One of my favorite things about the Sundance Film Festival has always been the different shorts programs they offer. These are short films from around the world that you would probably never be able to see anywhere else. There is always a great variety of different material, styles, and performances. Sure, sometimes you'll run into something that you might not enjoy, but you know that within ten minutes or so, you'll be watching something else. Not to be cliche, but it's a bit like a box of chocolates ... some are good, some aren't.

This year's Sundance shorts are being offered up on iTunes, which is a fantastic way for these films to reach a new audience. Typically you might see these films at Sundance, and then never be able to find them again. If you were lucky, you might see them on the Sundance Channel, but even the chances of that were slim. Kudos to the festival and Apple for making these available online. As much as I'm a fan of flash fiction and short stories, short films are perfect for me, and I'm sure there are other people out there who enjoy them. The shorts are also grouped together, albeit loosely, into different themes. The Shorts II program focused on matters of the heart: i.e. relationships, love, and loss.

  • Dad by Daniel Mulloy. This film was the shortest of the bunch, clocking in at eight minutes long, but it also generated the most controversy amongst the group that I saw the shorts with. It's about a young man living at home with his openly amorous parents, and about the friction that causes within him. The controversy was that the film features fairly explicit nudity involving two older actors. Some people in our group felt that the nudity was disturbing, because of the age of the actors, and others felt that it was positive to show actors that aren't young twentysomethings naked, because your sex drive doesn't shut off when you hit 60. I fall somewhere in the middle, because while I agree that the nudity is positive and shouldn't be age-specific, I don't think it needs to be as explicit as it was here. There was a tremendous amount of naked human emotion at the end of this film, which was the most powerful element of this short.
  • Magnetic Poles by Maria Rosenblum. This was my favorite film of the bunch, because it was the easiest to identify with. The story is about a young couple, where the man takes his girlfriend for granted in an extreme manner. I think that almost everyone has experience this from one side or the other in a relationship, and director Rosenblum presents it such a stark and realistic manner. A lion's share of the credit has to go with the lead actress, Marjie Gum, who was cast with less than nine hours to go before filming began. She plays a very human, very realistic woman and really carries the film.
  • Doorman by Etienne Kallos. Doorman was another film that led to much discussion in our little group. We couldn't decide if it was the story of the main character's first homosexual experience, or if it is about the self-loathing and rejection he gets out of the relationship he enters into in the film. During the Q&A the director revealed that the film was about the homophobia and struggles he deals with in his own life. Like Dad, there is very little dialogue in this film, but it is very powerful and emotional.
  • Death to the Tinman by Ray Tintori. This was the funniest, and in some ways most tragic, film in the group. Tintori takes the original story of the Tinman as told in 'The Tin Woodsman of Oz' by Frank L Baum. Tintori takes the story and turns it on its ear, both visually and emotionally. Witches become evangelicals, the Tinman battles volunteer firefighters, and a meat puppet comes to life in this humorous farce. It's also amongst the first group of shorts to be made available on iTunes, so you can download it now.
  • Graceland by Anocha Suwichakornpong. This film deals with an Elvis impersonator in Bangkok and the mysterious woman he accepts a ride from. Although I was confused about the premise, there are poignant moments of humanity on display in this short, but as a whole (ironic statement for a short film, I know) it doesn't really hold together.
  • Happiness by Sophie Barthes. This film also has an extremely small amount of dialogue, and has a tragic undertone about how we strive to achieve happiness, but are often caught up in trying to keep up with the Joneses. There's a sadness in this film as well, although the main character does seem to realize that she's abandoning her chance at happiness in order to try and at least appear happy. Apparently you can't have one or the other.
Check out the shorts as they become available online. It's too bad that there aren't more outlets and opportunities for people to see short films because there is some truly amazing stuff out there. Give it a whirl and let us know what you think.