Even if you can’t make it to a film fest, you can still enjoy the work of the genre’s most promising talent by watching these stellar shorts.
We are fortunate enough to attend some of the world’s most influential and inspiring film festivals, and we’re always gobsmacked by the talent on display. The hardest part of covering these festivals is wanting desperately to rave about the films we experience, knowing you might not be able to check them out right away. Thus, we think it’s important to make sure you can get to know these remarkable up-and-coming filmmakers right away so that their work remains on your radar. Because, while festival films may take a while to become widely available, many filmmakers have already begun to make their mark on the genre, and you can often catch their early films online while you wait for their latest and greatest to arrive.
We recently covered the incredible Nashville Film Festival. While my colleague shared her favorite shot films from The Graveyard Shift program (a special segment of the festival that features short films dedicated to the horror, sci-fi, and thriller genres), I wanted to share some of the great work from these filmmakers you can watch right now.
1. Tomorrow’s Shores (Arthur Veenema, 6 minutes)
Arthur Veenema is a Utah director, screenwriter, and producer best known for his science-fiction films and animation. His work has been featured by the Utah Film Commission and shown at the Philip K. Dick Film Festival in New York City and the Sci-Fi-London Film Festival. Arthur is the co-host and producer of the film history podcast A Century in Cinema. As of 2021, he works as a video director with the Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah.
Arthur’s latest short, The Atomic Spawn, is currently making waves on the festival circuit. But in 2017, he released an impressive short called Tomorrow’s Shores that you can watch right now.
Tomorrow’s Shores is a deeply affecting vignette reflecting on the world as we pass it from generation to generation, set in a grim future where most of the world’s wildlife has gone extinct due to a rampant environmental catastrophe. It’s a powerful and beautifully-executed short with something urgent and meaningful to say. Though Veenema has a special interest in science fiction, exploring visions of a fantastical and futuristic world, Tomorrow’s Shores feels shockingly real and prescient.
For those with an appreciation for how exquisitely and effectively the genre can reflect and confront real-world horror, this is a must-see short.
2. I’m Rapper Girlfriend (Cody Kostro, 8 minutes)
Cody Kostro was born and raised in New York City. His second short film Harvest Bowl is currently screening at festivals around the globe. As an actor, he appears on HBO’s Mare of Easttown, Showtime’s Flatbush Misdemeanors, and the upcoming feature film Jules starring Sir Ben Kingsley.
His debut short film I’m Rapper Girlfriend screened at the Cinequest Film Festival, Florida Film Festival, and LA Shorts International Film Festival. The short is about Rapper Girlfriend, an up-and-coming British musician who is betrayed by her jealous boyfriend before she meets with a major record executive.
Rapper Girlfriend is a character conceived by Kostro and the excellent Simone Grossman (who stars in both I’m Rapper Girlfriend and Kostro’s latest short Harvest Bowl). It’s not horror, but it is hilarious and well worth your time. It’s a great peek behind the curtain showing the disconnect between the public persona of celebrities and the real-life, behind-the-scenes drama we’re typically not privy to.
Rapper Girlfriend is a struggling rapper on the verge of major success. She exudes confidence and self-assured coolness, but she’s really a fragile and insecure young girl who fights with her rapper boyfriend and still turns to her loving, protective mum in times of stress and trouble.
Not only is this a really fun short, but the original music is also fantastic and makes me long for much more from the endearing and wildly entertaining Rapper Girlfriend.
PS – if you’re jonesing for more after watching (trust me, you will be), you can catch all the Rapper Girlfriend and Darius mini-episodes right here. Be sure to also check out Cody Kostro’s YouTube channel for more music videos featuring Rapper Girlfriend and Darius. My favorite is Tom Hardy, where Rapper Girlfriend sings about her obsession with the actor and her desire to steal him from his wife. Bloody brilliant.
3. In the Shadow of the Mountain (Brendan Prost, 11 minutes)
In the last decade, Brendan Prost has been quietly emerging as one of the most prolific young filmmakers in Canada, with an impassioned and eclectic body of work that includes features, shorts, web series, and music videos. He is best known as the doggedly independent creator of four feature films that have screened theatrically across Canada, and are now available everywhere on-demand: Generation Why (2009), Choch (2011), Spaces and Reservations (2014), and Sensitive Parts (2017).
Prost’s 2017 horror/thriller short In the Shadow of the Mountain follows two melancholy city dwellers seeking to brighten their lives by escaping to a sublime mountain trail. But they discover only darkness when they become lost and are subsumed by the long shadows of the landscape.
