Sundance, Ya Make Me Angry

A couple of years ago I posted a blog about my disappointment with the Sundance Film Festival‘s selection of work for their Short Film category. Well, I’m back, and I’m still disgruntled.

This year they have chosen 10 films and made them available on iTunes for a free download (do a search for “Sundance Shorts” at the iTunes store). Each of them starts off with a title card informing you it is a Sundance Film Festival “Official Selection.” I watched all ten of them and all I can say is, wow. I’ve gotta stop trying to make short films that are good.

I’ll admit, I didn’t loathe them all. There were a couple I really enjoyed and one of them deservedly got an Oscar nomination. I’ll give you a brief rundown of each of the films so you can feel my cinema pain.

ACTING FOR THE CAMERA
This film takes place in an acting class and features two students performing the “Orgasm” scene from When Harry Met Sally. Of course, the acting teacher does his thing where he imparts wisdom and then it comes out the girl in the scene never had an orgasm. So what does the teacher do? He tells her to remember having a new puppy and what that joy felt like (because, of course, an orgasm is like owning a puppy. Am I right, ladies?). The girl tries it again and the teacher is still unhappy with her performance so he kills her imaginary puppy. Yea, I know. Huh? C-

COUNTERTRANSFERENCE
This was a cute little film about a quiet, mousy woman bumbling her way through life and the odd relationship she shares with her boss, who can’t understand why she’s not more excited about being in charge of the merchandise in the basement, and her therapist, who is the one in most need of psychiatric help. The filmmaker(s) did a great job at capturing the mood and the humor. B

FIELD NOTES FROM DIMENSION X:OASIS
I have no idea what this stupid cartoon was about. It started off with some old guy in the desert looking at a jellyfish. And then he ended up masturbating. Sounds like film festival material to me! F

FROM BURGER IT CAME
A guy recorded a phone conversation with his mother and hap-hazardly edited it together into a re-telling of the time as a kid he ate a hamburger and he thought it gave him AIDS. And the he made a cartoon about it. Pointless and rambling. D

HUG
A hip-hop star and his manager are driving in the car on their way to a big meeting with a record label. Suddenly, the ingenue begins to hear beats in his head that no one else can hear. I really liked it up to this point. But then he got mad at his manager because he couldn’t hear the beats and throws him out of the car and drives to his sister’s place to get a hug and they hug and hug and hug and then it just kinda ends. D

I LIVE IN THE WOODS
Another animated feature, this one stop-motion animation about a redneck who lives in the woods and rips apart animals. Cue the fake blood. Squish, squish, splat, splat. Then he goes to heaven and does the same thing to God. Blood, blood, blood. This is what happens when you open the Sundance Film Festival to 7th graders. F

INSTEAD OF ABRACADABRA
Ok, this one was cool. A foreign film (Dutch? Swedish? I’m not sure) where our Napoleon Dynamite-esque hero is a struggling magician trying to impress his parents (whom he still lives with) and the cute neighbor girl. This was the only live-action short I watched where the cast wasn’t “acting”; everything was natural and sincere and really made the story come to life. A-

JAMES
When you think of independent film, you think of movies like this. You know, the kind that revolves around a 10-year-old boy who watches men pee in the bathroom and then tells his teacher he’s gay and then goes out and hops in a car with an old guy he met in the public restroom. F

MAGNETIC MOVIE
This was the first of the 10 short films I watched and it enraged me. It’s a series of shots of different labs with computer-generated magnetic waves bouncing around. There are magnetic buzzes and pops and crackles and the CG magnetic waves move in time with the sounds. Meanwhile, an actual scientist is off-camera, droning on and on about magnetic fields. Seriously. For 6 minutes, that’s all this film is. No story. No plot. Not even any characters. Just facts about science read over pictures of science labs. For six minutes. What the F

THIS WAY UP
This was my favorite of the ten, and is also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short. It’s the story of two funeral directors, a father and son, and how the simple task of picking up a corpse and bringing it to the cemetery unravels into a hilarious Laurel and Hardy-esque folly of errors. It’s a pretty morbid story, I know, but the animators bring a fun feel to it without any of the characters ever saying a word. Well done guys. Good luck against Presto at the Oscars. A


By this time you may be tired of me complaining and whinging. “If you think it’s so easy, why don’t YOU try it?”

I don’t claim to be the next superstar of film, but I’m pretty happy with my last two projects, The Failures of Ed and The Blanket. And after watching the latest batch of Sundance entrants, I think it’s time I seriously begin laying the groundwork and figure out how to get something in.

I feel pretty confident. Even if you watch my short films and think they’re horrible well…seeing how that seems to be a prerequisite anyhow, I guess I’m halfway there.

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