25 Narrative Short Filmmakers to Watch at Sundance 2017

It is generally understood that shorts are the promise of what is to come, providing a glimpse of an emerging filmmaker’s potential as they establish a career for themselves. In its nearly 40-year history, the Sundance Film Festival has introduced many a filmmaker to the world, and this year is no exception.

With compelling narratives that reflect the current times, such as the Syrian refugee crisis, race relations and women’s rights, New Machine’s editors have singled out 25 burgeoning directors whose shorts are screening in the Narrative and International Shorts Program at Sundance next month. With a few well-known actors making the move behind the lens, to an unusual number of co-directors, and a promising young Native American filmmaker, the list is wide ranging and suitably diverse — but perhaps the most notable aspect is that nearly 50 percent of the group are women.

The Sundance Film Festival runs between January 19-29 in Park City, Utah.

(left to right), Kristin Stewart, Annabelle Dexter Jones, Christine Turner, Anna Kerrigan, Lucas Leyva and Jillian Mayer


Yes, that Kristin Stewart. First time director Stewart, who is already well established as a headline actor, now has the short Come Swim to her name. Stewart, who was most recently seen in Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women, also wrote the short, which is a two-sided tale of one man’s day, half impressionist and half realist portraits. This is technically Stewart’s second time behind the camera after co-directing a music short in 2014.


Known for her performance in Holy Motors and Amazon’s Red Oaks, Annabelle Dexter-Jones’ directorial debut Cecile on the Phone is about a girl that is overwhelmed by doubt and confusion after her ex-boyfriend’s return. She embarks on a series of telephone conversations that serve only to distract her from a more important conversation.


San Francisco native Christine Turner’s success continues with Hold On, about family bonds that are tested when a young man is left to care for his grandmother. Turner made a name for herself with the brilliant documentary Homegoings in 2013, winning the Grand Jury Prize at the American Black Film Festival. Her move into narrative shorts earned Turner the best narrative short nomination at the Tribeca Film Festival for You Can Go this year.

Follow Turner @peraltapictures


After scoring a nomination at the 2015 Gotham Awards, director Anna Kerrigan’s follow-up short film Hot Seat premieres at Sundance. Kerrigan also wrote the film based on a true story about teenager Andrea who uses a male stripper to gain the respect and admiration of cool girl Daphne.

Follow Kerrigan @anna_kerrigan


Multi nominated filmmakers Lucas Leyva and Jillian Mayer have the short Kaiju Bunraku. Leyva and Mayer are promising directors, whose work earned them numerous nominations at major festivals such as SXSW, Sundance and AFI Fest. Kaiju Bunraku, which Leyva also wrote, follows a day in the life of a couple living among the world of monsters.

(left to right) Charlotte Wells, Lyle Corbine Jr, Scott Rashap and Jonathan Minard, Anu Valia, Francisca Alegria


Scottish director Charlotte Wells screens the short Laps, about a woman who endures a sexual assault in plain sight. Wells is an NYU Tisch graduate and HBO Scholar, she was also nominated for a BAFTA Best New Talent award in 2015 for her short Tuesday.


Lizzy Sanford’s Rubber Heart is a speedy follow-up to her SXSW Grand Jury nominated short Hip Hip Hooray. Rubber Heart is about a woman’s attempt to have a one-night stand after a painful dry spell. Sanford first made a mark with her comedy short Palisade, about a man who holds a cat hostage after robbing a convenience store.

Follow Sanford @punctumlucida


Shinaab is from Native American director Lyle Corbine Jr. Corbine is a Time Warner fellow, which is a Sundance program that supports talented filmmakers from diverse backgrounds. Shinaab follows a young Anishinaabe man struggling with his place in the inner city of Minneapolis.


Scott Rashap and Jonathan Minard’s Toru is about an infant whose brief life is transformed by new technology. Rashap and Minard are graduates of the 2015 Sundance Screenwriters Lab, where they developed the feature script Archive over the 5-day program in Park City.


After her 2014 short Drifters notched major awards, writer/director Anu Valia lands at Sundance with the follow up Lucia, Before and After. The 15-minute short is about a young woman who must wait out Texas’s state-mandated 24-hour waiting period before her abortion can proceed. Drifters earned Valia a Special Jury Award at the New Orleans Film Festival and Best Experimental Short at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival in the UK.

