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Sundance 2021: Best of the Short Films

Updated: Aug 15, 2021

I got the short films pass for this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Unfortunately I missed out on a few, but I saw a majority of them and my hope is that you check some out when they become available and support these independent filmmakers. These are my favorites.

The Affected

Plot: A plane about to take off is suddenly stalled when one passenger refuses to sit down in order to prevent the deportation of another man.

  • From director Rikke Gregersen. A very sharp social commentary with elements of dark humor. The moral dilemma of this film really makes for an engaging watch, and watching these characters reacting to the situation was very fun to watch.

BJ’s Mobile Gift Shop

Plot: A young Korean-American hustler roams the streets of Chicago making money off of his mobile gift shop.

  • From director Jason Park. This is a pretty familiar story, but it is very entertaining and has a lot of positive energy to it. Johnnyboy Tellem plays the lead, and he does a great job in the role. It’s a very nice and heartfelt film, and one that will leave a smile.


Plot: A young boy begins to question is masculinity after his father gets into a fight at a bowling alley.

  • From director Miles Warren. A resonating look on masculinity from the perspective of a young boy. The cinematography is really well done and adds a lot of claustrophobia, and watching this boy struggle with his image was devastating to watch. Anyone who has ever felt that they needed to be more “manly” will relate to this film’s message. Noble B. Whitted does a great job.

A Concerto is a Conversation

Plot: Jazz pianist Kris Bowers interviews his 91-year-old grandfather on his journey from Jim Crow Florida to the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

  • From directors Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers. This was such a lovely documentary to watch. It was beautifully told, I loved the framing of the two men, and the presentation was sincere. A very wholesome watch.

Dear Philadelphia

Plot: A look into a predominantly African American community in North Philadelphia and the trials and tribulations of the area.

  • From director Renee Maria Osubu. A gorgeously presented documentary.. The black-and-white cinematography is really beautiful, and hearing the stories from people in the community was very inspiring and hopeful. Maria Osubu is actually from the UK, so watching this feels like an outsider’s POV.

Don't Go Tellin' Your Mama

Plot: A visual telling of the Black ABC’s created by black educators in Chicago as a way to combat the white educational system.

  • From directors Topaz Jones and rubber band. I loved the presentation, the cinematography, the use of music, and the interviews with these people. The framing device for this allowed for some powerful, emotional, and even humorous moments. It is a very unique, creative, and sensual experience.


Plot: A young woman reports being sexually harassed in her workplace.

  • From director Hazel McKibbin. This did it more for me than the 2020 film “The Assistant,” in only 13 minutes. It’s very timely and uncomfortable, and it left me frustrated, and that final shot was heartbreaking. Angela Wong Carbone does a great job.


Plot: A son recounts the dreams that his mother has.

  • From director Kim Kang-min. This is my favorite animated short. It is a gorgeously animated film, using styrofoam as its base. I have never seen an animation style like this before, and its use of it was really beautiful. It’s a very poignant short.


Plot: A son struggles to say goodbye to his dead father before the undertakers take him away.

  • From director Julian Doan. This takes a somber subject that is grief, and turns it into something surprisingly childlike, in a good way. It encapsulates the many emotions that grief can do to a person, and this was done in a very humane way. Raymond Lee does a great job emoting with his face.

The Rifleman

Plot: A look into the life of Harlon Carter, who is considered to be “the grandfather of the NRA (National Rifle Association).”

  • From director Sierra Pettengill. This was a very informative and riveting short. The use of archive footage is very well done, and its presentation felt unique from a typical historical documentary piece.


Plot: A son documents the family pet, a turtle named Snowy, as they attempt to give him a better and happy life.

  • From directors Kaitlyn Schwalje and Alex Wolf Lewis. Cute. Purely a cute film. It’s quirky and even a bit silly, but definitely felt personal. With there being a lot of more serious subjects screened at Sundance, this one was a nice breath of fresh air. I love that turtle.

Tears Teacher

Plot: A Japanese man teaches a class on crying therapy as a way to show the importance of crying and letting out emotionally.

  • From director Noémie Nakai. This is my favorite documentary short. It is so charming, yet moving and uplifting. I love this man’s passion for helping others through crying and wanting to make them more honest people to themselves.

This is the Way We Rise

Plot: A look into the life of Hawaiian poet and activist Jamaica Osorio.

  • From director Ciara Lacy. Jamaica Osorio’s story is very interesting, and there are a lot of powerful moments here. Her poem’s are resonating to listen.

To Know Her

Plot: Filmmaker Natalie A. Chao looks to explore the life of her deceased mother.

  • From director Natalie A. Chao. This was a really personal and intimate documentary. I loved the presentation, and my heart was aching throughout. It was somber yet hopeful.

The Touch of the Master’s Hand

Plot: A young Mormon missionary in Mexico must confront his temptation.

  • From director Gregory Barnes. The hook of this film is hilarious, and made this such a fresh and funny watch. Samuel Sylvester does a great job. Shades of “Yes, God, Yes.”

The Unseen River

Plot: Two stories happening simultaneously along a river in Vietnam: one involving a woman reuniting with her ex-lover, and another involving a young man and his girlfriend searching for a cure to insomnia at a temple.

  • From director Phạm Ngọc Lân. I love the presentation. It was a very simple yet sensual experience, and the cinematography was gorgeous. The performances from the actors were very good.

You Wouldn’t Understand

Plot: One man’s idyllic picnic is interrupted by an unwanted guest.

  • From director Trish Harnetiaux. My favorite short that I saw. This was really weird and odd and had shades of Yorgos Lanthimos. The lighting and line delivery is very intentionally off putting, which creates for a bizarre tone. I loved this.

- Khayle

Khayle Flores runs the Instagram account @talkin_about_the_movie, and on Letterboxd @Kaleisawaffle. He is a film student who is working on his next short film. He is based in Escondido, California.



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