The big news out of the Sundance Film Festival is rarely ever the short filmmaking. Never mind that more than a few features - Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden's "Half Nelson" being a recent example - began as shorts. Our YouTube times haven't done much to correct this. This year's festival just started yesterday, and the shorts will probably get short shrift again, sadly even from yours truly.
Still, the festival's Sundance Institute wants to bring more of Sundance to the people - well, to the art-house people, anyway. And so 12 mom-and-pop theaters across the country will get the 2007 Sundance Institute Art House Project Shorts Program, a seven-movie sampler of last year's entries playing at the Coolidge.
For the most part, the subjects are amusingly dark. Ray Tintori's "Death to the Tin Man" turns L. Frank Baum's "Wizard of Oz" back story, "The Tin Woodman of Oz," into a comic, sort of experimental, somewhat surrealist romance about how the Tin Man was a heartsick factory worker who became a revolutionary in order to win back his Marxist lady love. It's the most fun 12-minute movie Beck or the Foo Fighters never starred in. Tintori and his crew give it a lot of energy. It has wit and, yes, heart.
Attraction is the subject of three films. In Jenifer Malmqvist's pointed "Peace Talk," two little Swedish girls have a play date that turns into another kind of date. The mother of one of the girls is more disturbed by their affection than by their apparent pretending to be soldiers at war.
The attraction in Caran Hartsfield's "King" is financed. An older woman, played by the alluring Novella Nelson, gets a new gentleman caller (her regular guy couldn't make it). The shame and awkwardness between them become incredibly sensual. Fellipe Gamarano Barbosa's "Salt Kiss" is pretty sensual, too. A couple arrives for a weekend at an old friend's Brazilian beach house, and all they want to do is make love. But this friend is a coarse weirdo, and he freaks out the woman in the couple. The slight twist isn't remotely convincing but the strange, serious mood Barbosa sustains is.
The high point of this collection is "Everything Will Be OK," the latest animated short from the popular Don Hertzfeldt. I'll confess to rolling my eyes when I saw his name on the list, even though the film won the short-filmmaking jury prize at last year's festival. A little of Hertzfeldt's aggrieved stick figures goes a long way. But "Everything Will Be OK" is a sort of masterpiece that takes Hertzfeldt's trademarks down new artistic roads.
It's another tale of personal anomie and woe - this stick man is named Bill and he's suffering a life crisis - but the whole thing is glimpsed through oblong peepholes that pop up on an initially black screen. What fills them (live-action footage, colors) alternates between dream-like day-to-day life and hallucinogenic nightmare, scored at some point to Bizet. This is "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" taken to paranoid extremes. It's wild, fun, and unexpected, not to mention a perfect demonstration of the lollapalooza that moviemaking - short and otherwise - can be.