Slamdance 2023 Short Films Reviews

One of the best parts of film festivals is the short films selected! These are five reviews of several short films I was able to catch at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival.

Mela, directed by Kristian Mercado


Mela is the first film I watched at this year’s edition of the Slamdance Film Festival. I was honored to interview the film’s director Kristian Mercado for The Nerd Corps’ YouTube channel. Mela is an enticing short film from Mercado that gauges your attention as it works around its gripping story. In Mela, we follow a single mother who has aspirations to become a famous reggaeton dancer but must navigate her responsibilities of being a mother in the process. The film includes the insanely talented Mela Murder (The Florida Project). I fell in love with the thematic discussion of the difficulties of raising a human being and chasing your dreams. Kristian Mercado’s visual language within Mela is also easy to drool over as the neon paradise provides an enigmatic dreamscape. The film moves a bit too fast at times and I wish we had the time to slow down. I feel as if slowing down would help consume the situation at hand better. Yet, even with these minor flaws the short film still manages to captivate the audience. You will be able to find something to love from the music, cinematography, performances or the overall story of Mela.

Safe as Houses, directed by Mia Mullarkey


Mia Mullarkey’s Safe as Houses is a solid film filled with heart and heartbreak. The film is centered around a woman with down syndrome who befriends a little girl who has been having trouble as of late at home. As a troubled home starts to get revealed the friendship grows between Aggie and Lucy. Sadly, the neighborhood isn’t as open and accepting as Aggie, so things go south and the true colors of Aggie’s neighbors are shown. I found myself enjoying Safe as Houses but I could not get behind the pacing of the film. As much as the story is exciting and sticks, the flow of the story holds it back from being great. Mullarkey also chooses a great location to film as it really creates the atmosphere of a small tight-knit community. It’s essential to have that feeling especially when we reach our conclusion as it is juxtaposed with the lack of respect for their fellow neighbor, Aggie. You don’t see a lot of films with disabled actors in the mainstream. That is why Safe as Houses, even if it has its flaws is far more critical than what is holding it back. I loved the underlying themes of not being judgmental and providing a safe environment for everyone.  I definitely cannot wait to see what else Mia Mullarkey has to offer.

Lollygag, directed by Tij D’oyen


If you know me you know that the erotic is something that interests me a lot. Now, Tij D’oyen’s short film Lollygag is not a complete work of the erotic. The story does revolve around a voyeur who stares out the window at her next-door neighbor during a summer in her childhood. For a ten-minute short film, Lollygag wastes no time captivating its audience with various aspects. The pastel cinematography by Matthew Roveto was the first thing that grabbed my attention. You don’t move past this one location of a backyard but that’s not a limitation for Tij D’oyen’s storytelling as it provides an enticing backdrop for the movie’s events to unfold. The soft yet disturbing narration by Alex Sarrigeorgiou manages to keep you afloat while also getting under your skin. A mix of tight shots and natural lighting creates an atmosphere that is difficult to look away from. Tij D’oyen uses all of this to explore queer identity and voyeurism. The pace is really slow, especially for a ten-minute film, but that’s only a minor gripe about such a delightful watch. I never found myself looking away or losing interest in the narrative. I would love to see what else this promising director has to offer.

Mahogany Drive, directed by Jerah Milligan


Jerah Milligan’s Mahogany Drive is an expertly written short with topical discussions on race and the patriarchy. Milligan manages to include some genuinely humorous bits that remind me a lot of last year’s Sundance hit, Emergency. Jonathan Braylock, James III, and Jerah Milligan have some marvelous chemistry together as they try to uncover why the house they are staying in is killing white women. The tension is high in the film and Milligan manages to direct this swiftly and with ease. The film’s practical effects elevate the horror approach and never feel distracting from the overt comedic approach to the film. I genuinely enjoyed the film and felt that it was a unique approach to discussing the difficult conversations surrounding race relations. While it’s not the most stylized film since its cinematography is a very naturalistic approach it still has its attention-grabbing moments. Mahogany Drive makes the most of its thirteen-minute runtime as it never feels like it drags on or is rushing to its end. By the end of the film, I was laughing and enjoying my time with our characters. If you get the chance to watch this eventually I can promise that Jerah Milligan’s Mahogany Drive will not disappoint. Who knows maybe this can be made into a feature-length film. I know that I would love to see this idea be expanded upon!

The Sidewalk Artist, directed by Brandon Rivera and David Velez


Art will always be subjective and as much as it continues to be gatekeeper by those at the top of the art world, you’d be surprised at the amount of art found in your everyday life. The Sidewalk Artist is a testament to that statement. We’ve all seen cement before, and for those who have it in their properties, you know that it is pretty much well known to dip your hands in and leave your prints in it. David Velez and Brandon Rivera’s mockumentary slice of life is a tender exploration of genuine happiness. Manuel Portillo finds a way into the heart of the audience through the such beautifully patient direction. It’s always assumed that children are the ones who create such designs on sidewalks. Yet, Velez and Rivera remind us that art like this is therapeutic and is used to remember key moments in life. I appreciated the approach and fell in love with the film until it wrapped up. I hope these two continue to find success in their careers as storytellers. Congratulations to them are in order as The Sidewalk Artist won the Grand Jury Prize at Slamdance for the film.