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Summing-up Sundance

Daniel Zvereff, director of Drago, an official selection of the U.S. Shorts Program at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | Photo by Daniel Zvereff.

The 2024 Sundance Film Festival Jury announced “Bug Diner” as the winner of the Short Film Jury Award for Animation on Jan. 26.

“Bug Diner,” directed by Phoebe Jane Hart, is a stop-motion animation short about various creatures in a diner experiencing lust. A fly waitress longs for the mole chef, a praying mantis couple discusses affairs, and an anteater tries to confess his love to a squirrel. What starts out appearing to be an innocent short about stop-motion animals quickly turns more and more sexually explicit.

“We didn’t stop laughing at this from start to finish,” the festival jury said, according to a press release from the Sundance Institute. “It has that magical effect of making you walk around all day with a smile on your face. The dialogue was incredibly written and the animation style was amazing…there’s also never been a better bug’s voice done on film.”

The voice acting from Hart and Jacob Levy is unique because it mimics the sounds these animals would make, resulting in the dialogue being somewhat unintelligible. However, through the help of the subtitles, the viewer can understand what they are saying.

The short is approximately seven minutes long, yet packs in plenty of surprises.

According to Hart’s website, the short film is also an official selection of South by Southwest (SXSW), which will occur this March.

“Bug Diner” was featured in the Animated Short Film Program, which had several showings at the Egyptian Theatre and Holiday Village Cinema in Park City, as well as the Gateway Megaplex Theatre in Salt Lake City. The program was also available to online viewers Jan. 25-28 and included both domestic and international animated films.

“Bug Diner” was one of eight short films included in the program, running alongside “Drago,” “Matta and Matto,” “Martyr’s Guidebook,” “Dona Beatriz Ñsîmba Vita,” “Baigul Nuur – Lake Baikal,” “Larry” and “27.”

“Matta and Matto,” by Swiss directors Bianca Caderas and Kerstin Zemp, discussed the need for human touch. Set in a world where physical touch is forbidden, this film follows the characters as they end up at Hotel Vaip, which offers simulated touch through the severed fingers of previous hotel occupants.

“Baigul Nuur – Lake Baikal,” depicts the formation of Lake Baikal in Siberia. Directed by Alisi Telengut, the film appears to be drawn in chalk on asphalt, while a narrator recites words in Buryat. The film reveals at the end that Buryat is an endangered language from the Trans-Baikal region of Siberia.

Another notable short from the program is “Drago,” which was written and directed by Daniel Zvereff. “Drago” tells the story of a boy who has a great interest in science, but has to give it up when he and his mother are forced to flee to the United States due to a war. Depicting various stages of his life story, the main character becomes a shoemaker and bus driver and eventually is able to put his own daughter through medical school. It is very cyclical in nature and points out what previous generations do for future ones.

The 40th edition of the Sundance Film Festival concluded on Jan. 28, but interested viewers can visit the websites of these directors to find out what other opportunities they have to watch these shorts.

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Megan Swann, Co-culture editor

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