SXSW 2019 Short Films Preview: The Most Anticipated Shorts At This Year’s Festival
Another year of SXSW is upon us. Here are the short films from each major short film category on our must-see list.
It feels like Sundance just wrapped up yesterday, but it’s already time for the other biggest American film festival: South by Southwest. As the film, music and tech worlds all go to Austin to catch the latest in their industry, we share the short films we can’t wait to see (or for others to see).
SXSW 2019 should be another year of exciting short films. Usually the most stylish and inventive shorts screen here, so we highlight the most distinctive narrative, documentary, animated and VR/360° short films showing this time around.
Lavender — Dir. Matthew Puccini
WHY THIS FILM: This one’s not a World Premiere, but it sure built some buzz over at Sundance a couple months ago. Lavender, the story of a gay man’s curious relationship with a married couple, made headlines for being one of the first short films to be acquired by a major studio (Fox Searchlight). What makes this more remarkable? It’s a short film without big name talent attached. This tells us that the film’s confident visual style and intriguing storyline must have put it on the radar of this specialty label. What they ultimately do with the film’s release remains to be seen, but we’re so thrilled more festival audiences get to see this one on the big screen.
MEET THE DIRECTOR: Matthew is no stranger to SXSW. In 2017, his short film The Mess He Made also premiered there. Before that though, Matthew got his start at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, graduating with a BFA in 2015. His NYU loyalties continued from there, as he received a post-grad fellowship in 2017. Even after Lavender’s historic acquisition, we’re so glad that his next film is still a short [Dirty]. It’s currently in post-production. After that, he’s got a feature in the works.
Something Like Loneliness — Dir. Seth & Ben Epstein
WHY THIS FILM: The premise is so strange that we can’t help but be intrigued. In a world where sounds can be bottled up into containers, two neighbors find an intimacy in shared sounds. This unconventional take on friendship has us intrigued, and at only 13 minutes we are very curious: just how will they establish this alt-reality and deliver an emotionally-satisfying story in such a short time frame? Like The Sound of Silence, we hope the originality of the concept is backed by great performances and real heart.
MEET THE DIRECTORS: The Epsteins are brothers with some showbiz experience already under their belt. Ben has worked in television for years, producing and directing episodes of shows from the biggest names in sports talk (Dan Patrick, Joe Buck). Seth, meanwhile, has worked as a camera team member on several shows and shorts since 2012. Together the brothers already made a very short short, M is for MILF, that proved just how unafraid they are to wholly commit to a a concept.
Washed Away — Dir. Ben Kallam
WHY THIS FILM: Like Boy Erased from last year, this film tackles the psychological torture that can come from being in a religious institution. We don’t know too much else about the film, but we’re riding our expectations on the pedigree of the filmmaker, who proved his talent with 2016’s Red Folder. That short went on to win and place at several key festivals, along with getting over 60K view on Vimeo. If this premiere is as good, we bet there’s a long festival life ahead of it.
MEET THE DIRECTOR: Ben Kallam’s previous short film, Red Folder, took the short film world by storm, but he didn’t take the most linear path to accomplished filmmaker. Ben was a high school teacher and financial analyst before eventually ending up at NYU’s film school. Washed Away is his MFA thesis film, so we can’t wait to see what awaits him after college.
How To Be Alone — Dir. Kate Trefry
WHY THIS FILM: Just watch the trailer…it’s crazy! Our only Midnight Shorts selection on the list, How To Be Alone follows — you guessed it — a girl who is left alone for an entire night. She ends up facing her biggest fears along the way, and boy are they frightening. The audience reception for this one will be just as exciting as the film itself, and we have a feeling we’ll be hearing about its twists and turns for awhile.
MEET THE DIRECTOR: This is Kate’s directorial debut, but she has plenty of experience with storytelling and the fantastical. After graduating from film school, Kate had two scripts go on the acclaimed Black List. She then would go on to be a staff writer on a little show called Stranger Things (I don’t know, maybe you’ve heard of that??). She already attracted great talent for this short (Maika Monroe from It Follows & Joe Keery from Stranger Things), so we are thrilled to see where she goes (and who comes along with her) for the next project.
Anas v. the Giant — Dir. Adrienne Collatos
WHY THIS FILM: Taking the form of a thriller, this real-story of a Syrian man whose Facebook selfie turned into a viral sensation gone bad feels prescient and necessary in the age of constant opinion and heavy surveillance. Spanning multiple countries and centering around the most controversial social media platform on the planet, this one is sure to pack a punch. We also love the idea of taking one person’s intimate story to tell a much larger story about privacy and truth.
MEET THE DIRECTOR: Adrienne Collatos is an Emmy-winning documentary producer and director. Past subject matter has ranged from climate change to music legends. Collatos is an incredibly accomplished and capable director who has a real pulse on capturing what is important in our culture now.
In The Dark — Dir. Jessie King
WHY THIS FILM: Next, we go from a film about pictures to a film about words. This short doc also follows just one person, but this time it’s a holistic chiropractor who is out to prove the world wrong and show that dyslexia can be reversed with the right therapy. Like so many other “issue” films, In The Dark may have a number of detractors even before they see it, but no matter. We’re just glad that a condition so prevalent in our culture is getting explored from an unexpected perspective.