Follow Valia @anuvalia


Chilean filmmaker Francisca Alegria’s 19-minute short And The Whole Sky Fits In The Dead Cow’s Eye screens as part of the international narrative competition. Alegria’s film, which follows a woman who was visited by a ghost with unexpected intentions, was nominated this year at the Oldenburg Film Festival and screened as part of Toronto International Film Festival’s Shortcuts Program.

Follow Alegria @falegriaz

(left to right) Rob Savage, Shola Amoo, Benoit Martin, Agata Trzebuchowska, Mateusz Pacewicz


With numerous shorts to his name UK writer/director Rob Savage screens his latest work Dawn Of The Deaf. Savage’s most successful release to date is the short Strings which won the Raindance Award at the British Independent Film Awards in 2012. Dawn Of The Deaf  centers on a small group of deaf people who must band together to survive after a strange sound wipes out the hearing population.

Follow Savage @dirrobsavage


Shola Amoo’s Dear Mr. Shakespeare is his follow-up short to the feature Moving Image, which screened in competition at the Los Angeles Film Festival this year. Amoo, who hails from the UK, also wrote the short which explores Shakespeare’s intentions in creating Othello and draws parallels with race relations in the UK today

Follow Amoo @sholaamoo


The Geneva Convention from French filmmaker Benoit Martin has already made an impression on the festival circuit in 2016, screening in competition at both the Palm Springs Shortfest and Leeds International Film Festival. Martin’s film follows a young boy who while waiting for the bus after class is caught in a vendetta between a group of teenagers. Martin is fast earning a reputation for writing complex tales about human society and its juxtaposition with the diversity of urban living.


Polish directors Agata Trzebuchowska and Mateusz Pacewicz highly anticipated short Heat screens this year. Pacewicz was the runner-up in Poland’s influential Script Pro competition and Trzebuchowska is her best known for her acting role in Ida from director Pawel Pawlikowski, which won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2013. Heat is about a boy who does an unusual favor for a friend, assuming his identity to visit his senile grandmother. The woman takes him for a walk, and tells him about the biggest mystery of her life.

(left to right) Zuxiang, Rana Kazkaz, Luci Schroder, Wei Hu


NYU Tisch graduate Zuxiang Zhao’s thesis short A Test (Kao Shi) screens at Sundance in competition. The short is about an ambitious teacher who must decide whether to tell a talented student that his father has died, which could impact an important test. Zuxiang was director of photography on the feature film This is Santilun, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013.


With the Syrian refugee crisis as context Rana Kazkaz and Anas Khalaf’s Mare Nostrum is about a father who places his daughter at great risk by crossing the Mediterranean sea. Co-directors Kazkaz and Khalaf have shown promise in the past few years as filmmakers. Kazkaz won an award at The USA Film Festival for Kemo Sabe and Khalaf has been making timely and intelligent short films that provide a glimpse into everyday life for people in Syria.


André Santos and Marco Leão’s 2013 collaboration Má Raça established them as filmmakers to watch after it was nominated for Best Live Action Short at the Portuguese Academy Awards (Sophias). The follow up from the Portuguese filmmakers is the short Pedro, about a boy who is taken to the beach by his lonely mother. Pedro also screen at AFI Fest this year.


After scoring major awards in her native Australia, filmmaker Luci Schroder brings her film Slapper to Sundance in 2017. The 15-minute short about a broke and rebellious teen who navigates a suburban wasteland and must hustle to earn enough money for the morning-after pill before it’s too late, earned Schroder the Emerging Australian Filmmaker Award at the Melbourne International Film Festival and the Dendy Award for Best Short Film at the Sydney Film Festival.

Follow Schroder @lucischroder

25. WEI HU

With an Oscar nomination under his belt, Wei Hu returns to Sundance in 2017 with his short What Tears Us Apart. Wei Hu 2013 short Butter Lamp won over 20 major film festival awards, culminating in the nomination for Best Live Action Short Film at the 87th Academy Awards. Born in China but educated in France, Wei Hu’s latest short film is about a Chinese couple who visits the daughter they gave up for adoption 30 years ago. While meeting the French adoptive parents, language barriers become apparent and the birth mother’s hidden emotions rise to the surface.

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  • […] on New Machine Magazine’s list of narrative short filmmakers to look out for at Sundance, it seems fitting to highlight the same category (albeit a smaller list) of filmmakers screening at […]