Short films don’t get the wider credit that they should get. Anyone can make a short film and post it on YouTube, hoping someone will find it and love it, but short films have an advantage where most Hollywood/studio released movies don’t. They can get their messages across a lot faster. They’re called short films for a reason, and one short film that’s making its way to certain platforms, Little Chief, is one that should not be missed. Little Chief is a resounding, thoughtful, and very relatable short film that offers a sweet and poignant relationship between a teacher and student.
The main story of Little Chief focuses on a drained and resilient school teacher named Sharon, who struggles with the everyday life of her job. One might look at the premise of Little Chief as not the most game-changing concept, but in the span of 12 minutes or so, Little Chief succeeds in being a stimulating view of Sharon not having the deepest amount of sympathy for her students, which is, strangely enough, why we then sympathize with her by the end of the whole short film.
One of Little Chief’s most surprising and compelling aspects is how it introduces its main characters and how it presents to us, the audience. When we’re first introduced to Sharon, we see her doing things that one might not agree with or be comfortable with, but by having no dialogue, a few tense stares, and a very brisk walk away from a scene, the audience is immediately drawn into the complex nature of a character, and that is brilliant storytelling.
Lily Gladstone (Sharon) gives a simple but powerful performance. Seeing an actor convey an array of feelings while playing such a seemingly emotionless character is gripping, but it’s also refreshing because this is something that doesn’t get explored as much in other films.
Something that’s also worth mentioning about Little Chief is the attention to detail on portraying a more modern indigenous culture. As of late, one could argue that the representation of Native Americans hasn’t been done in the right and proper way because Hollywood may trope them or have a lack of understanding on this race of individuals. In this short film, director Erica Tremblay brings such authenticity to this world and gives so much life to Sharon and to the one student that Sharon shares a connection with, Bear.
The character of Bear is a definite surprise because it feels like a character that was written to be shy, awkward, and insecure around others, and that’s what makes him the most relatable aspect of this entire short film. One scene in particular (no spoilers) involves him reading in class. The execution makes him a relatable character because the character of Bear is a symbolization of that one person we all knew in our earliest memories of being at school. The direction of Bear had an organic and natural flow to what Erica Tremblay was trying to convey to audiences, and that’s what made him stand out so much. His character serves a lot of emotional weight, even by not saying much.
When the movie gets to a close, we’re left with a feeling of sorrow and something powerful. Maybe the connection of Sharon’s life could have given some more insight, but the important thing to remember is that this is a short film. It’s not a theatrically released movie and that’s something to admire about short films. If a studio wants to pick up this movie and find stuff to expound upon, then go right ahead, but the fact of the matter is that Little Chief did the job that a short film is supposed to do — to be short and to the point.
All in all, there’s a lot to appreciate with Little Chief. While some might find the ending to not have the best closure while others may find it not as fulfilling, the direction that this short film went down was really moving and very insightful. Filmmaker Erica Tremblay did a remarkable job of showcasing a small but impactful relationship between a teacher and her students, and the struggles and life lessons that we can learn from those relationships. There’s something in there that’s worth the watch, and I think Tremblay did it the best way she could.
Full details for Little Chief can be found at the Sundance 2020 page.
Sundance Screening Schedule:
Monday, January 27, 5:30 p.m.
Egyptian Theatre, Park City, UT
Wednesday, January 29, 8:30 a.m.
The MARC Theatre, Park City, UT
Thursday, January 30, 4:00 p.m.
Holiday Village Cinema 4, Park City, UT
Friday, January 31, 9:00 p.m.
Temple Theatre, Park City, UT
Saturday, February 1, 3:00 p.m.
Broadway Centre Cinema 6, Salt Lake City, UT
Final Score: 4 out of 5.