Short Film Program 5 Explores Family Traditions, Dating Apps, and Grief in the Digital Age

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PARK CITY, UTAH – JANUARY 21: (L–R) Mariah Hernandez-Fitch, Matthew Tyler, Natalie Jasmine Harris, Celine Perreard, Pauline Archange, and Khozy Rizal at the Egyptian Theatre on January 21, 2024, in Park City, Utah. (Photos by Stephen Lovekin/Shutterstock for Sundance Film Festival)

By Stephanie Ornelas 

Six directors took the stage at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City, Utah, at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival after the Short Film Program 5 premiere on January 21 to discuss their powerful and timely projects. During the post-screening Q&A, they talk about exploring multiple genres within one project, finding the right actors, and the challenges of shooting a period piece on film.  

Toward the end of the conversation, Grace director Natalie Jasmine Harris offers some valuable advice that many short film creators should heed: 

“I was always told to get people in your corner who might be a little further ahead [in their career] than you are and can really contribute. I was really looking towards everyone I collaborated with to find a good balance of folks who were also down to make a little bit of a scrappy short film.” 

Below, discover what inspired these six directors to give life to their captivating shorts centered on topics we can all relate to in different ways: grief in the age of social media, the fear of dating apps, and carrying on meaningful family traditions. 

GraceNatalie Jasmine Harris was reading a lot about family traditions when she came up with the idea to make a film centered on a teenage girl who prepares for her baptism in the rural 1950s South — while also navigating romantic feelings toward her best friend.

“A lot of my films focus on tradition. I have one about cotillion, I have one about sleepovers, and I was thinking a lot about communal baptism and religion. I’ve always been inspired by films like Daughters of the Dust and The Color Purple — films that are kind of in a Black Southern gothic genre,” explains Harris. 

“I wanted to talk about girlhood, especially Black girlhood and coming-of-age. I also had a personal family member who came out at the age of 70 or 80. I thought I was the only queer person in my family. So when I learned her story, I was thinking a lot about what it would be like to be in the LGBTQ+ community at such a young age, especially when it takes almost 50 years to be confident with your identity. So the film came from a place of thinking about all of those things.”  

(L-R) Matthew Tyler, Natalie Jasmine Harris, Mariah Hernandez-Fitch, and Khozy Rizal at the screening of Short Film Program 5 at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.

Basri & Salma in a Never-Ending ComedyKhozy Rizal is spotlighting the city of Makassar once again. After presenting us with Makassar is a City for Football Fans (2022 Sundance Film Festival), Rizal is now bringing us Basri & Salma in a Never-Ending Comedy. He explains how his inspiration for the film came from the Odong-Odong, an Indonesian-style carousel that brings a different kind of energy to his otherwise “bleak” city.  

“I live in a very dark city called Makassar, and this thing over here, the Odong-Odong, it gives luminance and color to the city, and I thought, ‘I want to make films about Odong-Odong, but what kind of story would be great? What is something really close to Odong-Odong? Let’s maybe talk about children and family.’ I just remembered how fucked up Indonesian families are, and I just wanted to make a film out of that.”

EkbehMariah Eli Hernandez-Fitch explains that her short film was actually her undergraduate thesis. “First and foremost, I wanted to graduate,” laughs Hernandez-Fitch. And thanks to that, audiences were presented with a beautiful exploration of her Indigenous roots.    

“It’s for my bayou, the place I come from. It’s for my family. Not a lot of things are made about my culture, the Houma people. And this is actually the first time the Uma language is in any type of media, so I’m really excited to be part of that and to start planting our language in a lot of aspects of our lives again.”  

Voice Ever — Just a few years ago, co-director Celine Perreard took part in a Music in Cinema residency in Normandy. There, she came up with the idea for her short film about exploring a different kind of dating app.   

Pauline Archange and Celine Perreard at the screening of Short Film Program 5 at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.

“At one point, we had to make a film about love in 2082, so I decided to make a short film about a dating app. I wanted a girl who was too shy to meet someone and speak normally. So, she decides to sing to connect with someone.”  

“I wanted to treat it like a thriller or action movie talking about love,” chimes in co-director Pauline Archange. “I think dating apps can be very scary today, and that’s what we tried to show.” 

The Looming Cloud  — When Matthew Tyler came across a heartbreaking Facebook post by his best friend Mitzi Akaha, who also stars in his short, he was inspired to bring The Looming Cloud to life. His film centers on three siblings who try to figure out how to share their mother’s recent death on social media.   

“It was a post written by a good friend of mine about the passing of her father, and it just terrified me imagining the task of having to do that,” explains Tyler. “I have both my parents, but their mortality is what scares me the most. And just the thought of having to do that was heartbreaking and frightening to me. In imagining that, I asked myself, ‘If I had to do that, would I care if people liked it?’ And that was just so terrifying to think of. I find that the best art comes from what scares you.”     

To see more of the magic from the 2024 Festival, click here.

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