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Sundance 2021: Short Film Showcase – Documentary 1

The shorts collection at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival are split into seven categories, including three that are distinguished by sub-genres: documentaries and animation. This showcase is focusing on the first collection of the documentary short films, and there are some fantastic shorts within this group.

Here are my reviews of all seven films.

This is the Way We Rise

Director: Ciara Lacy

Synopsis: An exploration into the creative process, following Native Hawaiian slam poet Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio, as her art is reinvigorated by her calling to protect sacred sites atop Maunakea, Hawai`i.

What helps drive this film forward is the powerful poetry and the clear impact her words are making. I like this approach of telling a story, and I do wish that there was more time to spend leaning about the issues within Hawaii. However, this is a powerful short and one that I would easily recommend.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Up At Night

Director: Nelson Makengo
Writer: Nelson Makengo

Synopsis: Homemade battery packs and snaking power cables connect citizens of Kinshasa resisting darkness.

This was a disappointment for me, as I struggled to actually engage with the story of this documentary. The film tries this three cameras technique, but sadly it didn’t work for me as it just separated the style from the subject matter and was distracting to watch. There is a good film hidden in here, I just wish it had more of a focus.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Tears Teacher

Director: Noémie Nakai

Synopsis: A teacher conducts a crying therapy in Japan, where people list things that make them weep, with the goal of understanding its importance.

This is such a great idea for a documentary, that I just wished it was a feature length instead. A beautiful story that truly has heart and captured my soul. The narrative style is effective and there is so much impact to be made with this subject matter. I just want more already.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Rifleman

Director: Sierra Pettengill
Writers: Sierra Pettengill, Daniel Garber
Starring: Harlon Carter, Solonje Burnett, Aric Grauke

Synopsis: An all-archival excavation of the links between gun culture, the National Rifle Association, and the U.S. Border Patrol across five decades.

This is a well presented short documentary, jammed pack with information. Not only is the editing style sharp, but the film itself moves at a nice pace and presents the information clearly. This is a subject matter that certainly deserves a feature length documentary.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Snowy

Directors: Alexander W. Lewis, Kaitlyn Schwalje

Synopsis: Snowy, a 4-inch-long pet turtle, has lived an isolated life in the family basement. With help from a team of experts and his caretaker, Uncle Larry, we ask: Can Snowy be happy and what would it take?

Most likely going to be the cutest documentary, there is something simply charming about watching the life of a turtle in this beautiful manner. Also, I can do easily relate to Snowy’s owners, which is great to watch from their perspective. Nothing revolutionary but still worth a watch.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Dear Philadelphia

Director: Renee Osubu

Synopsis: Three African American fathers unravel the incomparable partnership of forgiveness and community.

This is such a well told story with a beautiful view of Philadelphia. The images used throughout the documentary, especially of the men on the horses, are so striking and I love the choice of the black-and-white filter here. I highly encourage everyone to check this one out.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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