Wander-to-Wander Nina Gantz

Although 2024 marks another year where I won’t make it to SXSW in person, I’m lucky enough to have access to the majority of short films screening at the festival, and so have binge-watched my way through them over the last week. Animation undoubtedly reigns supreme this year, with half of my 10 favourites being animated pieces, but as always at SXSW, there’s a diverse programme of films, from moving docs to WTF classics.

Here are the 10 titles that caught my attention in the 2024 line-up:

A Crab in the Pool – Alexandra Myotte & Jean-Sébastien Hamel

A truly surprising short, A Crab in the Pool initially sucks you in with its strange introduction to the world of two siblings left to fend for themselves on a hot summer’s day, before leaving you reeling from the gut-punch impact of its narrative. Reminiscent of a contemporary Mike Judge animation, but with a surreal twist, Myotte and Hamel’s short film seamlessly blends comedy with heartfelt moments to make it an absolute standout.

Beach Logs Kill – Haley Z. Boston

When it comes to the short film curation of SXSW, festival regulars anticipate fresh and innovative content. Haley Z. Boston’s Beach Logs Kill meets these expectations perfectly. A timeless piece, striking a balance between nostalgia and futurism, this surreal story of a high school sports team is an enigmatic watch, with a nine-minute duration that leaves you hungry for more.

Beautiful Men – Nicolas Keppens

Transitioning from the 2D animation of his previous short Easter Eggs – which impressed us so much that it appeared on both our Annecy and Manchester Animation Festival 2021 Best of Fest lists – director Nicolas Keppens opts to tell this story of three brothers travelling to Istanbul for hair transplants through a more lifelike stop-motion approach. While some of the dark humour of his preceding work remains, Beautiful Men feels much more grounded in reality, presenting a moving, but slightly surreal portrait of siblings each experiencing an identity crisis.

Bug Diner – Phoebe Jane Hart

Winner of the Short Film Jury Award for Animation at Sundance ’24, Bug Diner transports its audience to an erotically-charged eatery run by a mole with a hot ass! An intricate stop-motion featuring a variety of amusing characters, Phoebe Jane Hart’s WTF film is undoubtedly set to be a highlight of this year’s festival circuit.

Christmas, Every Day – Faye Tsakas

An observational doc providing a glimpse into the lives of preteen influencers Peyton and Lyla Wesson, Christmas, Every Day offers its audience a look behind the curtain of those living their lives in the public eye. Tackling themes of “empowerment, female confidence, and self-branding”, Tsakas’ film walks a fine line between insightfulness and surreality, leaving its viewers with many contrasting emotions.

Hello Stranger – Amélie Hardy

An immersive and insightful short that playfully blurs the borders between documentary and fiction to tell the story of young trans woman Cooper Josephine, Hardy’s 16-minute film is expertly handled and consistently engaging. Inviting viewers to relive key moments in Josephine’s transition journey, Hello Stranger is exactly the type of filmmaking we need to promote compassion and understanding for the trans community.

Shé (Snake) – Renee Zhan

One of my favourite short film directors, it’s crazy to think that Renee Zhan has only ever appeared on the pages of DN in a previous SXSW round-up. One of the most exciting animation filmmakers around, Zhan returns to the festival this year (with her fifth short to play at the event in seven years) with her first foray into live-action filmmaking, the dark twisted tale of a top violinist in an elite youth orchestra.

Tennis, Oranges – Sean Pecknold

An eclectic director with an impressively varied body of work who first featured on DN back in 2012, Pecknold returns to the world of stop-motion for his latest short film, Tennis, Oranges. The story of an unsatisfied robot vacuum and its quest to make a difference in the world, this meditative short tackles themes of loneliness and community to create what the director describes as “an animated ballet”.

Transylvanie – Rodrigue Huart

SXSW is well known for its midnight screenings and my favourite from this year’s selection is undoubtedly Rodrigue Huart’s Transylvanie. With echoes of Let the Right One In coursing through its veins, this story of a young girl who believes she’s a vampire keeps the tension high throughout as we’re never sure if her claims will come true, or just lead to a tragic conclusion.

Wander to Wonder – Nina Gantz

It’s been a while since we’ve seen the name of BAFTA-winner Nina Gantz appear on our radar, but it’s great to see her back in the world of shorts with this unusual tale of an ’80s kids’ TV show. As is often the case with animations taking place in the world of children’s television, things quickly get dark and the surreal twists that keep coming make Wander to Wonder an entertaining and memorable watch.

You can find more unmissable films, like the ones playing at SXSW, in our Best of Fest collections.

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