Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

“Bambirak” — Jury Award, International Fiction

A personal favorite, “Bambirak” is a simple story despite its heavy themes. Kati (Lara Cengiz in her debut) hides in the back of her father’s (Kailas Mahadevan, “Berlin, Berlin”) delivery van, and once he finds her, he has no choice but take her along on his route. Throughout the film, Kati speaks primarily German while her father prefers his native Farsi. The two switch back and forth with ease, a feature of their insider-outsider immigrant life. The day becomes something of an adventure for Kati, who by evening has become a skilled courier. Kati’s carefree joy is soured briefly by an instance of racial prejudice — at the hands of other children, no less — but her kind and understanding father is able to restore Kati’s smile.

The short has the quality of analog film, with desaturated colors and softer edges. Despite gray skies, there is a summery warmth and ease in the way the film is edited and presented. Successful in many ways, “Bambirak” is memorable for its loving portrayal of a father and daughter, at times at odds with their world but always united. The viewer learns a few lessons from “Bambirak”: that there is much to be learned in a day’s work, and that sometimes, love is candy.

Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

“Lizard” — Grand Jury Prize

Beautiful and rich with symbolic metaphor, “Lizard” is about a mischievous and curious girl named Juwon (Pamilerin Ayodeji in her debut) who explores the run-down buildings of her religious school while the adults are in prayer. There is a constant vacillation between reverent awe and disillusionment; it becomes clear to the viewer that hypocrisy and contradiction are present in this place, even if these realizations are not precisely understood by Juwon. By the time the film reaches its furious climax, we are steeped in her world and eager to know more.

With the smallest touch of fantasy, “Lizard” is a compelling, if slow, short film. Enough remains unsaid and unexplored that a feature-length adaptation would only enhance the audience’s appreciation of the systems and themes at play. Set in Lagos, Nigeria, and critical of its religious institutions, the short film gracefully addresses the challenges of post-colonial self-actualization. “Lizard” leaves the audience wanting more from director Akinola Davies Jr. (“Contactless”), who certainly has more to say.

Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

“Wiggle Room” — Special Jury Award for Acting

In a way, “Wiggle Room” is a story about speaking truth to power. Daisy (Deanna Gibson in her debut) needs a wheelchair to get around, and the film follows her as she seeks reimbursement from her insurance company for a ramp that was installed at her home. The repayment deadline is fast approaching, and Daisy wants to know what’s taking so long. Unfortunately, the strip mall insurance office is predictably bureaucratic and unfriendly.

Though Daisy leaves without her money, she does not leave empty-handed. With deftly mixed sound and satisfying visuals, “Wiggle Room” is highly watchable. Neatly composed as an independent piece, “Wiggle Room” could easily become part of a larger work. I hope to see a feature film version in the future, as Daisy’s inspiring determination yearns to be part of a longer narrative. The short film is surprisingly action-packed, and the viewer walks away with a smile. Daisy’s courage is formidable in the face of ableism and corporate paper-pushing.

Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

“The Criminals” — Special Jury Award for Screenwriting

What begins as a teenage romance becomes rather sinister. Nazli (Deniz Altan, “Plaza”) and Emre (Lorin Merhart, “A Girl Walks Into A Bar”) are in love. Both college students, they’re desperately looking for a hotel for the night to have sex. Unfortunately, no hotel room will rent them a room without a marriage certificate, per Turkish law. They must be crafty, and are almost successful until a harrowing encounter with hotel “security.”

Emre and Nazli are familiar characters; their desire to get away from the dorms and from home is not alien to the audience. As a look into the unfamiliar moral customs of another culture, “The Criminals” is able to highlight the universality of human nature. Teenage love is global. The characters’ awkwardness and innocence are convincingly portrayed, and there is a messiness to their passion that feels incredibly honest and real. These performances certainly warrant the Sundance win. “The Criminals” tells a complete and standalone story, representing the most proper use of the short film genre.

Daily Arts Writer Ross London can be reached at