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Watch: Erin Sanger’s Short Film, Mutt

Erin Sanger’s excellent SXSW-premiering short, Mutt, is online, and it’s this week’s Short of the Week. The site’s Jason Sondhi gets at what’s great about this film in his write-up, particularly citing its original way of exploring what can often seem like familiar territory — the family addiction drama:

The more times I watch Mutt, the more I’m convinced that it is one of the best short film scripts I’ve ever encountered. Even as I first formulated this impression however I remember finding it odd—the dialogue in the film isn’t especially sparkling, nor is the plot overly intricate. There are no clever twists, and the themes, while deeply human and relatable, aren’t rendered in exquisite poetics. But, what writer/director Erin Sanger does in Mutt is tackle a complex issue with a problem-solvers bent, side-stepping the pitfalls of the “addiction” genre in order to establish an incredibly rich portrait of its characters and dynamics within the limitations of the short film format. Mutt’s structure and soft, indirect touch, the way it suggests connections and traumas, resentments and disappointments throughout a family, without being explicit in its exposition, is nothing short of a magic trick….

If we were to update our cheeky, but useful, article 15 Things Wrong With Your Short Film, I would be tempted to add as a warning to aspiring and developing filmmakers to avoid addiction dramas. They are common, and usually bad. I partially blame Requiem for a Dream as it’s become one of those late-night college dorm-room staples, but more generally I think the allure of the addiction drama is potent for younger people. At a moment in their lives where expectation for the future is so high, but the pressure is as well, and the anxiety of “will my life work out like I hope?” is at its peak, the specter of self-destruction is simultaneously potent, but also seductive.

However addiction dramas fail if you try to tackle them head-on. They become narcissistic and dour, reveling in degradation without the benefit of insight or revelation. Like some sort of physics experiment in which you can’t observe the thing in and of itself, these stories are best told sideways, examining the ripples that emanate out from the disease. This is especially true in the short format where you don’t have the luxury of time to document the gradual deterioration of your subject.

The sideways slant Sondhi references is provided by the film’s fourth lead, Booker T., the mixed-breed pit bull whose own existential challenge generates — at least in canine-loving viewers — a powerful contrapuntal force that complicates our natural desire to see the film’s central dramatic conflict come into resolution. In fact, more than complicate that desire, the dog storyline subtly shifts the story’s dramatic intent altogether.

Special shout-outs to the human actors too, including Corey Cott, Taylor Hess (a Filmmaker contributing editor as well as a director and producer) and Noel Wilson.

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