As the 2017 Sundance Film Festival wraps up another edition of high-profile features with notable stars, secret screenings and exorbitant sales, attention must be paid to the less-covered but no less worthy shorts that premiered in Park City last week. Brought together in eight blocks (Animation, Documentary, Midnight, and Shorts Programs 1-5), these films represent an equal mix of prolonged, thought-out narratives and fleeting moments of inspiration discovered on the fly.
For better or worse, shorts are often seen as a director’s calling card for upcoming feature work. While that’s all well and good (and I hope further success comes their way!), it dismisses the work these men and women are currently shedding blood, sweat, tears, time and money over. In some capacity, the eight shorts reviewed below feature memorable performances, exciting style, powerful individual moments and worthwhile hints at some bright futures just ahead.
The first thing you come away thinking after having watched American Paradise is that writer/director Joe Talbot has found an appropriate muse in oddball leading man Sky Elobar. Last seen in the intentionally absurd gross-out The Greasy Strangler, Elobar has a fascinating presence that calls to mind John C. Reilly as Travis Bickle — a quirky loner who could be your best friend one minute and a dangerously creepy psychopath the next. As Albert, a middle-age loner who communicates less with the outside world than with with re-runs of old television sitcoms like The Jeffersons — and who wastes his life away sentimentally fawning over photographs of people he’s never met — Elobar is clearly in his comfort zone work with Talbot. Describing the plot would be an asinine experiment if not for the fact that it’s based on a true story: a middle-aged white man dons an African-American mask, robs a bank at gunpoint, has troubling getting the mask off (sweat and latex don’t mix), and is pursued by an idiot cop who thinks crazy Albert is a black repeat offender. In its own unique way, the film makes a profound statement on racial prejudice while staying true to its dry, straight-faced comedic delivery. The wraparound story, involving three African-American fishermen, only further amplifies the break-from-ennui scenarios Talbot excels at.