Correction Appended: An earlier version of this article implied that the 2010 shorts are being shown in conjunction with the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
Sundance Shorts 2010
At the Michigan
Today at 9:30 p.m.
It’s easy to lose sight of what the Sundance Film Festival is all about in the midst of all the fur vests and celebrities who flock to Salt Lake City in the wintertime. But somewhere in those hoards of people, the spirit and potential of the independent film still reigns. These short films have managed to capture that spirit for the most part and blend both tragedy and comedy from a diverse range of cultural backgrounds.
The first film in the eight-film series is “The Six Dollar Fifty Man.” It tells the story of a boy who creates a fantasy world in order to escape bullies at school, as well as the drone of ordinary life. While certainly a well-made film, the child actors in “The Six Dollar Fifty Man” can’t hold up against the vibrant characters portrayed by more mature actors in other films.
“Birthday” and “Rob and Valentyna in Scotland” both deal with complex love relationships between adults in a harsh reality. The performances of the actors (particularly Kimi Reichenberg as Valentyna) infuse their cinematically striking yet painful worlds with delicate and often tender emotions. Both films attempt to tackle challenging and controversial subject matter. “Birthday” is a Polish film about a lesbian couple and the strain their relationship undergoes as they create a family. “Rob and Valentyna in Scotland” is perhaps the most contentious of the short films as it tells the story of a somewhat incestuous love story between two cousins.
The most vibrant of the films is “Mr. Okra,” a documentary about a man who sells fruits and vegetables from his truck in New Orleans. Though simple, “Mr. Okra” successfully captures the personality of both the man and his city as he cruises through the streets, singing about his vegetables and philosophizing about life.
However, “Mr. Okra” isn’t the only splash of color and lightheartedness. In fact, the vast majority of these films attempt to put a lighthearted spin on matters. “Young Love” is precisely what its title suggests — a satirical musing on a relationship — but it’s got the added bonus of having llamas in it. “My Invisible Friend” is actually a very sad story about isolation and a boy who is too shy to even ask his own father to pass him the salt at the dinner table. But director Pablo Larcuen infuses it with warmth — and a half-naked man in an Admiral Ackbar mask. There’s also “My Rabbit Hobby,” shot in home-video style that almost twists into a mockingly terrible horror movie.
But by far the funniest of the films is “Drunk History,” where booze-infused comedian Jen Kirkman tells the story of Frederick Douglass (Don Cheadle, “Brooklyn’s Finest”) and Abraham Lincoln (Will Ferrell, “The Other Guys”). Though it’s part of the website Funny or Die’s “Drunk History” series, the film could be interpreted as an interesting take on the way historical narratives can be manipulated.
There is one animation in the short film series, called “Wisdom Teeth.” Basically, it’s one cartoon guy pulling out another’s wisdom teeth stitches with calamitous results. It’s bizarre and kind of grotesque, but at the same time, it’s hard to avoid an occasional burst of laughter — whether that laughter results from discomfort or some kernel of humor is hard to discern.