Austin Film Festival 2017: Selected Shorts

Variety truly is the spice of life.

Like most events of its kind, the Austin Film Festival screens a lot of short films, and for most people, this is the only time they get to enjoy this genre.

The following list is arbitrary in that it only includes shorts I was able to see. Documentaries were not a part of my slate this year, so unfortunately, none are included.

The Phantom Menace

Yes, this is definitely Star Wars related. A couple who has just experienced a miscarriage decide to still attend a fan convention. Shot on location at one such nerd fest, The Phantom Menace stars two amazing actors, Lily Rabe and Eric Ladin. The disconnect between what they’re going through and being surrounded by memorabilia is perfect.


This short won the award in the horror category, a well-deserved honor. Set in the hinterlands of what looks like Far West Texas, a man in distress comes upon a worrying scene: a women is being held captive in a shed by the man’s rescuer. The explanation is simple; she’s a demon. Whether she is or isn’t keeps the film in tension throughout, and makes a spooky setting even more unsettling.


This entry from Spain goes from boring to explosive quickly. The mother in question gets a call from her son who is on vacation at the beach with his dad. The father, however, has left him alone and hasn’t returned. Mom doesn’t know where her child is, and a dying cell phone battery makes things urgent in a hurry. When a man approaches her son, she’s in full-on panic, being stuck with no way to help him. Considering that all the action takes place in her apartment Mother, is one of the most tense offerings I’ve ever seen.

Ablution and Nadia’s Visa


These two shorts show the struggles of Muslims in the modern world. Ablution’s Waleed (played by writer/director Omar Al Dakheel) struggles with the competing pressure of being a good son to his aging father while also coming to grips with his sexuality. Finding space between these appears impossible.

Nadia just wants to visit her family in the U.S., but we’re quickly introduced to a visa system that is both arduous and arbitrary. This film puts a face to the numbers that make their way into news stories, and it is heartbreaking.

Dial Back

When man gets locked out of his apartment, he calls the only number he still has memorized which just happens to be the father of an elementary-school acquaintance. They reconnect for this oddest of reasons on New Year’s Eve, and the nostalgia is thick in the air. It’s a fantastic meditation on the people from our past and what would happen if our lives ever intersected again.

Just Like the Real Thing

This lo-fi sci-fi imagines a world where simulations can be run for everyday life events. Here a man gets to role play telling his partner that he’s cheated on her. No matter how he sets it up, the anger and chaos he receives teach a hard lesson: Some things are just going to suck, and we can’t get around that.


Filmed on Skid Row in Los Angeles, Queen tells the story of a mother and daughter experiencing homelessness. It’s bracing and hard to watch a kid go through this, but there’s a hopefulness inside the story that shines through.


More lo-fi sci-fi, this time with a super-powered child who has grown up. His skill is being able to project a few seconds into the future, so he appeared psychic. The problem is, he’s starting to lose where he is in time which means he could disappear completely. Actor Mark Kelly is superb.

The Replacement

This short asks the question, What would happen if cloning became commonplace? In The Replacement, the clones outshine their progenitors, such as the janitor who sees one of his clones become president. Each clone is a different life the original could have had, a true existential crises for the source material.


It’s hard to do anything new with the zombie genre, but Undeadicated pulls it off. Imagine zombies were not only slow, but also weak and had their teeth fall out. Completely plausible! They’d just be a nuisance at that point. When one character decides to “improve” the zombies, things go wrong in a hurry.

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