Cat fanciers watch feline porn in The Date.Aino Suni

Cat fanciers watch feline porn in The Date.Aino Suni

Sundance Shorts 2013 Runs Fri., Nov. 8–Thurs., Nov. 14 at Sundance Cinemas.

Sundance Shorts 2013

Runs Fri., Nov. 8–Thurs., Nov. 14 at Sundance Cinemas. Not rated. 90 minutes.

In The Date, awkwardness that could’ve been played for laughs—the owners of show cats making small talk as the yowls and growls of mating felines alarm an inexperienced chaperone—instead becomes a very human moment of anxiety (then comforted over a smoking break). Whiplash, built around the debut of a member in a school jazz orchestra, elevates the intensity as a teacher terrorizes his players like a drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket.

These two films, beginning a collection of eight shorts from the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, sneak up on you—not for any surprise ending or high-concept twist, but for the transformation of simple ideas and choice moments into fully realized little stories.

If features are like novels, shorts can be anything from short stories to vignettes to poems to nonfiction essays. At their best they capture a beautifully observed moment, a lovely metaphor, or an illuminating point of view; and they give emerging filmmakers a chance to learn their craft. This program offers a little of everything: a foreign-language film (The Date, from Finland), animation, a couple of docs, and a variety of styles and sensibilities. The best titles are modest in scope, more concerned with the texture of the moment than the size of the drama.

Skinningrove, a portrait of an isolated British fishing community (also a tour through a photographer’s connection with his subject), and Irish Folk Furniture, a playful celebration of practical artisanship as folk art, make a strong connection with places we might not otherwise explore. The final half-hour isn’t so strong. Jonah loses its characters and themes in a showcase of imagination and digital effects. K.I.T., an awkward comedy about awkward moments, forgets that brevity is the soul of wit.

Thanks to aggressive local programming at SIFF and Bumbershoot’s One Reel Film Festival, Seattle has nurtured an audience for shorts. Roughly midway between those two fests, this compilation offers a varied buffet of flavors—some undercooked, some not for all tastes, but a modest fall sampler.

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