(L-R Back Row) Flóra Anna Buda, Maddie Brewer, Christopher Rutledge, Maks Rzontkowski, Alisi Telengut, Landon Zakheim, Kerstin Zemp, Phoebe Jane Hart, Jalen Colbert, and Natasha Jacobs. (L-R Front Row) Sami Jano, Daniel Zvereff, Julia Woronowicz, Rose Hart, Bianca Caderas and Geoff Strasser (Stephen Lovekin/Shutterstock for Sundance Film Festival)
By Patty Consolazio
Sundance Film Festival programmers sifted through more than 12,000 film submissions for the 2024 Short Film Program. This year’s animated shorts selected for the Sundance Film Festival offer something for everyone: dogs playing basketball, the evolution of a Siberian lake, a woman dancing in her underwear, and a few severed body parts to add to the mix. At a post-premiere Q&A session, the creators talk about their inspiration for their films, and we learn how even sexual frustration can lead to award-winning material.
Bug Diner — Insects congregate at a diner — not to infest the place, but to talk through their relationship issues, of course. You’ll have fun noticing all the miniature cooking utensils and the diner sign crafted from Scrabble tiles.
When asked about her inspiration for Bug Diner, which received the Short Film Jury Award in Animation, director Phoebe Hart says, “I knew this question was coming, and I decided to just tell the truth. I was very sexually frustrated in a relationship at the time, and I sat down to write a really sad film about an orange girl working in a diner run by bugs, and then this came out, I think, of that frustration!”
Baigal Nuur – Lake Baikal — This moving, shifting multimedia landscape takes us on a narrated tour through what the formation of Lake Baikal in Siberia would have looked like — from volcano to shaman.
“I wanted to go to this region and I couldn’t because of the pandemic and Russia-Ukraine war,” says director Alisi Telengut. “I interviewed an Indigenous woman from this region living abroad. So it’s a collaboration. And I learned this language [that the narrator speaks] is very endangered. She could only speak some vocabulary from her language.”
27 — Alice starts her 27th birthday getting caught masturbating, by her rotten little brother. Is this a harbinger of the day to come? Not in her dreams. Even though real life sucks, she will follow her thoughts wherever she wants them to take her.
Playing off Hart’s comment and tickling the audience, director Flóra Anna Buda quips, “I was also very sexually frustrated… when I was living with my parents at the age of 27. Then I moved out and decided to make a film about it.”
Larry — Watch Larry the animated dog. But be quick about it, because he’s melting. Takeshi Murata and Christopher Rutledge’s latest creation is a pedigreed, computer-generated, uniformed, slam-dunking canine. For a dizzying four minutes, he melts and he splashes; bounces and multiplies.
Matta and Matto — The world is so sad — everyone’s afraid of each other. Matta and Matto offer a pleasing alternative to human touch, which brings a smile to users’ faces, but the duo gets paid in strange and ironic currency.
Directors Kirsten Zemp and Bianca Caderas reflected on the creation of their film, also during the pandemic. “[At the time,] there wasn’t a lot of human contact,” says Zemp. “I don’t know how it ended up in that hotel with that freaky couple!”
Martyr’s Guidebook — Tony is a good boy. For his goodness, he is chosen. Beginning with the rewards that come to those who take the smallest piece of carrot cake (even if they did so because they hate carrot cake), these are all of his lessons for others, accompanied by the animated reasoning in storytelling form.
Drago — We begin as a baby emerges from his mother and locks eyes with his father. We follow him through his story, along with the symbolic items that accompany him along the way: a frog, a jar, a microscope. “I guess I wanted to make a film, kind of about my family but also the shoulders that we stand on. And the risks we’re able to take because of those shoulders we stand on,” reflects director Daniel Zvereff.
Dona Beatriz Ñsîmba Vita — A blender and gingerbread-esque mold are some of the items utilized in this contemporary bloody representation of inequality, inspired by the true story of Kimpa Vita, a 17th-century Congolese religious leader.
The panel of filmmakers clearly had fun creating their animated shorts, as well as collectively sharing their stories with the audience. “It always feels like you’re getting away with something when you can make an animation, in the U.S. especially,” says Murata.
Likewise, viewers enjoyed watching these shorts. A jury citation from Hart’s award-winning Bug Diner went as follows: “We didn’t stop laughing at this from start to finish. It has that magical effect of making you walk around all day with a smile on your face. The dialogue was incredibly written and the animation style was amazing… there’s also never been a better bug’s voice done on film.”
As for the aforementioned carrot cake in Martyr’s Guidebook, Rzontkowski admits, “So the story with the carrot cake and the smallest piece actually happened to me. And also if you happen to love carrot cake, I didn’t mean to offend anyone, sorry — or maybe I did.”