Eight Must-See Shorts From Sundance 2021

While the disruption of COVID-19 has affected the quantity of films available at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, little impact has been made on the quality of the offerings. The program features 72 feature length films, spanning across 29 countries, many of which are guaranteed to start conversations that will last through the year. Alongside these features are 50 short films, many artistically and emotionally resonant, and likely to spark discussions of their own. Even with the flexibility of an online film festival, Sundance offers much more content that can be consumed in a seven day period. While the narrative features tend to pull focus, don’t let the short films slip past your notice: they provide a glimpse of rising filmmakers and a preview of great work to come. 

In your already packed schedule, it may be difficult to even get started traversing the many short film programs. Before the festival ends, check out these eight must-see short films from the 2021 Sundance lineup.


Directed by Miles Warren & Written by Ben Medina and Miles Warren; Part of Shorts Program 1

Darious' mother cups his cheek, concerned.
Noble B. Whitted and Athena Colon appear in Bruiser by Miles Warren. Image courtesy of Sundance Institute.

After his fathers gets into a fight at a bowling alley, young Darious is haunted by the ever looming question of manhood. With it’s haunting score and affecting cinematography, Bruiser builds in the pit of your stomach. Almost voyeuristic in its intimacy, the film provides insight into a formative moment in a young boy’s life through a touching father-son relationship. Warren and Medina’s work grapples with masculinity through the eyes of a child, revealing the pain often left in its wake. – Shania Russell

Misery Loves Company

Written & Directed by Sasha Lee; Part of the Animated Spotlight

Seolgi and her friends lie in the grass, staring up at shooting stars.
A still from Misery Loves Company by Sasha Lee. Image courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Misery Loves Company is a striking burst of nostalgia that finds beauty in the simplest of situations. Seolgi is lying on a grassy field with her friends, watching shooting stars go by when she is hit by intrusive thoughts. All consuming, as they often are, her thoughts begin to bleed into reality — taking viewers on a trip through her rapidly moving mind. Lee’s  stunning visuals are like interpretive dance, vivid and evocative. Progressing like a stream of consciousness music video, the film’s exploration of Seolgi’s mind is existential in its familiarity. – Shania Russell


Written & Directed by Mattheus Farias and Enock Carvalho; Part of Shorts Program 2

Marilene stares out across the city.
Luciana Souza appears in Unliveable by Matheus Farias and Enock Carvalho. Image courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Unliveable examines the epidemic of trans murders in Brazil through the eyes of a mother. The film follows Marilene (Luciana Souza) in her search for her daughter Roberta, a trans woman who’s gone missing. Writer/director’s Farias and Carvalho take care to detail the restlessness of such a search, illustrating how quickly time can pass and how easily hope dwindles with each passing hour. Ominous as it is hopeful, the events of Unlivable are often without explanation but never beyond comprehension. Like a beacon of hope, the warmth of its promise is universal. – Shania Russell

Like The Ones I Used To Know

Written & Directed by Annie St-Pierre; Part of Shorts Program 4

A young girl stares into her fathers car.
Lilou Roy Lanouette appears in Like the Ones I Used to Know by Annie St-Pierre. Image courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Lit by the twinkle of red and green fairy lights, Denis (Steve Laplante) sits anxiously in his car. Utterly detached from the magic of Christmas Eve, he slowly works to build up enough courage to set foot in his former in-laws house. Inside, laughter, alcohol, sugar and cheer run rampant, exciting both children and adults in ways that only Holidays can. Like The Ones I Used To Know effortlessly dances between the warm glow of childhood and the subdued nature of “grown-up” disappointment. With this film, director Annie St-Pierre establishes herself as being especially attuned to the emotional journey of her characters, with a camera that both mirrors their unease and lives in their joys. Even in its undeniable sadness, her film is never bitter, embracing the hope often tethered to the Christmas spirit. Endearing and empathetic, this film captures the familiar warmth of childhood that tints even the melancholy moments. – Shania Russell


Written & Directed by Kim Kang-min; Part of the Animated Spotlight

The styrofoam figure of his mother stands with her arms raised above her head.
A still from KKUM by Kang-min Kim. Image courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Mothers have a tendency towards superstition when it comes to their children. Their love manifests in visions, ideas and their famous intuition. Director Kang-min Kim’s film provides a moving look at his own relationship with his mother, through her animated dreams of his future. Kkum is a beautiful visualization of the way a mothers love can affect their child’s personhood, with the dreams depicting himself filtered through his mother. The film is wondrously tactile, using styrofoam stop-motion animation, with visual poetry to match Kim’s words. Their story provides a resonant illustration on the nature of dreams: emotionally tangible yet detached from reality. – Shania Russell


Written & Directed by Julian Doan; Part of Shorts Program 2

A family tearfully gathers around their dying father's bedside.
Alexis Rhee, Joseph Lee and Gihee Hong appear in Raspberry by Julian Doan. Image courtesy of Sundance Institute.

In seven short minutes, Julian Doan captures the overwhelming emotional spiral of grief. A family gathers around their father’s deceased body, each taking it in turns to say their final words. The son (Raymond Lee) is the most emotionally devastated in his physical performance, sitting alone on the other side of the room patiently awaiting his go to say goodbye to his father. The single location comedy drama shows the regression to childhood at the loss of someone so near and dear. Raspberry is a deeply resonant film about accepting every and all responses in the wake of death. A film about grief in every one of its forms. – Emily Maskell

This Is The Way We Rise

Directed by Ciara Lacy; Part of Documentary Shorts Program 1

Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio stands in front of a whiteboard filled with poetry.
A still from This is the Way We Rise by Ciara Lacy. Image courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Opening with gorgeous, sweeping imagery and the sharp, resonant words of Native Hawaiian slam poet Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio, this film hits like a gut punch. This Is The Way We Rise centers around Osorio’s experience as a poet and her struggle with finding inspiration to fuel her art. Zeroing in on her work with the movement to protect sacred sites atop Mauna Kea, Hawai’i, the film explores the critical link between identity and creative process. You need not be a poet to connect to the film’s themes: Osorio’s story is intimate, universal, and emotionally punctuated by powerful performances of her poetry. – Shania Russell

Ghost Dogs

Written & Directed by Joe Cappa; Part of the Animated Spotlight

The shadows of the ghost dogs loom in the corridor.
A still from Ghost Dogs by Joe Cappa. Image courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Don’t let the title fool you — Ghost Dogs is much weirder than it sounds. The short follows the day of a family’s new rescue dog, left home alone to be terrorized by his deceased brethren and a near-sentient roomba. Cappa’s film is gloriously imaginative, blending horror and comedy for a hauntingly experimental film. Ghost Dogs resembles the unique kind of weird you stumbled across on Adult Swim, when you were too young to even comprehend how mature the imagery was. At times Lovecraftian, while also taking inspiration from Kubrick, this film reflects impressive familiarity with the legacy of existential horror in a mere 11 minutes. – Shania Russell