Once again, I had the luck to see the shorts nominated for the Oscars for Best Live-Action Short Film and Best Animated Short Film. All were entertaining in their own way and all showed the qualities of why they were nominated.
Anyways here are my thoughts on this year’s nominated shorts:
LIVE ACTION SHORT FILMS:
Last year, all nominated shorts were in a language other than English. This year, four of the nominated shorts were in English. This year’s crop of stories are impressive to see. All five have a wide variety from the funny to the thought-provoking.
DeKalb Elementary: dir. Reed van Dyk – Today is supposed to be an ordinary day at an elementary school in the US, but a young man with an assault rifle comes in and threatens people. The receptionist tries deal one-on-one with him. She notices some mental instability and even some flaws in his thinking. She feels she can talk him into withdrawing his gun. She is able to talk with him, talk to law authorities, and get him to cooperate. In the end, the man is arrested and no one dies.
This is a remarkable story, especially since this is being shown during a time when a shooting incident in a Florida high school made headlines. It’s remarkable because it takes you there into the moment. You feel the intensity. Plus seeing in the film how brains win over brawn make this an incredible story to watch. That’s why this is my Will Win pick.
The Eleven O’Clock: dirs. Derin Seale & Josh Lawson – A psychiatrist in 1980’s Australia has an appointment with a delusional mental patient who thinks he’s a psychiatrist. The doctor thinks he can handle it until he meets face to face with the patients. Soon it becomes an all-out verbal battle of madness and idiocies. Looks like he finally met his match.
For once, it’s nice to take a break from some of the more serious stuff and see something comedic. It was very enjoyable and can leave you hating the patient. However it has an appropriately bizarre ending where you’re left to wonder is he the doctor or the patient?
My Nephew Emmett: dir. Kevin Wilson Jr. – This is a depiction of what may have happened the night before the 1955 abduction and lynching of 14 year-old Chicago boy Emmett Till who was just staying with his uncle’s family in Money, Mississippi, but was a victim of racism instead. His murder and his alleged killer’s acquittal would play a part in the Civil Rights Movement.
This might be a fictional depiction of what happened before, but it was very good in sending the message that all Emmett Till was doing was being a typical 14 year-old boy. Having it from the uncle’s point of view is important as the uncle would be interviewed by the media shortly after. It does a very good job of storytelling from the uncle’s point of view as well as recapturing the moments as they happen.
The Silent Child: dirs. Chris Overton & Rachel Shenton – A rich family hires a tutor to help with their 4 year-old deaf daughter. The tutor works very well with the daughter and gets her to sign. The results are pleasing to the father and her siblings, but the mother has higher demands. It gets to the point the mother makes a questionable drastic choice for the daughter.
The story is very good. It also catches your intrigue whether the mother has these high demands because she has high expectations or because she’s trying to cover up a family secret? The story reminds us that the connection between the deaf child and the tutor is a bond we so easily forget about.
Watu Wote/ All Of Us: dirs. Katja Benrath & Tobias Rosen – This is based on a true story. This takes place on a bus trip close to the Kenyan-Somali border. Christians and Muslims travel in the same bus. All have animosity towards each other. One passenger, Jua, has a certain animosity towards Muslims. Her husband and child were killed by a Muslim. She lets the Islamic ‘teacher’ raising money for his student know it. Then the bus is attacked by the group Al-Shabaab. They demand that all Christians be brought forth, but the Muslims defend by quoting scriptures from the Koran to protect them. At the end, police arrive and the teacher is shot. Jua is the one looking after him as they drive to safety.
This is the only film not in the English language. This story may be the darkest of all the stories nominated, but it’s very thought-provoking and it sticks with you. It packs a lot in its 20 minutes of time. You can really feel the hurt in Jua and you’re surprised to see her compassion in the end. That’s why I make this my Should Win pick.
