Sundance 2020: The Shorts Program

Solzy at the Movies previewed a number of shorts that screened in the shorts programs during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

Meats

Ashley Williams certainly couldn’t have picked a better project for her directorial debut.  Imagine being a vegan but finding yourself having strong cravings for eating meat.  What would you do in such a predicament?  For Lane (Ashley Williams), it’s eat as much meat as you possibly can.  Lane considers herself to be an obnoxious vegan and she’s been one since the ninth grade.  As she undergoes this pregnancy with meat cravings, Lane finds herself scared of who she is now.  She no longer recognizes herself and hates that she wants to eat meat.

This is a film that goes for authenticity as much as possible in the production.  Whether it’s casting a master butcher, shooting in a butcher shop, or using an actual lamb, everything happening on screen is real.  While it would seem that a stand-in for the lamb would make the most sense here, Williams and crew go above and beyond.  Even though the film is going for this angle, maybe they could have shot the film without having the lamb’s head attached.

Lane’s predicament in Meats should resonate with pregnant vegetarians/vegans that suddenly find themselves craving meat.  It must be said that Meats is a Solzy Awards contender for Best Comedy Short.

DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER:  Ashley Williams
CAST:  Ashley Williams, Giancarlo Sbarbaro

Jessie Kahnweiler and Luka Jones appear in He's the One
Jessie Kahnweiler and Luka Jones appear in He’s The One by Jessie Kahnweiler, an official selection of the Shorts Programs at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Patrick Gookin.

He’s the One

Jessie (Jessie Kahnweiler) meets Christian (Luka Jones) and falls in love with him.  Even though the two of them are getting along well with each other, Jessie makes a startling discovery that changes everything.  It turns out that the two of them share a mutual past.  The question soon becomes will it enough to overcome and have a relationship going forward?

Every #MeToo story is different.  How one person goes forward with their life could be substantially different than another person.  The decisions that Jessie makes about what to do might or might not be the same decision that someone else makes.  And yet, both decisions are perfectly valid.

He’s The One is a dark comedy that certainly has something to say about the #MeToo movement.  Moreover, Jessie Kahnweiler is a triple threat both in front and behind the camera as the film’s writer-director-star.  She’s written a brilliant script here.  Honestly, I would love to see what a feature-length version of the film would look like.  That said, it works quite well as a short film, too.

Keep your eye on He’s The One because this short film is a Solzy Awards contender.

DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER:  Jessie Kahnweiler
CAST:  Jessie Kahnweiler, Luka Jones, Alexandria Churchwell

Blocks
Claire Coffee appears in Blocks by Bridget Moloney, an official selection of the Shorts Programs at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Jake Hossfeld.

Blocks

Claire Coffee stars as the mother of two children.  Suddenly, she starts puking up blocks.  It just kind of happens as there were no sorts of precursor to the madness.  One can only wonder as to how much of this is probably psychological from the stress of parenting.

There’s a lot of puking in Blocks but thankfully, it’s not too much puking.  It also isn’t even the nasty type of puking but puking out Legos!  I certainly would not want to be touching those Legos any time soon!

Blocks is a Solzy Awards contender for Best Comedy Short.

DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER:  Bridget Moloney
CAST:  Claire Coffee, Mark Webber, Ruha Taslimi, Phoebe Sinclair & George Sinclair

Danny's Girl
Danny Dikel and Rémy Bennett appear in Danny’s Girl by Emily Wilson, an official selection of the Shorts Programs at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Hunter Zimny.

Danny’s Girl

Danny (Danny Dikel) and Cleo (Rémy Bennett) are meeting for the first time after dating online.  Given that the film is playing in the Midnight shorts program, there is certainly an immediate sense of danger.  It’s only when Cleo goes to the restroom in which Danny also comes across something problematic by accident.  Naturally, Danny begins to freak out.  The moment that Cleo learns of this discovery is when Danny’s life quickly becomes a nightmare.

There are a few layers involved with Danny’s Girl.  One the one hand, Cleo definitely has PTSD and so we must approach her with some care involved.  The fact that Danny doesn’t know this ahead of time shows that Cleo wasn’t entirely forthcoming.  At the same time, Cleo’s behavior is also unbecoming even with knowing what we now know.  I debated not adding this part but I must issue a trigger/content warning for coercion where Cleo is not the victim.

DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER:  Emily Wilson
CAST:  Danny Dikel, Rémy Bennett

Little Chief
Lily Gladstone and Julian Ballentyne appear in Little Chief by Erica Tremblay, an official selection of the Shorts Programs at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Marshall Stief.

Little Chief

An exhausted teacher, Sharon (Lily Gladstone), has struggles of her own while a student, Bear (Julian Ballentyne), is dealing with challenges of her own.

Writer-director Erica Tremblay draws upon her own experiences growing up in Oklahoma.  It’s a film that seeks to give us a different perspective in some of the conversations of late.  The short film offers us a glimpse at life on the reservation and is the type of film that one could see expanded into a feature film.

DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER:  Erica Tremblay
CAST:  Lily Gladstone, Julian Ballentyne

Three Deaths
Ilise Weiner appears in Three Deaths by Jay Dockendorf, an official selection of the Shorts Programs at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Three Deaths

An older woman is traveling to the airport in order to be treated for cancer abroad but because of her health, she has no choice but to return home.  In the meantime, a pair of strangers drive past her car as the events transpire.  Yet they’re headed into the woods where an old man is dying.  Not surprisingly, there is certainly a lot of death in this film.

Three Deaths, in which three strangers confront death, is a contemporary adaptation of a Leo Tolstoy story.  The short film was also shot on 35mm film.  Most interestingly, this 1859 Tolstoy story had never before been adapted on screen before.

DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER:  Jay Dockendorff
CAST:  Ilise Weiner, Catherine Nastasi, Sam Stillman, Keith Williams Richards, Audrey Turner, William Wood

The Sundance Film Festival runs January 23-February 2, 2020. Meats, He’s The One, and Three Deaths screen with Shorts Program 2. Blocks screens with Shorts Program 1. Danny’s Girl screens with the Midnight Shorts Program. Little Chief screens with La Layenda Negra.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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