I love genre films set amidst the most pristine and jaw-droppingly breathtaking scenery. Not only are they stunning to look at, but it’s such a chilling juxtaposition between the beauty and the horror that really amplifies the unsettling and anxiety-inducing viewing experience. When you’re someplace in nature unspoiled by the hands of man, you can’t help but feel peaceful and serene — as if nothing bad could ever happen to you there. So, when that peace is shattered, it’s unexpected, disorienting, and terrifying.
In the Shadow of the Mountain is visually sumptuous. It’s a simple story with an ending that leaves it open to interpretation.
A beautiful allegory for loneliness and depression, it’s difficult to not get immersed and feel deeply affected by the journey.
4. A Mother’s Love (Jake Stark, 5 minutes)
Jake Stark is a filmmaker based in California whose style draws from sci-fi, anime, and Edgar Wright. His second short film, Shallow Graves, is touring the festival circuit.
His first short, A Mother’s Love, follows a family of three — a mother, father, and daughter. It begins innocently enough with the father and his precocious young daughter putting away groceries and talking about dinner plans. We establish that the adorable girl has her daddy wrapped around her finger as she convinces him to let her eat candy before dinner. He tries to say no, but her pitiful, “Please, Daddy” instantly wins her over. He gives in, with the caveat that she doesn’t tell her mother.
Soon, the mother enters the kitchen asking for her daughter. But when the young girl comes back, the mother is instantly startled and then panicked. She doesn’t recognize the girl and demands to know what happened to her real daughter. The father tries to calm her, asking her if she forgot to take her meds, and we are convinced she’s suffering from mental illness.
However, things take a dark turn, and we soon learn just how the father is willing to go to keep his less than innocent daughter happy at all costs.
A Mother’s Love is surprising and sinister, telling an impressively complete story in such a short runtime — yet still leaving viewers wanting more from this deliciously dysfunctional family.
5. Bloody Henry (Jean-Paul Disciscio, 25 minutes)
Jean-Paul Disciscio’s latest short, Poor Glenna, is wowing audiences on the festival circuit. His work, through his production company Overdue Films, explores metaphor and character in the genres of horror and science fiction. The limitations of being a truly independent artist have pushed him to embrace a punk rock aesthetic in his films, and he embraces the seams of independent filmmaking. He enjoys the struggle because it ultimately leads him to find more creative ways of expressing his ideas.
“I believe the best horror holds a mirror up to the world and allows us to see the ugly side of humanity. The allegorical horror films of George Romero and Jordan Peele show us the parts of ourselves we would rather not talk about. The demented parts. The violent parts. My own work is very much in this category of horror as allegory.” – Jean-Paul Disciscio
Filmed in stunning black and white, Disciscio’s short Bloody Henry opens on a young boy and girl walking in a field near an abandoned car. The boy aims a slingshot at a baby bird in a tree, hitting and killing it. The girl sings a haunting lullaby called “Henry” while stroking the dead bird as the two sit together in the car, which also happens to contain a large animal skull in the back window. We transition to another car in a field at a drive-through theater. This one’s got a recently deceased lamb in the backseat. The car is being used as a makeshift blood transfusion machine, transferring blood from the lamb into a man’s arm.
The man is Henry, the grown-up version of the boy in the beginning. A desperate loner, Hery now works as a traveling bible salesman who swindles money from lonely widows and kills animals to replenish his supply of dwindling blood. When Henry meets the introverted Molly, his taste for human blood grows to an unquenchable desire and leads him on a path to self-destruction.
Artfully filmed, exceptionally creepy, and remarkably unique, Bloody Henry is absolutely riveting — a standout short you won’t soon forget.
Carlos Gómez-Trigo studied Filmmaking Direction and Production in Barcelona. There he shot Clase de baile, which won him the 2009 Young Artists of Castilla-La Mancha Competition. After shooting two documentaries in India, Carlos returned to Madrid, where he works as a producer and director of commercials. His latest short, Survivers, is in festivals now. His previous short film, Maelstrøm (2017), has more than 160 official selections in international festivals, winning several awards for best short film, acting, or sound.
Maelstrøm is a very simple, and very short, film, but it’s also incredibly effective. Absolutely unnerving with anxiety-inducing sound design, two men stare each down at a cafe table. One man, Karl, spins the spoon from his coffee. The sound grates on the nerves of the other man, Tony. You can see the gears spinning in Tony’s head as he is slowly driven insane while Karl remains blissfully unaware of the damage he’s doing — or the fate that’s about the befall him.
Maelstrøm is a masterclass in tension and a powerful allegory for the irrational but uncontrollable influence of anxiety.