A night at the theater: the Sundance short film experience

Katelyn Park, Staff Reporter

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There truly is nothing like going to the cinema.

The excitement that builds from strolling down a corridor with hanging art, taking a spin on dreidel-like chairs, to sitting in front of the big screen and awaiting 100 minutes of seven different films is simply its own treat. Well, perhaps you do not know this joy if you have yet to attend the annual Cleveland premiere of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival short film tour hosted by the Cinematheque at the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA). 

The film tour kicked off during the Labor Day weekend and showcased a series of seven international short films including documentaries, animation and fiction. For decades, the Sundance Film Festival Short Film Program has made it its trademark to showcase independent short films and support emerging artists, many of whom in the past have skyrocketed in fame, like Wes Anderson, Taika Waititi and Spike Jonze. 

Here are titles and synopses of this year’s program according to the independent film production company, IFC Films: 

“sometimes, i think about dying” by Stefanie Abel Horowitz. USA, 12 min.
Fran lives a bland and lonely life, constantly thinking about dying. However, her personality shifts as she flirts with a co-worker. As their relationship develops, Fran is faced with the choice of either becoming vulnerable with this man and divulging her thoughts on dying, or remaining distant and safe.

“FAST HORSE” by Alexandra Lazarowich. Canada, 14 min.

This documentary traces the journey of Allison Red Crow, an aspiring bareback horse racer from the Siksika Nation in Alberta, Canada. The film captures Crow’s first moments as a rookie, his performance at the dangerous Blackfoot bareback horse-race Indian Relay and what this race means to him.

Special Jury Award for Directing.

“Suicide by Sunlight” by Nikyatu Jusu. USA, 17 min.

Valentina is a black vampire who is protected from the sun by her melanin. She works as a nurse and blends in, but her life at home remains broken as she fights her vampire urges to regain custody of her two young daughters. The challenges of feeding and controlling rage against her ex-husband leads to trouble.

“Muteum” by A¨ggie Pak Yee Lee. Estonia, Hong Kong, 4 min.

In this cute and hilarious animation, uniform and obedient children follow their teacher as they tour some of the greatest works of art. It isn’t until the teacher takes a bathroom/smoke break that her orderly students break into mischievous chaos and tamper with the art in creative and cheeky ways.

“Crude Oil” by Christopher Good. USA, 15 min.

A toxic friendship finally comes to an end once two best friends fully utilize their own respective, useless superpowers. 

“The MINORS” by Robert Machoian. USA, 10 min.

A glimpse of a grandpa and his three grandsons on a summer’s day. It depicts buzzing childhood, savored age and reminiscence of the past. 

“Brotherhood” by Meryam Joobeur. Canada, Tunisia, Qatar, Sweden, 25 min.

A Tunisian family is suddenly reunited with their eldest son who had left for Syria to fight. The son returns home unexpectedly with his new wife. His father disapproves, which inevitably causes tension. While the eldest son and his two younger brothers take a fun trip to the beach, a bitter father makes a snap decision—a mistake that could jeopardize his family. 

Independent films are greatly appreciated in Cleveland. With a quick Google search, you can find and join the “Cleveland Independent Movie Goers” meetup page with 3,470 members and links to every independent film screening around the area.

Some also prefer the short film program over the full-length program. 

“The succinct and compact nature of a short film keeps you engaged because you’re introduced to characters and the issue almost immediately,” said fourth-year student Nsisong Udosen. 

“I noticed a couple of the short films ended abruptly or at least on a cliffhanger,” said a frequent moviegoer and long-time Cleveland native. “For the most part, I appreciated these because, after a quick and intense series of events, they drop you and leave the next chapter up to your imagination and also discussion.” 

The tour drew in a diverse crowd. The theater was mostly packed with adults and older adults, and only a few students and millennials were scattered in the mix. However, despite the generational and perhaps cultural gaps among attendees, the films had captivated and connected us all with the characters on-screen and especially with one another. 

With each film, the audience shared roars of laughter, a moment of empathy or the silence of reflection. Within this unique art form and shared experience, this year’s film tour reminded us of our collective humanity, as was hoped for by the Sundance Institute’s founder Robert Redford who created the program to “reassert the importance of craft, story, and the human being in the art and business of making movies.”