This year’s animated shorts made news of what was included and what was not included. Ever since In A Heartbeat, the animated short of boy meets boy, went viral on YouTube back in August, people predicted it would win the Oscar. Even though it made the shortlist of ten back in December, it did not get nominated. A shock to all fans of the short! As for those that did get nominated:
Dear Basketball: dirs. Glen Keane & Kobe Bryant – This is a pencil-and-paper style of animation drawn by Glen Keane, son of Family Circus cartoonist Bil Keane, and narrated by Kobe Bryant. It’s of the letter Kobe wrote to the sport of basketball upon his retirement.
The film is excellent in how it takes a simple style of animation and successfully makes the audience embrace the athlete’s story of passion. Excellently done. You’ll feel the heart and soul of the story within its four minutes. That’s why I choose this as my Will Win prediction.
Garden Party: dirs. Victor Caire & Gabriel Grapperon – This is funny. A bunch of frogs find themselves over at a mansion. They go around exploring and eating whatever comes their way. Then right as they make their way to the pool area, we learn it’s party time for all!
This is a fun humorous story. The events are slow, but they’re still fun to watch. They’re especially funny when the frogs accidentally find themselves in a mess. The ending is a complete surprise. Nevertheless the short is enjoyable from start to finish.
Lou: dirs. Dave Mullins & Diana Murray – This is the short shown before Cars 3. When kids come in from recess at an elementary school, you can guarantee there will be lots of things left behind. A certain ‘thing’ comes from the lost-and-found bin, which have its L, O and U missing, and gathers up all the stuff in the bin. The school bully J.J. steals the kids’ toys and it’s up for this thing to teach J.J. a lesson, and actually be a friend.
Pixar not only knows how to make a great feature, but they also know how to make a great short too. Even though there’s some dialogue in this short, it is definitely entertaining and fun to watch.
Negative Space: dirs. Max Porter & Ru Kuwahata – A son talks of how his father taught him how to pack and how it’s been passed on as a skill. The son reminisces about it at his father’s funeral.
This is an adaptation of a poem by Ron Koertge. This is a charming story with stop-motion animation. It has a humorous look at a story a son reflects around his father’s funeral. The story ends on a note one didn’t expect it to end on. Nevertheless it’s funny and it has its own unique charm.
Revolting Rhymes: dirs. Jakob Schuh & Jan Lachauer – This is done by the same studio that did the Gruffalo series. This time they return with a story of a babysitter meeting up with a wolf. There we learn the shocking truth of what happened to Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, and The Three Little Pigs!
It’s a funny and charming short. Does get a bit confusing when you learn about these new ‘truths’ and even surprising when you learn some shocking things like the Seven Dwarfs’ gambling problem. Well-written, well-animated and very entertaining. That’s why I give it my Should Win pick.
And there’s my look at this year’s Oscar nominated short films. Lots of creativity and a lot of good storytelling. However the shorts are two of the hardest categories to predict the winner. The winners are often a surprise. Time will tell this Sunday.
One thing of the VIFF I consider to be a treat is whenever I attend a shorts segment. The segment I saw entitled New Skins And Old Ceremonies was a selection of seven shorts from Canadian directors. They were all unique in their own way.
Lost Paradise Lost: dir. Yan Groulx- Two people named Julie and Victor are out of love and find themselves boarding a bus full of strangers to anywhere. Where it takes them is a bizarre place for those out of love and rivals and threats to deal with. An eccentric short nonetheless, but it captures the feel well and makes sense in the end.
Flood: dir. Amanda Strong- It’s an animated short about an indigenous person and how the Canadian system did what it could to make them and their people feel inferior. It’s a story worth telling. The mix of stop-motion for modern images and traditional indigenous art adds to the story. The film ends with a renewed sense of pride.
Cherry Cola: dir. Joseph Amenta- Two drag queens are out on a night to dress up, have fun, and get revenge on an ex-boyfriend. It seems confusing at first, despite being intriguing to watch. You first think it’s a comedy, but the story ends on a dark note. It exposes an overlooked heartache some transvestites have.
