There are so many great reasons to write short films. Not only can they serve as bite-size calling cards that demonstrate your writing chops, but they also allow writers to practice their craft and discover their voice while working on something on a smaller, more manageable scale. (Though, telling a story in under 15 minutes can be an even greater challenge sometimes.)
However, another great reason to try your hand at writing a short film is that it could be your ticket to success on the film festival circuit. Need some inspo? We gotchu.
Here’s a list of some of the best short films from the Sundance Film Festival (15 minutes and under) that will surely entertain and serve as great research for any writer.
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Daddy’s Girl (2022)
This comedy, written and directed by Lena Hudson, premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2022 and was nominated for the Short Film Grand Jury Prize. Daddy’s Girl is about a young woman’s charming but overbearing father who helps her move out of her wealthy, older boyfriend’s apartment. At just over ten minutes, this comedy is relatable and fun and gives audiences another view into what it means to have “daddy issues.”
Hair Wolf (2018)
In a Black hair salon in gentrifying Brooklyn, the local residents fend off a strange new monster: white women intent on sucking the lifeblood from black culture. Written and directed by Mariama Diallo, this horror comedy says a lot about Black hair and the constant cultural appropriations and microaggressions the Black community suffers every day. Hair Wolf won the Sundance Film Festival Short Film Jury Award: US Fiction in 2018.
Read More: 3 Sundance Films That Started Out As Shorts
Dirty is a tender portrait of two queer teenagers navigating intimacy together for the first time. Marco cuts class to spend the afternoon with his boyfriend, Graham. Things end up going differently than planned. Written and directed by Matthew Puccini, this LGBTQ+ drama portrays love and intimacy between two teenage boys with sensibility in a real and moving way. Dirty was nominated for the Sundance Film Festival Short Film Grand Jury Prize in 2020.
Teeny thought it was just another routine babysitting job—until she was shocked to meet the client. As the day goes on, Teeny decides to become the woman she had no idea she always wanted to be… until she gets caught. This comedy, written and directed by Anna Margaret Hollyman, explores Mommy culture and the human desire to belong to a tribe in a fun and interesting way. Maude was nominated for the Sundance Film Festival Short Film Grand Jury Prize in 2018.
Struggling with feelings for her best friend, fourteen-year-old Marie stages an almost perfect plan. Made before the world went into lockdown because of the pandemic, this short drama captures how normalized mass shooters in schools have become. With this backdrop as the setting for the story, there’s also a tale of unrequited love. Written & Directed by Logan George & Celine Held, Lockdown was nominated for the Sundance Film Festival Short Film Grand Jury Prize in 2019.
This drama was the 2019 Winner of the Sundance Film Festival Short Film Jury Award and is about an undocumented Turkish pedicab driver who unwittingly draws police attention, endangering his brother, his community, and himself. Written by Suzanne A. Correa and Mustafa Kaymak and directed by Suzanne A. Correa, this film greatly captures the xenophobia that currently exists in America and the risks undocumented immigrants face every day while simply trying to live their lives.
Read More: 5 Lessons I’ve Learned About Writing Short Scripts From Watching Shorts at Film Festivals
For Nonna Anna (2017)
In this raw and graceful testimony of intersectional womanhood, a trans girl has to care for her Italian grandmother. She assumes that her Nonna disapproves of her – but instead discovers a tender bond in their shared vulnerability. Written and directed by Luis De Filippis, this film is moving in the most subtle and quiet ways. For Nonna Anna won Sundance’s Special Jury Prize in 2018.
Written and directed by Matthew Puccini, this film was made before Dirty, and Fox Searchlight bought it in one of the first acquisitions in their new “Searchlight Shorts” series. This LGBTQ+ drama is about a young gay man who grows increasingly entangled in the marriage of an older couple. Lavender premiered at Sundance in 2019.
Wake Up (2020)
Before Don’t Worry, Darling, and all the behind-the-scenes drama, Olivia Wilde directed this branded experimental short film for HP about a world blinded by screens. There are powerful moments in this piece, and it’s interesting to think that HP, a technology company that makes mostly electronics, would commission a piece like this one. Nevertheless, it premiered at Sundance in 2020, and it has a powerful message about human disconnect brought in part by technology.
I Know You From Somewhere (2017)
Written and directed by Andrew Fitzgerald, this short comedy captures the horrors of being a viral sensation in the funniest possible ways. The film premiered at Sundance in 2017 and feels just as relevant five years later.
There’s a lot to learn from watching and writing short films, especially ones under 15 minutes. Let this list serve as an inspiration to writers everywhere to craft their own short films and watch it serve as a stepping stone on your writing journey.