'2016 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour': Film Review

Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour
'Thunder Road'
A mixed bag of thematically unrelated shorts.
6/17/2016

Sundance culls through this year's fest entries for a feature-length grab-bag.

In selecting the short film entries from this year's Sundance Film Festival to package for their annual theatrical tour,  programmers not only avoid a thematic through-line but don't even really take a box-of-chocolates approach. At least a Whitman's Sampler wraps its varied surprises in the same cocoa-derived package. Here, one finds every kind of thing, from quirky docs and neorealist dilemmas to animation and dive-bomb Surrealism.

A couple of the live-action entries, like Bridey Elliott's Affections and Asantewaa Prempeh's Jungle, intrigue but are light in the payoff department. As for a four-minute scatological non-sequitur by Calvin Reeder, the best one can say is that it's 76 minutes shorter than a tedious horror-flick experiment he brought to Sundance in 2011. But other snippets of narrative stand more solidly on their own, like Her Friend Adam, in which Ben Petrie shows the grating effect of jealousy on a young couple's relationship.

Oldster eccentricity drives Bacon & God's Wrath, in which a 90-year-old woman who seems to have become an atheist in the last two years (since she started using the internet) violates her kosher upbringing for the first time. "I didn't throw up," she reports, with unfazed relief. A more reverent look at elders and tradition comes in The Grandfather Drum, Canadian animator Michelle Derosier's look at First Nations traditions being trampled by Christian evangelists. The short's strong graphics and clever twists on a paper-cutout style enliven a sad, all-too-familiar narrative.

Two entries supply the sort of one-of-a-kind appeal that makes hodgepodge packages like this one worthwhile. In Edmond, Nina Gantz uses felt dolls (whose facial expressions appear to be hand-drawn and pasted in digitally) to depict a middle-aged man's loneliness, poetically slipping from one episode to another in an effort to suggest how he came to find himself here, on a lakeside pier, with a small boulder tied to a length of rope.

Then there is Thunder Road, a bizarre outpouring of confused, raw emotion set at a funeral. Director Jim Cummings stars as a police officer whose awkward eulogy for his dead mother, in which self-effacing apologies punctuate the heartfelt farewell, morphs into a transfixing lip-sync rendition of the eponymous Bruce Springsteen song. Captured in a continuous 13-minute shot, the film raises numerous questions but is none the worse for leaving every one of them unanswered. The funny and strangely touching effort earned Cummings a Grand Jury prize at January's fest. No offense intended to its neighbors on this theatrical program, but the award was deserved.

Distributor: Sundance Film Festival
Directors: Various

Not rated, 95 minutes

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