By Michael Mante | Drama
A troubled young man stumbles upon a creative community and gets to know their leader.

Hansen is a troubled young man grappling with what appears to be panic attacks and nightmares. Isolated and alone, he self-medicates with drugs to ease the stress and tension.

One day he stumbles upon a creative community group, who have taken over a warehouse space and are building various furniture and other woodworking projects. He’s intrigued by their sense of calm, purpose and community. But he’s defensive when the leader, Sam, sensing a situation similar to his own, reaches out to him. They have a searching conversation, one that may prove the helping hand needed for someone who keeps pushing help away.

Written and directed by Michael Mante and produced by Jennie Scott and Jamie Gamache, this short drama focuses on the decision of a young man to seek help and change his path. He’s helped along the way by the perception and compassion of a fellow Black man, who sees beyond Hansen’s wariness and hostility to his buried pain, as well as his true potential.

The film is shot on 35mm with a watchful, patient naturalism, with its slow, observant camerawork and a richness of color and shadow that only celluloid can give. Scenes play out in long takes with deliberate, steady pacing and very few cuts. It achieves visual dynamism from reframing and staging actors within the scene, and the continuity in performance and image make for an introspective, inward-looking mode of storytelling. It allows a lot of breathing room for characters to feel and think, and for viewers to feel a depth of intimacy with them.

The craftsmanship mirrors the narrative’s emphasis on interiority, which looks at questions of how we connect to others as well as ourselves — a process we commonly call self-awareness. Hansen’s journey is internal, but its arc from denial and defensiveness to acceptance and openness is rich, brought to life by a tightly wound but expressive performance by actor Ola Orebiyi, who oscillates between haunted turmoil and subtle yearning as Hansen. The drama comes to life when Sam — beautifully played by actor Michael — tries to pull Hansen out of his shell, only to encounter Hansen’s anger. But Sam chips away at Hansen’s resistance, offering empathy, as well as a challenge to move beyond his isolation and truly help himself.

Thoughtful, subtle and resonantly compelling, “Sandpaper” goes deep into the interiority of its Black male characters. While it acknowledges the toll that social context has on them, the central focus is on the psychological toll that trauma can take, and nearly anyone can relate to how we can build almost impenetrable fortresses around our fears and vulnerabilities.

But as Hansen comes to learn in “Sandpaper,” we suffer from this isolationist approach. The balms of healing for him — and perhaps for many other people — are the courage to be honest with one’s self, accept that we need help and then let others in. In a crisis, we often want to hide, but in these times of need, community and connection are sometimes the greatest tool in helping ourselves.

You Might Also Like:

Feeling Through (Oscars)

By Doug Roland | Drama
A homeless teen meets a deaf-blind man who changes his life forever...

Call Connect

By Josiah Allen and Indianna Bell | Drama
A young helpline operator takes her first call and gets more than she expected.

The Things You Think I’m Thinking

By Sherren Lee | Drama
A burn-survivor goes on his first date after his accident.


By Christophe M. Saber | Comedy
A father slaps a disobedient child. Then a bystander threatens to report him for abuse.

The Landing

By Josh Tanner | Sci-Fi
A man uncovers the horrifying truth of what landed on his childhood farm.

Sometimes, I Think About Dying (Sundance)

By Stefanie Abel Horowitz | Drama
A woman thinks about dying. But a co-worker asks her out.

The Goodnight Show

By Charlie Schwan | Sci-Fi
A virgin tries to get laid before an unstoppable asteroid ends the world.

Naysayer ft. Steven Yeun

By David M. Helman | Drama
A father is cut off from his son, then takes matters into his own hands...

Joseph’s Reel

By Michael Lavers | Romance
An elderly man is given the opportunity to relive one day of his life.

Lost and Found (Oscars)

By Andrew Goldsmith and Bradley Slabe | Animation
A clumsy crochet dinosaur must unravel itself to save the love of its life.


By Joe Gillette | Romance
2 strangers at a wedding reception make an unexpected connection.

Exit Strategy

By Travis Bible | Sci-Fi
A man in a time-loop must work with his brother to prevent a catastrophic fire.

Garfield (Sundance)

By Georgi Bank-Davies | Romance
A young woman wakes up in a strange place, with a strange guy.


By Noel Loozen | Comedy
A young man works in a food truck, across from a brothel with a girl who needs his help.

Long Branch

By Dane Clark and Linsey Stewart | Romance
A young woman finds a one-night stand. But he lives 2 hours away via public transit.

Your favorite short films you haven't seen yet.

Inspiring and insightful. Entertaining and enlightening. That's what you can expect here: no fluff. Just a steady stream of the best films delivered to your inbox.