MEET THE DIRECTOR: Jessie King actually comes from a journalism background, which, for a documentary filmmaker, tends to work to one’s advantage. In The Dark is her debut short, but we hope she continues to investigate new topics in future films, even as she gets her MBA.
Lowland Kids — Dir. Sandra Winther
WHY THIS FILM: A film about the fading coastline of Louisiana, told from the perspective of two teenagers, directed by a filmmaker from Copenhagen. If these things don’t seem to connect at first, you should know that Sandra has been making art about the subcultures of marginalized youth around the country. Her directing resume in the world of commercials certainly pays off here. Far from a talking heads doc, this film prominently features the surprising beauty of flat coastland. This one might have the most beautiful magic hour footage in all the festival.
MEET THE DIRECTOR: This is Sandra’s first short documentary. However, she has been taking pictures and filming the stories of youth long before this. She’s used opportunities to work with brands like Adidas, Beats and Vogue to tell very personal, necessary stories. She’s an empathetic director of the highest order.
Facing It — Dir. Sam Gainsborough
WHY THIS FILM: Even though the trailer’s just 24 seconds long, we can’t get this one out of our heads. This stunning combination of real-world elements and computer-generated technology tells the story of a man facing his inner demons. The film feels so alive and uncanny in its realism, despite ultimately being an animated production. This one’s already won a slew of awards (20+ to be more exact). Oh yeah, and did we mention that it’s a student film???
MEET THE DIRECTOR: Sam came into his animation abilities mostly after graduating from Bournemouth University for Screenwriting. He’s currently studying at the National Film & Television School in England, a program considered by The Hollywood Reporter to be one of the top 15 in the world. The skies are the limit for this filmmaker.
Obon — Dir. André Hörmann, Samo (Anna Bergmann)
WHY THIS FILM: We know, we know, we know. We’ve talked about this one several times before. But we just can’t help but recognize one of the most heartbreaking and powerful shorts of last year (those of you going to SXSW, don’t miss this!). It’s based on a true story of a girl who survived the bombing of Hiroshima, and deals with other universal themes in a vulnerable and personal way.
MEET THE DIRECTORS: André and Samo each bring their unique strengths to this project. André has nearly 10 years of documentary experience, while Samo has directed and animated six shorts before Obon. We sincerely hope this isn’t their last collaboration.
Slug Life — Dir. Sophie Koko Gate
WHY THIS FILM: Once in awhile an animated short comes along that seems sure to blow everyone’s mind. That happened to us last year with Bronwyn Maloney’s Serpentine. We’re getting those same vibes with Slug Life. The premise? Tanya only has an attraction for non-humanoids. Once she finds a suitable partner in a giant slug, she has to learn how they can co-exist. What stands out to us most? The trippy juxtaposition of images and the luminous color palette. A theatrical must-see.
MEET THE DIRECTOR: Sophie Koko Gate has animated for Adult Swim, a match in sensibilities that seems to have been made in heaven. Her previous short, Half Wet, was a Vimeo Staff Pick and went on to play at dozens of festivals. Fun fact: that was her graduation film from the Royal College of Art in London.
Ahorse! — Dir. Wendy Gutman
WHY THIS FILM: Perhaps the most conceptually ambitious short on this list, Ahorse! is a 20-minute history of human imagination and perception. But instead of a time machine or a rocket, director Wendy Gutman has her audience get on a saddle and ride. This VR experience has you riding a horse through space and time, evoking not only a past mode of transportation but one of the earliest experiments in film history. Gutman promises for this to be a positive investigation of modern visual culture….just don’t be surprised if you leave the experience with more questions than answers.
MEET THE DIRECTOR: Wendy has been thinking through the implications of image culture for decades now, and perhaps has found the most fitting mode to express it in immersive VR filmmaking. Based in Amsterdam, this filmmaker has plenty of experience collaborating with others on multi-media experiences.
Border Stories — Dir. Nonny de la Pena
WHY THIS FILM: Like director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Carne y Arena before it, Border Stories puts you in the perspective of those directly impacted by border relations between U.S. and Mexico. As much educational as it is entertaining, this partnership with the Texas Civil Rights Project will hopefully gives those experiencing it a more empathetic perspective on the immigrant experience.
MEET THE DIRECTOR: Nonny actually comes from the world of business. She’s the CEO of Emblematic Group, a premier virtual and augmented reality group. She just might be one of the most influential voices in VR and filmmaking right now. SXSW invited her last year to speak (see above).
Eleven Eleven — Showrunner Mehrad Noori
WHY THIS FILM: It’s a VR/AR event being touted as a “groundbreaking, feature-length science fiction story” and we just can’t wait to learn more. Featuring six characters and a multi-linear experience, this story of a planet on the brink of extinction seems to be just the right fit for immersive storytelling. Could this be a glimpse into the future? Only those who get to try it first will find out.
MEET THE DIRECTOR: The cast and crew list is presenting this one more like a TV show, with there being a showrunner in the place of director. Mehrad Noori works for NBCUniversal International, the corporation putting on this very ambitious project. They also hired on a prolific TV writer in Lucas Taylor to create the story for this revolutionary technology.