HollyShorts 2021 Opening Night Highlights + Q&A With Jess Brunetto

The opening night of this year’s HollyShorts Film Festival is here, and with it comes a slate of incredible films to kick of this year’s festivities.  As we go through this year’s festival, we will be giving a few highlights from each day, as well as an expansion of our “5 Questions” series with a notable filmmaker from each day of the festival. For opening night we have the wonderful writer/director Jess Brunetto, whose film Sisters focuses on two estranged sibling who experience conflicts while dealing with the death of their ailing mother. Be sure to check out that interview after today’s highlights.

Sisters – Starring Mary Holland and Sarah Burns, this is a very interesting film about family dynamics and how even the slightest thing can change the way family treats each other. Holland and Burns are both wonderful comedic actors in their own right, and together they have incredible chemistry, really capturing the lifetime long relationship between siblings, who can be bickering one moment, having a great time the next, and bickering again at the drop of a hat. With the looming specter of their mother’s illness invading each moment, this is a tense but very fun film that has a depth of range and emotion to it.

My Brother Jesus – A film that, while potentially divisive, is a wonderful story about faith and how it can be celebrated as an African-American painter displays his own vision of Christ. Using their work as a way to show their faith and to also pay homage to the difficulties facing the community, it’s a touching film that brings faith and activism to the forefront.

Injustice System – Shot during the pandemic, this short film brings to light the treatment of inmates in the prison system during this health crisis as a mother attempts to navigate communicating with her son as she finds out he has contracted the illness while in prison, as so many have. This is compounded by the failure of the prison system to properly protect the inmates and communicate with worried families, as the subject of the film attempts to find ways to speak with her son. It’s touching and, in ways, infuriating to see how prisoners are treated, especially during this time.

Two Distant Strangers – In a film that takes the familiar concept of a never ending day that repeats over and over, two men go through the a looping circumstance over and over, stuck in a cycle of police violence, a cycle that many people of color, especially African-Americans, live over and over throughout their lives. It’s a powerful, heartbreaking film that was absolutely one of the most impactful films of opening night.

Desmond’s Not Here Anymore – A film that shows but only the damage a health issue can cause, but what reliving trauma can do to someone. As a young woman cares for her ailing mother, the need to remind her over and over of what has happened in life as she loses her memory is a difficult but rewarding journey.

And now a conversation in our “5 Questions With” series with the incredibly talented Jess Brunetto!

Jess Brunetto, director of “Sisters”

Q: Tell us more about your film.  How did it come to be? 

SISTERS was conceived after my oldest sister and brother-in-law provided home care for his ailing mother until her passing. I wanted to tackle a serious subject matter, but approach it in a playful manner. The concrete details of my sister’s life mixed with the memories of our childhood helped me conjure examples of real life humor, which gave the film an authenticity that I hope has an emotional impact for the audience.

I wrote the script in the fall of 2018, we filmed in the summer of 2019 and the final touches of post production wrapped in 2020. The short had its world premiere at SXSW 2021. 

Q: What was your budget?

With the help of many friends and industry colleagues we were able to make the short for less than 20k.

Q: What was the biggest takeaway from making the film?

Somehow, SISTERS feels more prevalent now, in the context of a global pandemic, than when we were shooting it. There are a lot of people taking care of sick family members in the United States, perhaps now more than ever before. I’d want for them to see a movie that they can relate to, a movie that has heart, but also makes them smile. That’s my hope.

Q: What was the biggest challenge in making this film?

The biggest challenge during the production was adapting the script to fit our location. I had originally written it to have the mother set up in a bedroom, but the bedroom in our location was too small to fit the bed, the cast, the crew, and all the necessary film equipment. If we’d stuck with that setup, we would have been severely limited in terms of what kinds of coverage we could get, so I decided to move the mother into the living room. This ended up changing the dynamic of the entire film. Suddenly, the mother (Florence C.M. Klein) became this central force around which the drama between the sisters (Sarah Burns and Mary Holland) could play out. You can see the mother looming in the background of all these scenes, which wasn’t something I’d thought possible when writing the script. It ended up lending this haunting presence to the whole movie and, sometimes, humor, too.

Q:  What is next for you?

I am actively developing a feature version of my short SISTERS. I’ve received overwhelming positive reviews to the film and I’m thrilled at the chance to tell a larger version of the story. You can follow me on Instagram @jessicabrunetto and on Twitter @jessbrunetto for more updates. 

Thanks to all the filmmakers for their work! You can get tickets for all of the screenings for today, as well as any other blocks for the festival through BitPix and HollyShorts.

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