors inside of our own minds, and I believe that there’s nothing scarier than what’s in your own head,” says Ko, winner of a Short Film Special Jury Award for Directing at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.

SHÉ (SNAKE) — “A thing that’s happened to me a lot is if me and another Asian girl are in the same room, then inevitably we’ll be mixed up and called each other’s names, no matter how much we look alike or different,” says writer-director Renee Zhan. “And I think when that happens a lot, and you start to feel replaceable, then you start to see people who look like yourself not as allies or potential friends but as competition, and maybe you start to see yourself as something monstrous.”

In Sundance alum Zhan’s 15-minute film, stressed-out violinist Fei (Xiaonan Wang) is trying to hold onto first-chair status in her youth orchestra when another Chinese girl, Mei (Alina Lew), arrives with the power to usurp her position. Fei’s fears begin to materialize as monstrous little creatures. 

The Bleacher — “Where do all the socks go?” responds Nicole Daddona — one-half of the short’s writer-director duo, along with Adam Wilder — when asked what inspired this chaotic animated film. 

“We frequented a laundromat in Los Angeles all the time, and we actually would start recording the audio of these fantastical characters,” elaborates Wilder. “And then we met ‘the bleacher,’ and she was like a 1930s gangster movie. … It was beautiful. So we started just tracking her psyche.” The result is an eight-minute film wherein a woman (voiced by Kate Micucci) with a secret finds another world inside a washing machine as she searches for a lost sock. Singing, dancing, and bleaching ensue. 

Bold Eagle — “The film is a very personal and poetical film,” says writer-director Whammy Alcazaren about his short. That’s a bold statement considering the 16-minute project — shot with an iPhone 13 Pro Max — features erotic audio and gratuitous closeups of scrota and buttholes. “I really wanted that energy of watching, that you’re just scrolling through seconds of information,” he continues, “So it’s gonna be a cat, it’s gonna be a dick, it’s gonna be my dad’s photos you have to look at. I want this new language of the internet to really convey a new kind of cinema.”

Alcazaren’s short centers on an isolated man who spends most of his time masturbating, dreaming of Hawai‘i, hanging out with his cat, and uploading anonymous porn to the internet. “In the Philippines, we have a special kind of porn where you never see the face, and it’s a representation of expression and self-freedom, especially coming from the Philippines, where we have a dictator for president,” explains Alcazaren. 

Dream Creep — It’s a familiar feeling: You wake up during the night, you hear an unexplained noise, and worst-case scenarios start running through your head. Writer-director Carlos A.F. Lopez has taken this universal experience to a creepy new place.

“I woke up one night, and I wasn’t sure if the sound I heard was in my head from my dream or if it was happening, and I was fucking terrified,” recalls Lopez. “I wanted to capture that moment and expand it.” He expanded the moment into a 13-minute short in which David (Ian Edlund) wakes up to find that Suze (Sidney Jayne Hunt) is still asleep, but her voice is speaking to him from an unlikely source. And Suze’s voice has some shocking instructions. 

To see more of the magic from the 2024 Festival, click here.

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