Festival Dispatch #6: Sneaker Night 👟
Shorts that stood tall at Sundance 2024
Awards season may be in full swing, but there’s always time to slow down for Sundance. This year’s festival was chock full of exciting debuts and engaging shorts that were as entertaining as they were diverse. With so many to choose from it was hard to narrow down favourites. But in this first dispatch, I selected a few that really stuck with me. Enjoy!
Viaje de Negocios
written and directed by: Gerardo Coello Escalante
There are many ways for a child to lose his innocence, but few would presume it involved a pair of sneakers. In director Gerardo Coello Escalante’s thrilling new short, all it takes is a new pair of sneaks to break open a newly discovered family secret. When a young Mexican boy gleefully shows off the new sneakers his dad has just brought him from a recent business trip (he got the very last pair!) he’s happy to bask in the unique thrill of being the coolest kid in class. His father is very important and very busy but he made time to get these sneakers for his only son.
But then… another boy joins his class. And he has the same pair of sneakers. And the story of how his mother’s new boyfriend got them for him he sounds… familiar. You can see where this is going. The film’s young actors, especially its lead, are wonderful at relaying the spark of disappointment that happens when children realize their parents are not just people, but people they may not necessarily like. This loss of innocence, though unusual, is not unfamiliar. People keep secrets. And secrets shape lives.
The film culminates in a fairly predictable act of vandalism meant to set the scales right. But no amount of trying can erase the knowledge gained but not sought. Viaje de Negocios is a rigorous little film chock full of wonderful child actors who bring the unlikely specificity of the story to life. Its tight scripting is key to its gripping — and inevitable — climax.
directed by: Diffan Sina Norman | written by: Carolyn Purnell
Pasture Prime, from director Diffan Sina Norman, is nothing short of a fever dream. In short: Shirley, an aging widow meets Marvin, a younger man at her local church, then becomes dangerously fixated on their imagined romance. Marvin looks like the Marlboro Man you see, and because of an apparently indelible encounter with one of the brand’s cigarette ads in her youth, Shirley is convinced this man is her soulmate.
At first, the premise is simply kind of arch and maybe funny. Older and lonely, her imagined Marlboro Man’s kindness is a salve to her empty days. After all, the trope of the lonely widow is not a new one. But when Shriley’s infatuation turns into full-on stalking (think, unsolicited cakes of all things) things spiral out of control.
With the letters and cakes showing up where he is, Marvin is understandably regretful of ever instigating a relationship of any kind with Shirley. Despite warnings from her son and daughter-in-law, Shirley refuses to stop sending Marvin letters pleading with him to come to her, save her, acknowledge her. In the end, Marvin exercises the only option left available to him and files a restraining order.
Shirley’s near-immediate about-face is entertaining but sinister. By rejecting her advances, Marvin has proven he’s a snake in the grass. But… she plans to make him pay. And it’s delicious to think about how. Aided in part by the very idea that a little old lady must necessarily be harmless, Pasture Prime looks at what obsession can look like when it’s the only thing bringing meaning to someone’s life.
directed by: Nico Casavecchia | written by: Mercedes Arturo and Nico Casavecchia
I’d be lying if I said this short didn’t hit particularly close to home. In it, Latinx filmmaker Laura is caught between a rock and a hard place when the opportunity for a career-changing new project in a different country puts her immigration status in jeopardy. Barred from travel outside the United States, she finds solutions to her rapidly approaching economic limitations in… a fremium phone game called “Candy Candy.” With each fantastical (and/or hallucinated depending on your preference) new level, she slays the real-life obstacles preventing her from living her American dream.
As an immigrant currently waiting on her own green card, I found that Border Hopper exquisitely captured the anxiety and exhaustion of winding your way through the labyrinthian US immigration system. Full of obstacles and hard stops, “doing it the right way” is an expensive logistical nightmare that limits your choices, and often your freedom. Here, Laura’s husband Jorge becomes collateral damage. If she risks her visa to take this job, he’ll be the baby thrown out with the bathwater. It is an emotionally grueling situation, and indeed, falling “out of status” is something I myself have routinely had nightmares about. Because despite its glossy, oft-repeated Ellis Island mythology, America is no friend to immigrants.
Blending magical realism and elements of horror, Nico Cassavecchia’s candy-coated video nightmare highlights just how restrictive American bureaucracy really is. It’s much easier to complain about ~illegals at the border~ when you have no concept of the years-long wait in limbo required to… pay taxes to a government you can’t even vote for.
But, key to the film’s success is that it acknowledges that though this situation is exceedingly difficult for Laura (and me) we are still the privileged few with the resources to hang on with our fingernails until we cross the finish line. If things are this bad for us, how much worse are they for the would-be immigrants who don’t have access to our resources?
Assorted Internet Detritus
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