Sundance shines a light on short films in Park City
This year’s shorts program at Sundance has 64 films in the hopper with a wide variety of stories.
Sundance feature films with their A-list names and red carpet premieres garner widespread attention during the festival. Short films have their champions and super fans as well.
The short films this year range from documentaries to animation and beyond.
"It is exciting to come back to Park City," Mike Plante said, Sundance short films senior programmer. "I think this program is as strong as we've had ever before."
He said this year’s program is full of surprises.
“And it's really, really exciting that, you know, the pandemic has been tough, of course, on everybody, audiences and filmmakers but people have really just kept pushing through it," Plante said. "And we saw some of the most exciting things this year. And we're just lucky that we get so many. It is a big chore, it is a big job to get through everything and to properly look at everyone's vision but it makes our program so much better.”
The big job Plante talked about is sifting through the sheer volume of submissions he and his team watch while deciding on the final program.
“Literally 10,980. I really look at that number on my database quite a bit, just to make sure I'm not totally crazy," he said. "But yes, we get that many. And there's 10 of us and we take six months. That's how we watch all of them.”
Plante said deciding whether a film will make it through their rigorous screening process starts with that indescribable thing that makes a film stand out.
“You know, it's, it's really just, does the film pop," he said. "I don't read about the film before I watch it. I don't want any preconceived notion. I kind of want it the way audiences will show up to our shorts programs. You'll see this mixtape of a lot of different styles. So I don't know if I’m supposed to laugh or cry, if it's a doc, or if it's a fiction or an animation. So I just hit play and watch it and the movie plays as if I was just an audience member.”
Plante said the pop is what grabs him but in the end it’s the story that is most important.
“You feel like there's a story you go with," he said. "If it's a drama, I care about what's happening and in with the characters. If it's a comedy, I gotta laugh, you know, things like that. If it's a documentary, it can be funny but often it'll be about, oh, is this something that the news isn't telling us is a go deeper into his story? So we're pretty lucky because the films really speak to us. And then it's just hard because there's more good films that we could possibly show.”
Plante said the short film has become a calling card for filmmakers. These short works now have bigger opportunities for a life after the festival than in years past.
“And now it's going back to short films have this huge opportunity because of various websites. And some websites are buying, actually giving some money to the short films," he said. "It's a lot more to do with documentary but it's starting to happen more with fiction and animation because websites realize that they got to have unique content. Which sounds gross when you're talking about art but I understand it all. It is a business at that point.”
Plante said he makes a promise to those festival goers who check out the shorts programs.
“So if you only see one program, it doesn't matter which one you walk into, I promise it's going to be entertaining. And if you see a couple, they're going to be totally different from each other.”