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2023 Sundance Festival Short Film Program 3: Grief, Menial Jobs, Talking Termites on the Slate

Shannon Plumb portrays Diane in the 2023 Sundance Film Festival short film “Walk of Shame.”

By Vanessa Zimmer

The 60 or so short films that make their way into the Sundance Film Festival each year often foreshadow a filmmaker who will make a name in feature films. 

Will the writer-directors who brought films to Short Film Program 3 this year be ones who bring life-changing feature films to the world? This particular program brought potentially life-changing short stories — about grief, family, self-determination, and much more — to the Festival. 

So, we invite you to take a journey through this year’s Short Film Program 3 — which includes  the big winner in the Shorts category, When You Left Me on That Boulevard — and make up your own mind.

All of the program’s writer-directors took the stage following the premiere screening of the program to answer questions about the genesis of their projects. 

Walk of Shame — The idea for this story, about a grieving widow tracking her husband’s old camouflage jacket, came to writer-director Dane Ray a couple of years ago when he and his girlfriend visited a thrift store. The experience made him think about thrift-store clothing living previous lives, and so he wrote a short film about a woman catching sight of the camo jacket on a man in a nightclub and then taking steps to confirm the jacket was her dead husband’s — so that she could move on with her life. Comedian Shannon Plumb played the widow; Ray admiringly refers to her as a “modern-day Charlie Chaplin.” 

Bigger on the Inside — “Everyone knows that the inside of the anus looks like the cosmos,” says writer-director Angelo Madsen Minax in the Q&A. That’s why his short combines archival footage of snowy trees and cabins in the woods, space scenes, theoretical presentations, and dating app messages with flirting and provocative discussions. The body, says Minax, is a container for all human longing.

White Ant — Denzil Smith plays a man who returns to India to find that his late father’s home is being destroyed by termites. Writer-director Shalini Adnani says the premise was drawn from her own life, as well as many “sleepless nights and weird dreams.” And, yes, she answers a question from the shorts program audience: Termites really do communicate among themselves within the walls.

Louis Carrière is Charles-Olivier, a recent graduate with a history degree, who takes a job at a pool shop, in the short film “Pro Pool.”

Pro Pool — A stint working at a pool shop following graduation from film school inspired Alec Pronovost’s hilarious short. Like his character Charles-Olivier, he knew nothing about pools and pool chemicals and felt completely lost. “That wasn’t a long career,” he jokes in the Q&A, saying he lasted three weekends. Unlike Pronovost, however, Charles-Olivier majored in history with a focus on civilization studies, Vikings in particular. When a school chum shows up and casually mentions he’s working in the field, attending conferences, and living the good life, Charles-Olivier takes action.

Hawaiki — New Zealand filmmaker Nova Paul wrote no script for this short, using only observational techniques to capture “what self-determination looks like.” The story follows students at the Owiki School (which Paul’s son attends) as they “build their own world,” in Paul’s words, a refuge at the edge of the playground and into the forest. They call the refuge “Hawaiki,” which holds spiritual and metaphysical meaning for the Māori.

Nocturnal Burger — A young girl walking at night in Mumbai accepts a neighbor’s offer to buy her a burger and take her home in a rickshaw. The night ends in a police station with insensitive law enforcement officers, the child’s dysfunctional family, and a teacher pleading his good name. Plus, the woman who came to the child’s rescue after noticing obscene activity in the rickshaw as she drove by it. Writer-director Reema Maya says the story is based on her own experience. At first, she thought the two people in the rickshaw were a couple. Passing by a second time: “I happened to notice it was a kid and a man.” She called the police. “I couldn’t talk about it for a long time,” she says. “This is the story I really needed to tell.”

When You Left Me on That Boulevard — Kayla Abuda Galang’s story of an extended family’s raucous Thanksgiving celebration in San Diego won the Grand Jury Prize in the shorts section this year. Galang calls it an extension of her love to the “community that raised and nurtured me.”

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