In an age where creativity knows no bounds, independent filmmakers worldwide are proving that you don’t need a Hollywood-sized budget to craft powerful and thought-provoking short films. These independent gems, often born out of passion and innovation, have found their way to various streaming platforms, offering viewers a unique cinematic experience. Here’s a list of 5 great independent short films that are all available to watch right now!
1. Are You Still There? (2021)
Sam A. Davis & Rayka Zehtabchi
Are You Still There? thrusts us into the gripping story of Safa (Safa Tarifi), a woman caught in a nightmarish situation with a dying car battery, a fading phone, and no immediate help in sight, all against the backdrop of sweltering heat.
As we watch Safa’s harrowing ordeal unfold, we are transported into her world, feeling the weight of her past losses and her desperate need for assistance. Safa Tarifi won the Special Jury Prize at SIFF in 2021 for her performance in Are You Still There?, the rare sort film that manages to be haunting and memorable even if it’s only 15 minutes long. This is even more impressive considering that writers-directors Sam A. Davis and Rayka Zehtabchi were also involved in other areas of the production, with Davis acting as the film’s editor and cinematographer too. Their short film’s compelling storytelling and immersive cinematography create an unforgettable experience, leaving us pondering the trials Safa has endured.
2. The Jog (2019)
Joseph Lee Anderson
The Jog is a gripping and succinct short film from writer-director Joseph Lee Anderson, who also plays the lead. We are drawn into the compelling journey of a young Black man with a positive attitude toward life whose world is suddenly filled with newfound hope and opportunity when he learns of his acceptance into the police academy.
However, this initial excitement doesn’t last, as when he’s out on a jog, his day is soon turns upside down when the narrative that an unexpected twist, and our the protagonist stumbles upon a disconcerting situation within his very own neighborhood that completely changes his outlook in life. As we witness the unfolding events, The Jog prompts us to reflect on our own actions and the responsibilities we bear in the complex web of human interactions. Amidst its powerful storytelling, the film uses carefully curated stock footage to enrich the narrative and deepen our connection with the characters.
Winner of the Kansas City FilmFest’s Award for Best Narrative Short in 2019, The Jog is ultimately a story about racism, prejudice, and police brutality, and even if it’s only six minutes long, it will absolutely have an impact on you. If you’re looking for a timely, well-written short about complex, relevant themes, look no further than The Jog.
3. Goldman v Silverman (2020)
Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie
Chances are, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve definitely heard of Benny and Josh Safdie, the writers-directors behind the incredible Uncut Gems. But you may not know that the Safdie brothers also made a grest short in 2020.
Goldman v Silverman adopts a documentary-style approach to explore the dynamic rivalry between two street performers in the heart of Times Square: Al Silverman (Benny Safdie) and Rod Goldman (Adam Sandler, also the film’s co-writer alongside the directors). Our two protagonists offer vastly different experiences to the unsuspecting passersby, which earns them different scales of respect, but the main source of tension is their own relationship.
The film’s exploration of competition and comedy has us hooked from start to end, leaving us eager to see who will emerge victorious in this entertaining showdown. The streets of Times Square become the stage for a battle of wits and talent.
4. Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma (2021)
Simon Davis, Topaz Jones & Rubberband
This autobiographical experimental film delves deep into terms and concepts that are central to the Black American experience, as it tells the story of how the “Black ABCs” came to be. The “Black ABCs” was a system developed by Black teachers in Chicago in the 1970s that used flash cards to help Black students read in a way that reflected their identity, as a means to empower them in an educational environment that, up till then, had been white-centered.
Through a captivating audiovisual immersion, musician Topaz Jones takes us on a personal journey of childhood and coming-of-age in Montclair, N.J., as his education helped him shape his Black identity. Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma had its World Premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2021, where it won the Short Film Jury Award for best non-fiction film, and it then went on to collect more accolades at various festivals nationwide. This documentaryinvites us to explore the rich tapestry of the Black experience and encourages thought-provoking discussions on identity, culture, and history.
5. Pumzi (2009)
In a post-apocalyptic world scarred by the aftermath of World War III, Africa’s primary concern is water, the most precious and rationed resource. In fact, it’s the lack of water that provoked WWIII in the first place, in Kenya’s first sci-fi movie. The movie takes place 35 years after said conflict, when we follow a woman named Asha (Kudzani Moswela) who curates a VR natural history museum at a self-sufficient community known as the Maitu.
In a world where water is even scarcer than during the war, the Maitu have found a way to produce energy by using treadmills, all while drinking as little as they can. But everywhing changes when Asha receives some soil in the mail and goes against her superior’s instructions, doing something that will affect the community forever.
Pumzi offers stunning worldbuilding, but the real star is the story itself, which really gets us to think about the environmental implications of our behavior and the future that might face us if we don’t take action. Kudzani Moswela shines in this insightful, Venice Film Festival-winning short from writer-director Wanuri Kahiu (Rafiki).
In a cinematic landscape dominated by blockbuster extravaganzas, the 5 independent short films listed above serve as a testament to the boundless creativity and innovation thriving within the filmmaking community.
They remind us that storytelling transcends budgets and that genuine passion and dedication can produce cinematic wonders that resonate with audiences from all walks of life.