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CCFF 2023: Shorts Programs 1 & 2

May 3, 2023


Throughout the many film festivals I’ve attended over the years, there are often Shorts Programs included in the lineup and what I’ve learned is that there should be Shorts Programs in the lineup. It’s the best way to showcase a variety of storytelling and mediums in about an hour-and-a-half and to turn viewers on to emerging talent. There’s also a certain curiosity that come with watching Shorts, since the litmus test of a good one is whether or not the a director can utilize the timeframe in a sufficient and satisfying manner.

No one wants to ponder what in the world just happened after watching a Short, so it takes a solid combo of skill and talent to leave viewers either content or wanting more. Some feature-length films started out as shorts and those are usually the ones where it’s clear there’s more story to be told. In a film festival Shorts Program there should be a diverse display of narratives, animation, and documentaries. Those are the programs that feel the most engaging, like someone handcrafting the selections rather than a random algorithm.

For the past 10 years, film critic Collin Souter has curated the Shorts Programs for the Chicago Critics Film Festival (CCFF) and he’s definitely someone who knows how to put them all together in just the right order. I’ve had a chance to watch each short in this year’s lineup for the festival that runs from May 5th through May 11th. Sure enough, each program offers some very compelling and impressive shorts. Even if I liked some more than others, the creativity and talent was still evident.

In the days leading up to the festival, I spoke with Souter about the Shorts Programs he compiled. You can find that brief interview below, followed by a rundown of all the shorts in both programs, a summary and my rating for each.



David J. Fowlie: As I watched both of your shorts programs, I was reminded how compiling them is very similar to how we used to make mix tapes back in the day. Would you agree?

Collin Souter: Absolutely. That’s always how I think of it. And like John Cusack says in “High Fidelity,” there are rules in place for structure and flow that should always be at the forefront of programming these things. I often use U2’s album “Pop” as a model for sequencing. Bono described that album by saying “it starts with the party and ends with the hangover.” A lot of the Shorts Programs are structured that way. Frontload it with the comedies and slowly work our way toward the tragedies and make the flow seem natural. That’s just one way of doing it. There are other ways of structuring these things successfully, but that’s probably the safest method.

DJF: One program plays on Saturday afternoon & the other on Monday evening – do you have to figure which Short would fit best on those days or is it just a matter of what fits best within the flow of the program?

CS: I often refer to the Saturday block as the “crowd pleaser” and Monday is, like, “anything goes.” I know we’ll get a bigger crowd on Saturday and I want them to have a great time and want to come back next year. That doesn’t mean everything has to be light. Just memorable, universal, relatable, unique. And then the Monday program can be anything, really. Often, it’s stuff that I had in the Saturday block, but found its way to Monday because of time. But when I watch a lot of these shorts, I do make a note of what is “definitely a Monday film” versus a Saturday. The more experimental and esoteric, the more I’m thinking it’ll work better on a Monday. But these lines often get crossed and both programs eventually have a little of the other’s DNA.

And I’m always cool with that. It’s hard to define, but you know it when you see it. I think all festival movies get programmed that way when we’re watching them, features or shorts. You go with what worked in the past and what the crowd turn-out tends to be.

DJF: Having seen both programs, that explanation makes sense. For so many viewers, festivals are really the only place they have a chance to see such shorts…what do you think about that? So many directors make their feature debut, yet they could’ve done a handful of shorts that hardly anyone has seen…what are your thoughts on that?

CS: I don’t think anyone makes a short film hoping it’ll get lines around the block. A lot of them are “Proof of concept” shorts, which are shorts that are used as try-outs for the real thing. They help raise awareness and, hopefully, money and investors for the feature. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. Depends on the strength of the idea, I guess. But it’s often just people who wan to try directing something small and manageable to get practice before they commit a year or so of their lives on the big one. What I want to know is, what percentage of people who go to Shorts Programs at festivals also seek them out online on Vimeo,, youtube or other avenues. I mean, we can only play 15 or so shorts at our festival, but there are hundreds and hundreds of them each year floating around out there and whatever success you have with a short, you have to be grateful for it because anyone can make one now.

DJF: You make a good point. I wonder if people even know where to find shorts outside of festivals?

CS: I always tell people Vimeo Staff Picks is a great place to start, although I’ve heard it’s pretty random to get a “Staff Picks” label for your short. I guess their people are flooded with films and videos to sift through. A lot of great stuff on Vimeo doesn’t get the “Staff Picks” label, so it doesn’t get discovered. Sadly, I think a lot of people wait to see what’s nominated at Oscar time and just watch those 15 films. Those blocks of shorts are now widely available, but rarely represent the best of what’s out there. I guess you just have to be curious. That’s what drives people to watch a shorts program at a festival. It gives them no bragging rights to have seen something early, like features do, so you just have to want to take in something unique. But it’s always possible you get a jump on the start of a future director’s great career and that’s certainly worth bragging about.

Actually, you should always brag about seeing a Shorts Program, no matter what…they’re good for you.

DJF: Well, I am definitely pointing anyone who asks (even some who don’t) in the direction of the shorts programs you’ve compiled for CCFF this year. It’s an impressive assembly of variety, from foreign to American, diverse dramas & comedies and even a documentary.

CS: Oh, thanks! It’s hard to get all those elements in there every year, but the amount of talent out there in all forms, genres, styles and representation makes it easy. And fun. I never get tired of this.

DJF: It shows! Thanks for your time…I’ll see ya at the fest!


For more info from Souter on how he curates these Shorts Programs, click here. 

Troy – Troy has loud sex. Troy has loud sex 24/7. Troy shares a wall with Thea and Charlie. Troy is ruining their lives… Or is he saving them? Directed by Mike Donahue.


Sprout – After an agoraphobic scientist accidentally creates a baby-like plant creature, their connection threatens to upend his reclusive way of life. Directed by Zora Kovac.


A Shore Away – Newly employed in an emergency shelter for people experiencing homelessness, Genevieve is shocked to meet again with Camille, a young woman whom she believed to have successfully reinserted while being her social worker. Shot in a real emergency shelter for homeless people in Montreal, QC, Canada. Directed by Gaëlle Graton.


Call Me Mommy – Uncovering the multifaceted life of 40 year old single mother and online sex worker, Sinead. Call Me Mommy delves into the various origins and effects of ‘Mommy Issues’ in Sinead’s personal and professional world. Showing an intimate portrait of a modern day sex worker. Directed by Tara O’Callaghan.

RATING: **1/2

In the Big Yard, In the Teeny-Weeny Pocket – When it shrinks, it expands. It floats and it sinks. It separates but connects. When I think I’m watching them, they’re actually watching me. Directed by Yoko Yuki.


Sèt Lam – In an insular city’s ghetto, in the midst of a trance ritual, a young girl is paralyzed by fear. She is afraid her loved ones may be hurt or even disappear. It is then that her grandmother tells her the strange tale of Edwardo, the first one of his kin to have seen and fought death. The child is captivated, feeling that there is a reason her grandmother is recounting this tale. Directed by Vincent Fontano.



Details on the Chicago Critics Film Festival can be found here
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