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2024 Sundance Top 10 Shorts

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2024 Sundance Film Festival: Alexandra Qin’s Thirstygirl & Kate Jean Hollowell’s Say Hi After You Die Lead Our Top Ten Short Films

2024 Sundance Film Festival: Alexandra Qin’s Thirstygirl & Kate Jean Hollowell’s Say Hi After You Die Lead Our Top Ten Short Films

We watched, we came and we conquered. 12,098 shorts were submitted for the 2024 edition of the Sundance Film Festival and of that, only fifty-three were selected. We’ve viewed every single one of them – all eight program line-ups and so we are delighted to announce our top ten shorts of the 40th edition with special mentions going to Bay of Herons, The Looming Cloud and Basri & Salma in a Never-Ending Comedy. Here are ten shorts (and filmmaker names) you’ll want to track, watch and take note of.

#10. Merman by Sterling Hampton IV

Sterling Hampton IV returns to Sundance shorts programming with a docu-portrait that is not contained to one style. Merman is a lot of things. A personal journal and journey, with leather, feel good stories and a comeback tale in accepting one’s self – and appreciating the journey. Employing the voice-over format, it feels like a superhero origin story retro porn-ish, off-center but very centered and deeply purposeful celebration of black queerness. ★★★★

#9. Flail – Ben Gauthier

If Scorsese’s After Hours were made in not enough hours in the day modern Los Angeles, it might look something like Flail. A comedy about the inability of saying no and disastrous multi-tasking, Ben Gauthier‘s short debut is based on Allie Levitan’s screenplay who also takes center stage here in 13 minutes of blissful delirium. A kooky tsunami of bad planning and decision making, this welcome to the rat-race is happily homicidal and a riot. ★★★★

#8. Terra Mater – Kantarama

Premiering at last year’s Berlinale, the filmmaker and artist Kantarama does the unthinkable with her latest short. Terra Mater beautifies and codifies our relationship to waste with eco-challenged dystopian-like landfills making rethink our relationship to the spaces we inhabit. ★★★★

#7. Pasture Prime – Diffan Sina Norman

Tonally reminiscent of Ti West’s Pearl trilogy, Pasture Prime is a delightful pastiche of acerbic humor and film-noir revenge tendencies in what is a large bucket of conflict management. Think vintage mannerisms in present day realities (one too many letters and text messages), this is the kind of relationship you never wanted – that damn jack in the box won’t stubbornly won’t go back in. After premiering at Sundance back in 2014 with his debut short, Kuala Lumpur born Los Angeles based Malaysian Iranian multi-disciplinary artist, filmmaker and writer Diffan Sina Norman makes his return with antics that recall of televisions Dynasty or Dallas with notes of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?  This film had me at its title alone. ★★★★

#6. Bob’s Funeral – Jack Dunphy

A writer behind Nathan Silver’s Stinking Heaven, and now with close to a dozen shorts under his belt, Sundance alumni Jack Dunphy delivers the type short that sneaks up on you — who knew that grainy home video short plus narration and low-tech interview styled piece could trigger ninja-silent emotionality – you might laugh and come close to reaching for a tissue. Dunphy looks at his own family tree specifically around his estranged grandfather’s funeral and the summation is a lovely and loving look into why family structures (we don’t choose them) ultimately have intent, purpose and function even though they are not readily apparent. Winner of Short Film Jury Award for Nonfiction, Bob’s Funeral is a cringeworthy splendor. ★★★★

#5. Pisko the Crab Child is in Love – Makoto Nagahisa

Cementing his status for inventive and off-the-beaten portraits of Japanese youth, We Are Little Zombies (read review) filmmaker Makoto Nagahisa returns to Sundance with the uber playful Pisko the Crab Child is in Love – think a non-romance if it was wrapped up in Thrasher Magazine video aesthetics and drunk karaoke parameters. Once again bending the form, Nagahisa’s recounts the story of a girl who believes her father was a crab and he does so in a charming mishmash of slightly obscure and absurd with guerrilla lo-fi almost purposely messy visual approach. Here different narrators fill in deets on the love story that didn’t amount to much. ★★★★½

#4. The Masterpiece – Àlex Lora Cercós

An already established award-winning Spanish filmmaker who is also based in the U.S., Àlex Lora Cercós moved from his fiction feature debut last year with Unicorns and straight into this snarky, almost poetic assassination and resignation of character in darted eyes stand-off between the classes. The Masterpiece was awarded the highest honor of the festival claiming the Short Film Grand Jury Prize and for good reason – it’s a delicious drama about power positioning and class dichotomies and could either be a rags to riches, riches to rags or rags versus riches tale in a very mundane ordinary day setting. Fused together by a quartet of performers, we love how the wealthy couple and junkyard dogs attempt to one up each other. ★★★★½

#3. 27 – Flóra Anna Buda

We discovered this 2D animated short about a bird (a woman aged twenty-seven years of age) eventually escaping her cage or perhaps nest (stuck at home and stuck between different generations) at the 2023 Toronto Intl. Film Festival after it won the Palme d’Or for Best short at the Cannes Film Festival just months prior. Short-listed for the Oscars, Hungarian Paris-based filmmaker Flóra Anna Buda‘s free-flowing and energized dreamy tale continued its world film festival tour with 2024 stops in Park City (one of only two Cannes films to be featured at Sundance) and as of this week was showcased at Clermont. We love the movement here, its a short that feels lived in and we love how the main character bounces off others — you’ll want to free yourself of the constraints of a wealth, drop some extra layers of clothing and hit the discotheque after watching it. A major talent on the rise, we look forward to more intro and outro-spection on the part of Buda. ★★★★½

#2. Say Hi After You Die – Kate Jean Hollowell

After watching this year’s winner of Short Film Jury Award for US Fiction I was reminded that Kate Jean Hollowell has the potential of following in the same path a la Jim Cummings (who also had a Sundance short Grand Jury Prize winner in Thunder Road). Both share this knack for comedy, and pull double duty both in front and behind the camera. Previously cutting her teeth in acting (her first cred is an early Alex Ross Perry film), and a mix of directing music vids and previous shorts, Say Hi After You Die reminds of absurdist fantasy comedy vibes a la Quentin Dupieux but with a witty Hallmark card for millennials living in the now spin. We first begin with a diner sequence about the foundations of friendship that then flourishes into the ultimate of long goodbyes or new hellos depending on how you interpret this. Here the grieving process is merged with a bit of denial and not getting a total grasp about the mysteries of the universe that around us and our pink-haired awkward duckling in Hollowell is full on with the slapstick, wry quality vibes and the sentimental girl power into the sunset. She usurps everything with a winning musical number that makes this one an unforgettable. We can’t to see what she does next. ★★★★½

#1. Thirstygirl – Alexandra Qin

A French-Filipino-Chinese filmmaker based in New York Alexandra Qin claims our top spot with Thirstygirl – a ten minute short about getting off….balance. While the older sister is shown orbiting in and outside of her sex addiction, she might be in-fact the ideal companion (or emotional crutch) for someone close to her who is also dealing with weighty life issues. It happens to be her younger sister. Falling under a short road trip sub-genre, we actively contemplate how the pair got to this place. Said to be a proof of concept for an eventual feature film, Thirstygirl has been riding the U.S. film festival circuit since last year and gets a great second wind here its Sundance showcase. We were rocked by its honesty – it harkens back to the tonal approach found in the cinema of Todd Solondz (Happiness) and Steve McQueen (Shame). Qin’s character study includes the digi universe and comes from a refreshingly different point-of-view. A bitter honesty pill, love how the main character falls into the void or prays to fill the void, but we get a sense that not all is lost in reclaiming a space. It’s deep psychological matter enhanced by the mostly nocturnal look — we wanted to remain a passenger until it reached its last stop. ★★★★½

Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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