The Sundance Film Festival’s sweetest surprises often come in the form of shorts, not necessarily the ones that are gathered up in feature-length packages throughout the ten January days in Park City, Utah, but the ones that are unexpected delights before features. I’d class Lynne Ramsay’s “Gasman,” shown before the premiere of Vincent Gallo’s “Buffalo 66” in 1998, thus: Gallo’s film is something but “Gasman” announced a talent nearly full-formed in just a few minutes. Sundance’s Art House Project assembles nine films from around the world; I don’t know if these are the absolute best or if the very good ones for which rights were readily secured.
Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland’s “The Six Dollar Fifty Man” is a keen take on a feral 8-year-old boy dealing with schoolmates; the casting is just right. (It won the Jury Prize in International Short Filmmaking.) Don Hertzfeldt’s “Wisdom Teeth” has bloody cruel fun—in Swedish!—with his usual ultra-simple line drawings. It’s on a level with the deliriously vile cartoons of Iceland’s Hugleikur Dagsson. Australian Ariel Kleiman’s minimalist “Young Love” is built on a mustachioed man’s bloodied hand, a spitting woman, a small herd of curious llamas and a flash of galloping horses. T. G. Herrington’s great, gorgeous “Mr. Okra” follows a New Orleans vegetable salesman. There’s not a misstep in the twelve minutes spent in the Ninth Ward with the charismatic Arthur Robinson. “Ah love mah city… an’ mah city loves me.” Spaniard Pablo Larcuen’s “My Invisible Friend” is so painful and so funny: a sharp, small portrayal of the legacy of crippling shyness, down to being forced to eat potatoes without salt. Once lonely Tomas’ “imaginary friend” rears his leotards, Larcuen leans into “Napoleon Dynamite” territory to affecting result. Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself” and music from Dinosaur, Jr., Devo, and end song Daniel Johnston’s “Tell Me Now” work, weirdly. Of Anthony Lucas’ “My Rabit Hoppy,” emulating young Henry’s show-and-tell video about his very strange black pet rabbit is three minutes of vicious perfection. (That’s one huge fuckin’ rabbit.) Jenifer Malmqvist’s Polish-Swedish “Birthday” works harsh angles on the romantic triangle on a woman’s fortieth birthday: it’s “Celebration” writ small. Jeremy Konner’s “Drunk History: Douglass & Lincoln” is part of a series of potted histories, in this case one Jen Kirkman drinks two bottles of wine and then struggles to explain the historical event. Plus: the lip-sync reenactors of Kirkman’s retelling are Don Cheadle and Will Ferrell. It’s idiotic. It’s extremely funny. (It won the Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking.) Eric Lynne’s odd couple travelogue “Rob and Valentyna in Scotland” rounds out the program, with an American and his Ukrainian cousin lost in the Highlands. (Sample it here.) Program 103m. (Ray Pride)
“Sundance Institute 2010 Shorts” opens Friday at the Music Box.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.