The short documentaries extremely impressed me at Sundance this year, and I am glad to share my reviews for what was another strong collection of films. There is something here for everyone, and I am proud to have covered the festival’s shorts during this time.
Here are my reviews of the Sundance 2021 Documentary 2 shorts.
A Concerto is a Conversation
Directors: Ben Proudfoot, Kris Bowers
Starring: Kris Bowers, Horace Bowers, Sr.
Synopsis: A virtuoso jazz pianist and film composer tracks his family’s lineage through his 91-year-old grandfather from Jim Crow Florida to the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
One of the best-edited shorts I have seen at Sundance. The story is incredibly touching, and I love the music throughout. The sound design in this documentary is phenomenal, never overshadowing the conversation that is going on and instead helping drive the film forward. Absolutely stunning.
My Own Landscapes
Director: Antoine Chapon
Writer: Antoine Chapon
Starring: Cyrille Poitevineau-Millin
Synopsis: Within the French and American armies, virtual reality prepares soldiers for their future battles just as it treats post-traumatic stress disorder after their baptism of fire. Antoine Chapon meets Cyril, former military video game designer and a veteran, who is dealing with the return to civilian life and loss of identity.
This is just bad. There’s a great idea behind this short documentary, exploring the idea of the creative freedoms within video games, but the presentation is so dull. The voice-over is monotone, the footage itself is not engaging and it is a serious lack of potential. This will end up being the worst short of the festival.
To Know Her
Director: Natalie A. Chao
Synopsis: A poetic exploration of the camera’s gaze and a family’s relationship with the filmmaker’s mother.
Whilst I may not love this short documentary as much as other people, I still enjoyed it and connected with the heart of the story. I loved the little touch of not including subtitles at the start, making it feel like a private conversation that we were observing. A lovely little short.
The Field Trip
Directors: Meghan O’Hara, Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck, Mike Attie
Synopsis: A group of fifth graders learn what it takes to get ahead in the modern American workplace.
This is a short film that is of such an interesting subject matter. Watching these children act like adults, being taught about finance and the importance of money and working, is such a great idea. However, purely being an observer in a situation like this is surprisingly unengaging and I found the filmmaking to be bland, unfortunately dropping the quality of the short film.
Spirits and Rocks: an Azorean Myth
Director: Aylin Gökmen
Starring: Hellen Torres
Synopsis: On a volcanic island, inhabitants are caught in an unending cycle: the threat of impending eruptions and earthquakes, and the burden of past traumas loom over them. Some draw upon myth and religious beliefs to interpret their precarious situation, while others demonstrate resilience, rebuilding their villages from the volcanic rocks.
One of the simpler documentaries in the festival, but the atmosphere it builds is stunning to look at. One of the more gorgeous films of the festival, I would have loved to have heard lyrical poetry that was at the start of the film. It won’t captivate everyone, but I quite enjoyed it.
When We Were Bullies
Director: Jay Rosenblatt
Synopsis: A mind-boggling “coincidence” leads the filmmaker to track down his fifth grade class – and fifth grade teacher – to examine their memory of and complicity in a bullying incident fifty years ago.
This documentary has a fantastic editing style with it, and a compelling narrative. However, this documentary is very long for a short story and I wish that it could have been more concise. It has an interesting message behind it and I just wish that the pacing issues were fixed, because there is plenty to enjoy in this short.