The Good Fight: dir. Mintie Pardoe- A young woman goes into a sex toy shop to buy a toy. This woman is a nun about to be ordained. She struggles with her sworn commitment to celibacy, but the secret does get exposed. And with a surprising ending. Directed by a recent UBC graduate, the story is basically for the sake of shock value as it appears no actually research on the Catholic Church and vocations were done. Basically that’s all it is: entertainment for hedonists.
Sea Monster: dirs. Daniel Rocque and Kassandra Tomczyk- Tomczyk co-wrote, co-directed and stars in this short. Charley and Aria are a couple cooped up in a hotel madly in love, but both are coping with trauma. Aria dreams of a squid. Then the two make out on night in the fashion of a squid, followed by a bizarre aftermath. This is a film that’s nothing short of experimental. This film is good at getting creative in its time frame and setting.
Thug: dir. Daniel Boos- We first see how three friends– Eman, Simon and Josh– are shooting a low-budget gangsta film. Director Josh recommends to Eman that he creates a hold-up scene on Simon unexpectedly to make the film more ‘real.’ Eman agrees, despite the risk to their friendship. It does a lot more; it arouses suspicion from the local police. Later, Eman and Simon talk about roles they wish they could play before Eman auditions for a role as a gangster thug. This short film sends a message about how minorities in acting get the short end of the stick in terms of the roles they are offered and are often limited to racial stereotypes.
Let Your Heart Be Light: dirs. Deragh Campbell and Sophy Romvari- Both Deragh and Sophy write, direct and act in opposite names in this short. Sophy is confined to spend Christmas alone after a break-up. Deragh pays a visit and makes her Christmas. The film is slow and lacking in energy, but it does a good job of making use of its time and keeping with the Christmas vibe.
In summary, all seven were different in their own way it terms of both style and quality. There were a couple that were either inconsistent in story or lacking in energy. There were a couple that were eccentric, but the eccentricities worked for the film. There were also some films that made you think. The ones that made me think were my favorites as the messages came across very well and very effectively.
New Skins And Old Ceremonies makes for a unique array of seven shorts by Canadian directors. Some were good, some were bad, but all were an opportunity for the directors to make names for themselves.
One thing about the VIFF is that you will have the opportunity to see shorts films whether it be a short shown before a feature or a segment of shorts assembled together. They pack a lot of entertainment value for something brief in length. The first shorts segment I was lucky to see was Teen Trouble. It consisted of seven different shorts situated in seven different countries all with a teen-related subject and boy were they entertaining:
-I Love Anna (Finland)- 12 year-old Finnish boy Santeri has always had a crush on Anna: the local farm girl. Anna likes Santeri too. One night Anna’s parents are away and she has to look after her little sister. This could be Santeri’s chance to take it to new levels.
The quality of this short is that it takes you into the excitement of the moment as it progresses without any added music score. It adds to the excitement of the moment. Another added quality is it will remind you of when you fell in love for the first time or even of your own sexual curiosities when you were that age.
-Fabrizio’s Initiation (Argentina)- Sexual feelings many years later. Only Fabrizio is now a 15 year-old Argentinian boy who has been in a relationship with Nadia for over a year. Their chances of doing it for the first time are constantly interrupted. However Fabrizio’s friends derive a plan to make it work by conniving the village elder into giving them his car and fixing it up for the moment. Will this finally be it? The film ends with a surprise in more ways than one.
This is a humorous short about the constant pressure of losing your virginity for the right moment and trying to make it right. Hey, it’s not always prom night! It also will remind you of your own teenage love and of all the stuff you tried to do behind your parents’ back.
-The Law Of Moments (UK)- The lessons of Isaac Newton younger sister Mal studies from physics class play into this drama. Mal and Lucy are teen sisters who lost their closeness as older sister Lucy got involved with partying. It’s been of concern to Mal as she sees Lucy and her mother constantly fighting. One night, Mal goes to the farm to see what kind of crowd she’s hanging with. It’s not pleasant at all. Mal goes to help Lucy only for things to end not as it should.
