Short Films by Black Directors at Sundance 2021

Storytelling Outside the Margins – Short Films by Black Directors at Sundance 2021 Highlight Stories of Trauma and Resilience

Sundance has done a magnificent job at showcasing the global experience of Black people through its entire run. There were many shorts that spoke to me as particularly powerful.

Black Bodies beautifully mixes poetry and cinematography to paint a portrait of the pain inflicted by police terrorism. Five Tiger highlights the pain of women who are often treated as mere tools for the advancement of men. Bruiser and White Wedding both reminds us how important it is to have fathers in our communities. The Fire Next Time transports us back in time and immerses us in the environment that birthed the 2011 riots.

Short Films by Black Directors at Sundance 2021

These films were a reminder that Black people have a shared trauma that permeates boundaries of nationality, economics, and religion. Our struggle is universal because the forces that dictate our reality are the same no matter where we find ourselves.

Sundance’s founding mission and purpose was around centering particular voices that had either been left on the margins or confined to the margins.

Tabitha Jackson

My Favorite Short Films by Black Directors at Sundance 2021

THE FIRE NEXT TIME

Rioting spreads as social inequality causes tempers in a struggling community to flare, but the oppressive environment takes on a life of its own as the shadows of the housing estate close in.

A still from The Fire Next Time by Renaldho Pelle, an official selection of the Shorts Program at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

WHITE WEDDING

Amidst a racially tense Southern wedding, a biracial bride has the chance to confront her estranged Black father after accidentally hiring his wedding band to perform.

SECRET GARDEN

Step into a garden and encounter oral histories spanning generations of African American women. As you wander this spatialized tract, you will encounter women with stories to tell: surviving a slave boat, growing up on a 1920s Black-owned farm, surviving 9/11, and embodying an AI powered by African American women. Secret Garden reminds us that sharing and receiving stories is an act of resistance.

A still from Secret Garden by Stephanie Dinkins, an official selection of the New Frontier program at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

UP AT NIGHT

As dusk fades and another night without electricity falls, Kinshasa’s neighborhoods reveal an environment of violence, political conflict, and uncertainty over the building of the Grand Inga 3 hydroelectric dam, which promises a permanent source of energy to the Congo.

A still from Up at Night by Nelson Makengo, an official selection of the Shorts Program at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by twentyninestudioproduction.

UNLIVEABLE

In Brazil, where a trans person is murdered every three days, Marilene searches for her daughter, Roberta, a trans woman who is missing. Running out of time, she discovers one hope for the future.

Luciana Souza appears in Unliveable by Matheus Farias and Enock Carvalho, an official selection of the Shorts Program at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Gustavo Pessoa.

DON’T GO TELLIN’ YOUR MOMMA

In 1970, Black educators in Chicago developed alphabet flash cards to provide Black-centered teaching materials to the vastly white educational landscape, and the Black ABCs were born. Fifty years later, 26 scenes provide an update to their meanings.

A still from Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma by Topaz Jones and rubberband., an official selection of the Shorts Program at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

DEAR PHILADELPHIA

With the help of their family, friends, and faith, three fathers unravel the incomparable partnership of forgiveness and community in North Philadelphia.

“The overlapping chapters of three fathers Born and raised
in the same city. With the poetic reminder that hope can be
found in all situations.”

A still from Dear Philadelphia by Renee Osubu, an official selection of the Shorts Program at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Luis Lopez.

BRUISER

After his father gets into a fight at a bowling alley, Darious begins to investigate the limitations of his own manhood.

Noble B. Whitted appears in Bruiser by Miles Warren, an official selection of the Shorts Program at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

BLACK BODIES

A Black man comes face-to-face with the realities of being Black in the twenty-first century.

Komi Olaf appears in Black Bodies by Kelly Fyffe-Marshall, an official selection of the Shorts Program at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Yvonne Stanley.

FIVE TIGER

A God-fearing woman in present-day South Africa finds herself in a transactional relationship as she tries to support her sick husband and daughter.

Ayanda Seoka appears in Five Tiger by Nomawonga Khumalo, an official selection of the Shorts Program at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Rick Joaquim.

I RAN FROM IT AND WAS STILL IN IT

A poetic meditation on familial loss and separation, as well as the love that endures against dispersion. 

Miale Assata Kay, Malakhi Justice Kay and Darol Olu Kae appear in I Ran From It and Was Still In It by Darol Olu Kae, an official selection of the Shorts Program at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

LIZARD

Juwon, an eight-year-old girl with an ability to sense danger, gets ejected from Sunday school service. She unwittingly witnesses the underbelly in and around a megachurch in Lagos.

Hamilat Olanrewaju and Pamilerin Ayodeji appear Lizard by Akinola Davies Jr., an official selection of the Shorts Program at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by British Broadcasting Corporation and Potboiler Productions Ltd.