Drew Burnett Gregory is back at Sundance, reporting daily with queer movie reviews from one of the world’s most prestigious film festivals. Follow along for her coverage of the best in LGBTQ+ cinema and beyond.
The most beautifully shot film at Sundance 2024 isn’t any of the buzzed about features that will sell for millions — it’s Natalie Jasmine Harris’ short film, Grace.
It’s not just that the photography is pretty — although it certainly is — it’s that every moment is captured exactly as it should be. The camera is stationary when it should be. The camera is handheld when it should be. Close-ups and wide shots are used to great effect.
I’m a big proponent of shooting on film, but it’s only worth it when the entire visual approach is motivated by character and story. It’s more than worth it here.
Grace is about a 16 year old girl named Grace in the rural 1950s South. She’s spent the summer getting close to another girl — all the excitement, uncertainty, and intimacy of young queer love — but, as she prepares to be baptized, she questions whether she needs to repent for her feelings.
Harris, whose previous film Pure was one of my favorite shorts at Newfest 2021, trusts in her craft. Many shorts feel the need to have an obvious hook or an easy twist — or are obvious samples from an already written feature — but Grace is a simple moment in time enriched by a depth of feeling. The attention to detail in everything from production design to performance allows the film to stand as a contained work of art. It washes over you during its ten minute runtime like the sea washes over its protagonist at the film’s end. A mix of heartbreak and beauty.
Cinematographer Tehillah De Castro previously shot Tahara and How to Blow Up a Pipeline, so it was not surprising to see her name appear in the credits. She’s one of the best cinematographers working today. Not one of the best up-and-coming, not one of the best at shooting indie queer movies — one of the best period.
Harris’ excellent taste in collaborators doesn’t end with her DP. Again, the production design, editing, and performances are all exquisite, and everything is brought together by a gorgeous score from Taul Katz and Damsel Elysium.
When people lament the amount of lesbian period pieces, I think they’re actually complaining about a predictability. It’s not the period setting — it’s the sameness of stories and the sameness of who’s on screen.
Grace may work as a contained short, but I hope someday soon Natalie Jasmine Harris gets to make a feature length period piece. If this is what she can do in a ten minute Kickstarter-funded short, I can’t even imagine what she’ll conjure with more time and a bigger budget. I hope we’re lucky enough to find out.
Grace is now streaming as part of Short Film Program 5 on the Sundance virtual platform.