10 Sundance Shorts That Kicked Off Careers (Watch Them All Now)
Shorts are in many ways a rite of passage for budding filmmakers. They’re made of mistakes, charm and life—and with the realities of cost, time and effort. And some directors break through to showcase at Sundance Film Festival, where they have the chance of catching the eye of the person (or company) that will fund their next project. These are 10 Sundance shorts by directors who went on to make names for themselves—and as an added bonus, you can watch them all right now online. Enjoy!
1. Wes Anderson, Bottle Rocket
Screened at Sundance in 1994
Known for: The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Life Aquatic, The Royal Tenenbaums
A subtle introduction to what would build on Anderson’s iconic style, this not-quite-so-polished short would help the aspiring auteur nab funding for his more vibrantly-colored first feature of the same title. Watch Bottle Rocket.
2. Paul Thomas Anderson, Cigarettes & Coffee
Screened at Sundance in 1993
Known for: The Master, There Will Be Blood, Hard Eight
Before Hard Eight, there was Anderson’s short in which a $20 bill connects the lives of five people. After its screening at Sundance, Anderson was invited to the 1994 Sundance Feature Film Program and began the conquest of making his feature-length directorial debut. Watch Cigarettes & Coffee.
3. John Curran, Down Rusty Down
Screened at Sundance 1997
Known for: We Don’t Live Here Anymore, The Painted Veil, Stone
In retrospect, it seems unlikely to expect an anthropomorphic tale in which men play the role of dogs to be the debut short from Curran, who went on to direct three romantic dramas. But the short is a fascinating effort in quirk. After directing his first feature, Praise, Curran would return to Sundance six years later with We Don’t Live Here Anymore, a Grand Jury Prize nominee. Watch Down Rusty Down.
4. Ryan Fleck, Gowanus, Brooklyn
Screened at Sundance in 2004
Known for: Half Nelson
Paving the way for Ryan Gosling’s Oscar-nominated performance in Half Nelson, this short scored Fleck and his writing partner Anna Boden an invitation to the Sundance Writer’s Lab where they workshopped Gowanus, Brooklyn into the inspired longer feature that Fleck would also direct. Watch Gowanus, Brooklyn.
5. Louis CK, Ice Cream
Screened at Sundance in 1992
Known for: Standup comic, Louie, Lucky Louie
The king of modern comedy’s dark and silly sense of cinema was born in his early short movies. He’s carried many elements of his maturely immature style all the way to FX with his show Louie, which in essence is a bunch of shorts in and of itself. Watch Ice Cream.
6. Todd Haynes, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story
Screened at Sundance in 1987
Known for: I’m Not There, Velvet Goldmine
Using Barbies to tell the unsettling anorexic demise of the beloved Carpenters vocalist, Haynes was eventually served a “cease and desist” from Richard Carpenter to prohibit the short from being seen by the general public. Though, of course, that was in 1989, before YouTube… Watch Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story.
7. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, The Spirit of Christmas: “Jesus vs. Santa”
Screened at Sundance in 1997
Known for: South Park
Before South Park was a hit animated TV show, it was a short underground video made by Parker and Stone that was widely shared both by duplication and over the Internet. It caught the eye of a Sundance Film Festival programmer the year they struck a deal with Comedy Central. Watch South Park.
8. Mark and Jay Duplass, This Is John
Screened at Sundance in 2003
Known for: Jeff Who Lives At Home, Cyrus
Stripped down to the bare basics of storytelling, this short sets the tone for the Duplass brothers’ mission—ultra low-budget movies that rely heavily on good, honest performances. Costing only $3—the price of a tape—the Duplass brothers manage to deliver a simple concept full of depth and humor.
Watch This Is John.
9. Jason Eisener, Treevenge
Screened at Sundance 2008
Known for: Hobo With A Shotgun, V/H/S/2
After winning a Robert Rodriguez trailer contest for Grindhouse at South by Southwest, Eisner hit Sundance the following year with a humorous and gruesome Christmas revenge tale where sentient trees rise up against humans, culminating in a town massacre. Eisner’s macabre filmmaking style would make its way back to Sundance in 2011 with his feature-length version of Hobo With A Shotgun.
10. Andrea Arnold, Wasp
Screened at Sundance 2005
Known for: Fish Tank
Lifting the veil on the gritty struggles of a single working-class mother in the UK, Arnold introduced audiences to her intimate and realistic approach—which would go on to win her recognition at both Sundance Film Festival that year and the Academy Awards. Her two followup features, Red Road and Fish Tank, went on to win the Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival.
Want to see shorts from previous Sundance Film Festivals? Check out Shorts on SundanceTV.