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The Criterion Channel has some of the best-curated and most interesting programming in the streaming world. And this goes beyond the platform’s feature picks; alongside classics of world cinema, they also feature a diverse array of great short films. In addition to celebrated shorts like Mati Diop’s A Thousand Suns and Marlon Riggs’s Affirmations, here are some more worth checking out whenever you have a spare half-hour (or even less).
The Burden (dir. Niki Lindroth von Bahr)
In this strange, hilarious, and deeply affecting stop-motion animation, different groups of talking animals sing about their mundane work and lives. There’s a growing sense of unease throughout the short, culminating in a final shot for the ages that works well as both a punchline and a statement about what it feels like to just keep existing through precarious times. The songs are also weirdly catchy.
Hairat (dir. Jessica Beshir)
For 35 years, Yussuf Mume Saleh has gone outside the walled city of Harar in Ethiopia on various nights to meet with some good friends of his: a pack of wild hyenas. In this riveting short, we see him feed the beasts, his interactions with them underscored by a sort of prayer in the voiceover narration that muses on their communion. It’s equally fraught and mesmerizing to watch.
A Gentle Night (dir. Qiu Yang)
A woman reports her daughter’s disappearance to police, and then has an extraordinarily tense experience at a café afterward. In two short scenes, this film immerses the viewer in a very specific sense of terror — the horrible liminal moment when crisis sets in, with no resolution in sight. That it ends without resolution, leaving its audience submerged in that feeling, makes it all the more potent.