Here we go from comedy to drama. This is a good story that shows the end at the beginning and how it came to be. The addition of Mal’s physics lesson as well as her childhood memory of her and Lucy on the see saw add style to the story line. Very creative.
-Three Minute Warning (UK/Palestine)- This possibly the darkest short of the segment. Palestinian teen girl Miriam has to look after her mother who has a leg problem. It’s a daily thing which includes cooking for her mother and even assisting her to the bathroom and it robs her of the carefree life most teenage girls have. One night a warning bomb– a bomb sent three minutes before the real bomb is to hit its target– hits their apartment. Miriam has to help her mother make the escape while all the others leave them behind. It’s hopeless and it sets up for the heartbreaking ending.
No doubt Palestinian director Iqbal Mohammed has something to say in this short. It was very well-told and will leave you infuriated with the political situation in the Middle East today.
-On The Roof (Spain)- Five Barcelona teen boys love to go to the top of their apartment balcony to spy on sunbathing women during the summer. Bonus points if they’re topless. One day they go to check out a topless sunbather. One boy, Adrian, spots a naked man showering. He also learns something of himself he never knew. One of Adrian’s friends senses his attraction and reacts with hostility. He even senses it on the youngest of the friends and pressures the young boy to take a photo of the bather standing on the top ledge. Adrian stops and volunteers to do it. The end comes with a surprising result but nothing dreadful.
This short focuses on a teen boy’s discovery of his same-sex attraction which catches him by surprise and causes hostility among one of his friends. The short also focuses on teen male machismo which naturally approaches same-sex attraction with hostile discomfort. A reminder of some of the difficulties gay teens go through.
-Winds Of Furnace (Mexico)- A young Mexican teen boy faces a daily responsibility of looking after his grandmother. One day, two of his friends come to his house with a van they stole. The three go out to have fun in their neighborhood. However you know something will go wrong when they take a body found in the van and dispose of it. It’s the case as a van driven by a cartel crosses their paths and shoots one of the friends. This leads to a vicious chase where the boy fires a gun at the cartel. The ending ends with you thinking this is what’s meant to be.
This short didn’t have its subtitles on at the time so it was hard to make sense. However it was a good story of peer pressure taken to the extreme with the potential for dangerous consequences. The heat of the moment left you wondering if he would be killed by the end. I’m sure a lot of boys in Mexico have gone through this temptation. It’s good to see he was possibly the one who didn’t get killed.
-Aeris (Canada)- A young rising teen snowboarder is seen as a possible future great in the sport. However, the 19 year-old suffers a broken leg during competition requiring plates, screws and months of healing. Months later, she goes snowboarding with her friends to see if she still has it and to get her competitive drive back. This proves difficult as she encounters fans on the mountain and even the fear of her broken leg returning if she tries another jump.
This may be the least heavy short of the seven but it does feature a pressure: a personal pressure young rising phenoms in sport know all too well. It makes for a good snowboarding story. It even gets you fearing for her as well as she questions whether to make that big jump.
In summary, all seven shorts were very good and had a lot to say about teen life in the humorous moments, the tense moments and even tragic moments. All definitely gave an image of what it’s like to be young.
Teen Trouble was an impressive selection of shorts. Anyone can be entertained by something in the selection.
Most years I have the luxury of seeing both the animated and live-action shorts nominees back-to-back. This year I didn’t have that much of a luxury because of how tightly scheduled my life is right now. Actually I could’ve waited to see the ‘double feature’ the day before the Oscars but why should I wait when I have many chances in the days and weeks leading up? I had the good luck of seeing the animated nominees last week. I had my chance to see the live-action ones just a couple of days ago. I’m glad so I can make my predictions well ahead of time. So here’s my review of the shorts and my predictions:
Parvaneh – dirs. Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger – Parvaneh is a teenage Afghani girl living in the Swiss alps trying to make money for her family, especially her ailing father to afford medicine. It’s hard enough staying in refugee housing away from her family and being around young sleazy guys. It’s not clear whether she’s a legal emigre or illegal. However it’s hard to get good work. It’s also hard for her to send money since she doesn’t have the right ID to send and she’s under 18.
