Sundance Short Film Tour 2021
The Criminals

Sundance Short Film Tour 2021

2021, NR, 80 min. Directed by Various.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Aug. 20, 2021

With their tight running times and limited scopes, short films tend to elicit equally succinct responses. Think: hmmm, ha, three variations on a huh (period, question mark, exclamation point). So it goes for the seven short films collected in this traveling show culled from six dozen shorts that screened at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival in January. Representing domestic and international films of fiction, documentary, and animated stripes, there’s not a dud in the bunch.

The program opens strong with “BJ's Mobile Gift Shop,” written and directed by Jason Park, about an entrepreneur redefining the American Dream. Some of the supporting players whiff of amateurishness, but the short is anchored by an all-swag, no-filler lead performance by Johnnyboy Tellem.

Canadian filmmaker Kelly Fyffe-Marshall’s “Black Bodies” – inspired in part by her own experience with racial profiling while visiting America – is the shortest selection of the program. With a black box theatrelike setting and figurative depiction of violence inflicted on Black people, the short has an intentional staginess, and its brevity maximizes the impact of poet/performer (and co-writer) Komi Olaf’s spoken word lament.

“Kkum,” the sole animated outing, is South Korean filmmaker Kangmin Kim’s black-and-white exploration of his mother’s premonitory dreams – trippy and tender, at once out-of-this-world visually and resonant emotionally on a very human scale.

While there’s no intentional thematic link between these disparate films, mothers are ever-present. In director Natalie Chao’s intimate, essayistic “To Know Her,” she reflects on a dead parent and interrogates a still living one. Amidst the archival footage (of shaky-cam Nineties vintage), we catch reflections of her mother in mirrors, revealing her as the one holding the camcorder, a kind of cosmic string attaching her to the daughter who would grow up to be a filmmaker.

Mothers play ancillary roles in the remaining shorts. J. Smith Cameron (Succession) brings chaotic energy to Melody C. Roscher’s “White Wedding,” which could have used more screen time to explore its combustible setup of a biracial bride confronting her absent father on the big day. Another mother just gets the plot rolling in the terrific “Wiggle Room,” written and directed by Sam Guest and Julia Baylis. Starring Deanna Gibson as a woman in a wheelchair and Sam Stillman as the claim-denying insurance agent she goes to war with, the short nabbed a Special Jury Award for Acting and boasts a chef’s-kiss final twist. And in program capper “Les Criminels,” a French-Romanian-Turkish co-production, two teens trying to get amorous have to dodge calls from an anxious mom and outfox some extremely creepy motel owners. Comic and terrifying in equal measure, this accomplished short from writer/director Serhat Karaaslan, who – no surprise there – already has a feature film under his belt, provides a satisfying cap to a program of steady quality, well-plotted and paced.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Various Films
New French Shorts 2021
The annual best of Gallic cinema, in small chunks

Josh Kupecki, June 4, 2021

2021 Oscar-Nominated Short Films: Animation
The also-rans are as good as this year's animated nominees

Richard Whittaker, April 2, 2021

More by Kimberley Jones
Austin Restaurant Weeks Returns Oct. 1-10. Here's Where You Can Eat.
Austin Restaurant Weeks Returns Oct. 1-10. Here's Where You Can Eat.
Get a dining deal, donate to Central Texas Food Bank

Sept. 21, 2021

Reveling in Heartless Bastards' New Album and the Return of the Fall Arts Season
Reveling in Heartless Bastards' New Album and the Return of the Fall Arts Season
LISTEN: The Austin Chronicle Show on KOOP FM

Sept. 17, 2021


Sundance Short Film Tour 2021, Various

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle