Sundance is known for its stellar selection of live action shorts. We’ve all heard of famous actors and directors whose Sundance-featured shorts thrust them into the spotlight. There is one shorts program, however, that doesn’t get the clout it deserves – animation. I’m not talking cutesy, Disney-style narratives that resolve themselves into neat little moral lessons. Not that there’s anything wrong with those, of course. I have watched Moana thirteen times to date and still count Mulan (the original, not the disastrous 2020 remake) as one of my favourite films. The Sundance animated shorts, much like the live action films, can be raunchy, grungy, daring, and downright chaotic. They represent the epitome of innovative filmmaking, with plots that bend traditional storytelling structures and visuals that feel more in line with the next century than this one. Though we might not be able to make it to Park City to watch the films in person (not that most of us could casually jet there under normal circumstances), there are still plenty of ways to watch the films online.
Reneepoptosis (dir. Renee Zhan)
Do you ever feel like listening to an existential poem accompanied by the twangs of traditional Chinese music and hand-painted visuals? Same tbh. Reneepoptosis is a brilliant depiction of the director’s inner world. In Zhang’s words, the film is “a lighthearted meditation on the thin line between self-worship and self-hatred,” and an exploration of what happens when you spend too much time alone. Sounds familiar? Maybe, but I doubt my time in quarantine would result in anything half as artistic, beautiful, and original. The film is available on Argo.
Under Covers (dir. Michaela Olsen)
Clocking in at just over 7 minutes, Under Covers felt like a welcome work break in a visual playground. Over the course of one night, the film follows several characters’ mishaps and misadventures under their bed covers. I’ve been a fan of stop-motion animation since I watched Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox as a teen and proceeded to act like its suave protagonist for a month, annoying everyone around me and speaking in clipped dialogue to show them how ~witty~ I was. In contrast, this film has no dialogue, not that it needs it. Instead, Under Covers features a beautiful score that goes from lullabies to soul to percussive beats in one swift sweep. Watch the film on Argo.
Daughter (dir. Dara Kashcheeva)
Several times throughout watching Daughter, I had to remind myself that this was an animated film. To achieve her almost documentary-like stop-motion film, Kashcheeva spent 4 months in prep, creating puppets and sets that felt thrillingly life-like. The story is one of reconciliation between father and daughter, using the memory of an injured bird to heal their complicated relationship. Kascheeva actually invented a technique that introduced camera movement to stop-motion, making the film feel like a waking dream. Watch Daughter on Argo as part of their Sundance Animation playlist.
Acid Rain (dir. Tomek Popakul)
If you close your eyes and concentrate really, really hard, you might remember that at some point in human history, we attended raves. Yes, raves, with sweaty bodies pulsating around you and strangers offering you questionable substances. In those sweet, retired memories, you might find that the images feel almost cartoonish, because, well, let’s be real – you did take those questionable substances and your mind didn’t really process those visuals as realistically as they happened. Acid Rain is the perfect rave film for when you can’t go to a rave, blending techno with pops of colour and hand-drawn bodies to put you right back in those trances. The film is coming soon on Argo, but for now, you can satisfy yourself with the trailer here.
CHICHI (dir. David Nessl)
CHICHI can best be summarized by its logline: ‘My dog had a dream and he told me about it. I made a movie about that dream. This is that movie.’ The film is as hilarious as you can imagine, full of characters talking in the non-utterances that a dog would probably interpret out of human language. There’s even an alien invasion, where the aliens decide their first course of action is to play with some man boobs. I would say you can’t make this up, but David Nessl’s dog just did. Watch CHICHI on Argo.
Watch The Best of Sundance: Animation
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