While in Zurich where she traveled to in order to send money via Western Union, she asks a street girl for help. She’s willing to but at a percentage: she starts at 50% but is negotiated down to 10%. At first the girl decides to just simply help Parvaneh or ‘Pari’ by just having her at her mother’s, whom she’s not on good terms with, while she’s showering. Both arrive too late as the Western Union is closed.
The girl decides to take Pari out to a party while she’s staying overnight. Pari is reluctant at first but starts getting more comfortable over time to the point she is enjoying herself. The girl has her own fun but doesn’t let Pari out of her sights. Unfortunately more drinking than Pari can handle leaves her feeling sick. Outside she’s approached by a young male trying to seduce her. Her refusal to accept only leads him to get even more invasive with her. It isn’t until the other girl comes out and attacks the male that he stops and runs off, only for Pari to find out her money was stolen by him. They are able to get the money back. The film ends on a delightful note.
The film can be seen by having a lot of themes about it. One theme could be of all the young males who think they’re God’s gift to women and hit on a girl like Parvaneh. Another could be on the theme of the relation between native Swiss and emigres. I don’t know how the native Swiss population treat emigres or foreigners so I can’t say. However seeing what became of two young girls who are complete strangers– an Afghani emigre and a Swiss street girl — and cultivate into a friendship overnight feel this may be a story with a social message. And one with a happy ending. Very well-written and well-acted. That’s why I feel this Should Win the Oscar.
Butter Lamp – dirs. Wei Hu and Julien Feret – Two Chinese men are taking portraits in a Tibetan village. They’re of various Tibetan families, children, people of authority and even a newlywed Chinese couple that live there. Many of the Tibetans wear traditional clothes. Some wear modern clothes. Some pose with props like their yak, their religious items and even a motor scooter for the couple. They pose by the various backdrop that include Tiananmen Square, Tibetan Himalayas, downtown Shanghai, gardens, the inside of the Beijing 2008 stadium (where children pose on a podium wearing plastic medals and a paper torch) and Jokhang Temple whom an elderly woman mistakes as the real thing. Most of the time it works well. In one case, a man walked off because they thought a jacket he was wearing wasn’t right. It turns out it belonged to his late mother.
During the various photo shoots, you feel that the film is trying to send a message about Tibetans in China. You feel like it’s confirmed at the end as they shut down for the day, take down the backdrop setting exposing a bridged highway under construction in the mountain area, and talk about ‘authorities’ coming the next day. It’s a very impressive short as this short does send a statement about the mistreatment of Tibetans by the People’s Republic and the encroachment of modernization in their region, especially with various Chinese peoples coming to the ‘province.’ Very good short that says a lot just by showing a common situation.
The Phone Call – dirs. Matt Kirkby and James Lucas – It stars Sally Hawkins and James Broadbent. Heather is a shy woman who works as a helpline call centre respondent with Daniel who’s just simply her co-worker. Her first call of the day comes from a man names Stan. Stan is in tears as he is a widowed man for two years. He has just taken a load of pills. Heather does what she can to find help for him but he refuses as he wants to die. Heather tries to develop conversation in hopes of getting results. She finds out more about his history with his late wife Joan and even learns about their one child, a stillborn daughter. Just as things get friendlier and there appears to be a ray of hope that he’ll want to live, a surprise happens. It leads to an unexpected ending that appears to turn for the better for both.
It’s hard to tell if it’s giving a social message or not. You could assume it’s to do about the lonely people in England or even depression. You could even assume at the end as Stan (whose real name is John) and Joan are reunited in death that the filmmaker is saying this is how it’s supposed to be or even about true love forever. Even at the end as Heather has wine with Daniel could send a message about love that’s meant to be. Nevertheless it does make for a good story that keeps you paying attention and wondering what will happen next.
-Aya – dirs. Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis – Aya is a 29 year-old woman at Tel Aviv airport waiting for a family to arrive. A chauffer to a Jerusalem hotel who’s waiting for a Danish man named Mr. Overby to arrive has to leave and gives Aya the sign while he’s gone temporarily. As Mr. Overby arrives, Aya doesn’t tell him to wait for his chauffeur. Instead she acts as the chauffeur and even has a dinner with him. As she drives him to the hotel, which she doesn’t know how to drive to, the conversation gets more personal as she learns he’s a musical judge in Jerusalem for a competition. It even gets more personal for her as she wants his attention. She does eventually reveal she’s not his driver and welcomes an intimate moment with him. You think that she has met a new love but you get a surprise ending.
I will admit I thought this would end up being political. It’s hard to blame me as year by year, many of the nominated shorts in this category end up having a political message. However this turns out to be something different. It’s entertaining too because how the story of a mismatch appears to lead to something romantic. This is my prediction on which short Will Win the Oscar.
-Boogaloo and Graham – dirs. Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney – The story is set in Belfast in 1978 and narrated by a grown-up Jamesy. Back then, Jamesy and Malachy are two brothers growing up in Belfast. Their father is a bit of a dreamer and lousy at keeping jobs and the mother is unhappy with the marriage, even constantly calling him a ‘fool.’ One day the father brings the two baby chicks. The boys immediately fall in love with the two and the chicks become the best of friends. They’d much rather have the chicks than a dog because ‘everybody has a dog.’ They’ll even make themselves partial vegetarians because of their friendship with the chicks whom they named Boogaloo and Graham.
Months pass by, Boogaloo and Graham grow up to be full-grown chickens but the brothers’ friendship with them is still as thriving as ever. However their parents announce that they’re expecting a new baby and the chickens will have to be killed. The boys refuse to accept this to the point they’ll even run away right in the middle of the dangerous inner city streets of Belfast. However just as the chickens are about to be killed, they all learns Boogaloo’s a female that lays eggs. Renamed Boogalooloo, the parents change their mind.
No question there is a political message. It’s a reminder of children that grow up in political hot spots that they face a load of dangers and ugly realities most children don’t have to face and grow up too fast. Jamesy and Malachy are boys growing up in Belfast in 1978 when political tension was at its most heated. Bombings and shootings between Catholics and Protestants were all too common at the time and children like Jamesy and Malachy were not immune. However it was a story where Jamesy and Malachy found an escape from it and they found it with Boogaloo and Graham. Having Boogaloo and Graham as pets and even friends helped Jamesy and Malachy stay children during that time. It’s a funny charming story which allowed the children to be cute without being hard to stomach. Even the boys’ talk about sex will have you laughing. A charming comedy. Also the inclusion of the song ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love’ may seem odd in a film like this but later on you’ll think it fit the film well.
This is a unique selection of short films this year. Some were political while some just wanted to tell a simple story. Some did have a dark story to it while some were more comedic. It’s always hard to predict which short will win or whether they will choose a political one or non-political one. We’ll have to see on Sunday which one wins.
I saw the Oscar-nominated shorts yesterday and this makes it the sixth year in a row I’ve seen them. However it almost wasn’t the case. By the time I arrived for the first segment, for the animated shorts, news was they were all sold out and those interested had to stand in a rush line. By the time the rush line were allowed, only those with orange tickets could get in. That had me waiting for a bit longer. Fortunately I was able to get in but I was probably the fourth-last in and my friend the third-last.
Nevertheless I was able to see all the shorts. And I’m able to give you all my thoughts as well as my picks for what Should Win and what Will Win:
BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM:
- Get A Horse! – dir. Lauren MacMullan – If you’ve seen Frozen, you’ve already seen this short. At first you think this is a Disney cartoon from the 1930’s until Peg-Leg Pete gets nasty with Mickey and punches him off through the theatre screen and into the present as 3D. The whole story is a battle between the good characters and Peg-Leg Pete which has them all going from the black-and-white past to the 3D color present with humorous results. Very entertaining and funny and that’s why I pick it as my Will Win pick.
