Appendage (Anna Zlokovic)
Shiva Baby breakout Rachel Sennott stars in this horror-comedy as a young fashion designer feeling the pressure from her boss (a delightfully fay Eric Roberts) to come up with a great idea before her just-starting career is in jeopardy. Alone at home with the blank page in front of her, self-doubt and anxiety appears as a growth in her side, chastising every thought and decision. Anyone, especially those in creative fields, can relate to that sensation of nagging insecurity and imposter syndrome, which Anna Zlokovic captures here in wonderfully grotesque fashion. And yet, as Appendage shows, oftentimes it’s exactly this pain that can push you to find your most enlightened inspirations. — Mitchell B.
Deerwoods Deathtrap (James P Gannon)
Perhaps the most intriguing logline of any film, feature or short, at this year’s Sundance is contained in this 9-minute documentary from James P Gannon: “Fifty years ago, Betty and Jack were hit by a train and survived. This is their story.” It’s certainly a premise that draws you in, but what’s most exciting about Deerwoods Deathtrap is the playfulness Gannon brings to the tale. The son of Betty and Jack, Gannon clearly knew his parents needed to be shared with the world. What would seemingly be a simple, riveting tale of how they came to be hit by a train and survived instead becomes a fascinating bit of fun in watching how the couple bicker over their various conflicting memories of the events. In what instance, Jack tells us that Betty was driving the car towards the tracks, speeding down the road. In the next, Betty says she was actually only going 25 mph—okay, maybe 35 mph. We’ll never know the full truth of what happened that day, but one thing is certain: Betty and Jack are stars. — Mitchell B.
Kicking the Clouds (Sky Hopkina)
Following his beautiful debut feature małni – towards the ocean, towards the shore, Indigenous filmmaker Sky Hopinka returns with his latest evocative short, Kicking the Clouds. Utilizing a variety of sources––a 50-year-old cassette tape of a Pechanga language lesson between Hopinka’s grandmother and great-grandmother, a new interview with his own mother, musical selections, and snippets of dreamlike footage––the short is a wonderful tale of the memories we hold onto, overwhelming grief, and hobbies that help us through our lives. – Jordan R.
The Martha Mitchell Effect (Anne Alvergue and Debra McClutchy)
The Martha Mitchell Effect tells the forgotten history of Republican socialite Martha Mitchell, the most controversial woman in America during the Watergate scandal. Mitchell was married to John N. Mitchell, Richard Nixon’s attorney general, and loved by the public. When Nixon ordered his associates to break into the DNC headquarters, Mitchell was helping the president win reelection, but her relationship with the press and her nickname “Martha the Mouth” blew the lid off Watergate. Unfortunately, many of her contributions were left out of the history books. The Martha Mitchell Effect, by Anne Alvergue and Debra McClutchy, fixes the record. – Josh E.
My Trip to Spain (Theda Hammel)
Writer-director-star-composer Theda Hammel’s short is many things: funny, condemning, misleading, and as unexpectedly thought-provoking as a breezy 28-minute film about a neighbor doing home repairs could possibly be. As Alexis (Hammel) prepares to leave Los Angeles for Spain to get facial feminization surgery, her friend and house sitter Charlie (a perfectly insufferable John Early) attempts to talk her out of it while bemoaning his own pandemic depression and eyeing Alexis’ handy neighbor Bruno (Gordon Landenberger). While Alexis meditates on her life, home, and friendship with the self-absorbed Charlie, the camera drifts autonomously, punctuating the selfishness of those who live by a moral code that applies to everyone but themselves. Though it premiered in Sundance’s Indie Episodic section, My Trip To Spain’s sardonic wit and pitch-perfect performances make it equally engaging as a standalone, signaling the entrance of a promising, observant new directorial voice. – Shayna W.
Night Bus (Joe Hsieh)
Winner of the Short Film Jury Award for Animation, Joe Hsieh’s Night Bus is a wickedly twisted ride. A mixture of Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino, and Takashi Miike, this uncomfortable adventure follows a group of unconnected passengers taking the last bus of the night, who are abruptly jolted into a state of frenzy when a wealthy woman lets out a startled scream and reveals her necklace has been stolen. The culprit is quickly discovered but the mystery is far from over. Hsieh’s knotty narrative puzzle cuts across its menagerie of characters, shifting storylines and perspectives to play with the audience as more and more reveals heighten the suspense. And did I mention there’s a bloodthirsty primate out for revenge of the most violent variety? There’s so much controlled chaos across Night Bus’ 20 minutes it’ll leave your head spinning. — Mitchell B.
Shark (Nash Edgerton)
Nash Edgerton’s string of punchline-heavy, darkly humorous shorts continues with Shark. Co-writing with fellow Aussie David Michôd, Edgerton also stars alongside Rose Byrne in the tale of a couple’s increasingly elaborate pranks on each other. Leading to an inevitable Boy Who Cried Wolf situation on the high seas, as its title suggests, Shark packs a good amount of entertaining bite, though one might have expected Edgerton to go even one step further when delivering a black-comedy punch. – Jordan R.
Starfuckers (Antonio Marziale)
Starfuckers is one of the best selections at this year’s festival. The story follows two twinks out for revenge on a Hollywood executive; it only grows more surreal as it progresses. Directed and written by Antonio Marziale, who co-stars with Cole Doman, the latter plays an escort for a Hollywood executive who has a school-boy kink with a twist. When Marziale’s character sneaks into the executive’s house, a night of fun becomes a nightmare. The two drug him, and when he wakes up they perform a ritualistic act of revenge. Starfuckers implies the executive tricked the duo into exchanging their dignity for access, but their performance shows the depth of their humanity. – Josh E.
Stranger Than Rotterdam with Sara Driver (Lewie and Noah Kloster)
Animator brothers Lewie and Noah Kloster honor the lo-fi spirit of Jim Jarmusch’s 1984 landmark Stranger Than Paradise with a thrifty, hand-made charmer of their own. Depicting a strange anecdote involving the smuggling of a banned print of Robert Frank’s Stones doc Cocksucker Blues—all somehow crucial to Stranger’s eventual financing––the Klosters avoid a certain tweeness that can plague DIY animations of this type. The effect is like some indsustry insider plying you with the best, freshest gossip on the outer edges of a festival party. Better yet that Sara Driver, who was involved in the tale, narrates from memory with expert comic timing. – David K.
Warsha (Dania Bdeir)
A Syrian migrant worker wakes up to head out for his daily grind on a worksite, but before doing so he takes a picture into the bathroom of the cramped home he inhabits with several co-workers. While they mock him, thinking he was attempting to masturbate before they woke up, the man remains quiet and keeps to himself. Upon arriving at the site, they learn the man tasked with operating the most dangerous crane on the site has died, making him the latest on a list of many who fell victim to the unsafe working conditions on that crane. Taking over this duty, our main character appears to be faced with a most treacherous predicament, as Dania Bdeir captures the jaw-dropping, terrifying scale of his journey to the top of this crane. What he finds there, however, isn’t fear—it’s freedom. Removed from the restrictions placed on men and critical eyes of his peers, this man is able to embrace his true self, alone with only his passion for company. Winner of Sundance’s Short Film Jury Award for International Fiction, Warsha is an achingly beautiful embrace of finding and expressing your inner voice, wherever and however you’re able to do it. — Mitchell B.