One of the overlooked and underrated categories for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Awards are the short films. Both Live Action and Animated categories have been included in Hollywood’s competition since 1932 yet few have a chance to see them for their lack of ticket sales and difficulty tracking them down. Luckily, Shortz, a network devoted to the short films (under 40 minutes) gives a method of distribution to these films so that these short stories are able to be embraced by a wider audience.
With the Oscars only a few weeks away, I checked out the Live Action Shorts at Spectrum 8 in Albany. Five short films ranging from 16 to 30 minutes were screened, including submissions from across Europe, the Middle East and Asia. You can check out the trailers for these shorts below and seek out a local theater to see them at before the Oscars are awarded on February 22.
Boogaloo and Graham (Northern Ireland)
Set amid unrest in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1978, this cute film focuses on two young brothers who raise chickens as pets, with a mother who is not pleased with their inclusion in their family. When mom becomes pregnant, the chickens face impending doom but salvation comes in a most heartfelt way.
In what could be an extended scene from a broader film, this 39 minute short works perfectly as a standalone short. Aya meets a conductor, accidentally becoming his driver from the airport to Jerusalem, and their relationship morphs over a the ride from strangers to a professional relationship towards friendship, with a sexual twist and a touch of romance. The only issue I had with this film was that is starts around lunch but ends late in the night, with the airport and Jerusalem only an hour or so apart. A filmmakers flaw perhaps?
The Phone Call (UK)
Academy Award nominee Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) and winner Jim Broadbent (Iris) are Stanley and Heather in an emotionally steady short. Stanley calls a crisis center and Sally answers the phone. After a short conversation of he having lost someone, she discovers he took pills and amid his depresses state, she uses her resources to calmly help him, making every quiet effort on her end to save his life. This life pressing but not jarring or stress inducing film never gives you an emotional overload in the process but has a great payoff.
Set in Western China with a camera that does not move position, a small village is having their photographs taken. Behind them are rotating back drops, with scenes of beaches, Disney World, the Olympics and other facades that cover up the ‘progress’ behind them – a highway that looks like it may never be completed. Many come to town to pose for their first photos ever, as couples, kids, in groups, with props, and as families. A unique idea for a film, the awkwardness of these photos is an examination of Westernization meeting Eastern culture.
In what I would predict to be the Oscar winner for Best Short Film, Western influence in Switzerland affects an Afghani immigrant (Parvanah) who is seeking to send money home to take care of her father. Branching out from a group home to seek out a Western Union, she slowly starts to let her hair down, free from the judging eyes of her temporary home, embracing freedom cautiously while seeking a connection to help her family. Befriending Anna, she tries alcohol, dances, steps out of the shadows and in just 25 minutes, she is not the timid girl we were introduced to but lightly acclimated into a welcoming world that does not judge her with the same harsh eyes. The subtext of seeking out Western Union is less than subtle but doesn’t portray Parvanah as changing drastically in two days time, but rather she finds middle ground for her familial obligations and new home and friend.