- Mr. Hublot – dirs. Laurent Witz & Alexandre Espigares – This is very unique and also quite futuristic. It’s of a robot man who has a robot dog as a pet. He’s man’s best friend but gets bigger and bigger over time. So what’s Mr. Hublot to do? The short is more focused on the animation than in telling the story. It comes off as both intriguing and quite charming.
- Feral – dir. Daniel Sousa – This may remind some of the 1960’s French film The Wild Child. This 2D film is of a boy found in the wilds of the wood by a hunter. He is taken and raised to be a human but finds at times he has to rely on his animal skills for survival. This short reminds us that not all the stories involve humor. Some are dark. This 2D short does capture the darkness of the story and one can get an understanding of it without any dialogue.
- Possessions – dir. Shuhei Morita – This is a unique style of Japanese anime: not of the style we commonly call ‘anime.’ This was not too focused on the plot as it was about the style of animation and the entertainment factor. Nevertheless very colorful and very entertaining. It also included a lot of elements of Japanese culture which I really liked. That’s why I give it my Should Win pick.
- Room On The Broom – dir. Jan Lachauer & Max Lang – This is another entertaining short from the team of animators responsible for the Gruffalo shorts. Here they tell a different story of a witch with a broom whom she first uses for herself and her cat. Soon other animals find a place on it until it becomes too small and it stars to break. Features voices of Simon Pegg, Gillian Anderson, Timothy Spall and Sally Hawkins. Very charming story which is great for all ages. It will also remind you of the Gruffalo shorts.
BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM:
- Helium – dir. Anders Walter – This Danish short is of Alfred, a dying boy striking an unlikely friendship with Enzo, the hospital janitor. Enzo tells him the story of a place called Helium where he’s about to head to. The place is a wonderful fantasy world. The problem is that Alfred’s condition worsens as the story nears its end. Enzo has to tell Alfred about his trip to Helium before he dies but Enzo being a janitor is not allowed in the area. The story keeps from being your typical story of a dying child that pulls at your heartstrings. Instead it aims for a happy ending. It’s as much a nice trip to a fantasy world as it is a drama. That’s why I give it my Should Win pick. It could pull an upset to the one I think will win.
- The Voorman Problem – dir. Mark Gill – This British short stars appearing as a drama but comes off as a surprise in the end. Dr. Williams feels he’s dealing with yet another mentally ill person when he’s dealing with a man named Voorman. Voorman tells him all sorts of bizarre and eccentric things, even how he destroyed the country of Belgium. Dr. Williams tells his encounters to his wife but is in for a surprise. A bigger surprise awaits him in what would be his last interview with Voorman. The best quality is its unpredictability and surprise ending.
- Just Before Losing Everything – dir. Xavier Legrand – This French short starts off as a melodrama that you think is about the young boy Julien. Instead things take sharp turn as Julien’s mother Miriam picks him up and his sister who leaves her boyfriend in tears. Turns out the mother is hiding herself and her children from her abusive husband and seeks the department store she works at as her refuge. Then her husband shows up. Excellent drama that’s very true to life and you don’t know what will happen next, even though you hope for the best result. That’s why this is my Will Win prediction.
- That Wasn’t Me – dir. Esteban Crespo – The story begins as international doctors going to work in a village in Africa only to be held at gunpoint by child soldiers and then held hostage by an angry and accusative warlord. Frequent flash-forwards to when the young boy soldier is all grown up and telling his story to an audience. The drama of what takes place and how he’s able to escape is a painful reminder of child soldiers but also a message of hope that they can find a way out. Very well-played out and passes on a good message.
- Do I Have To Take Care Of Everything? – dir. Selma Vilhunen – This Finnish short is actually a comedy. A family overslept and is late for a wedding. they’re in a rush to dress themselves and their children. The parents get themselves ready fine but their daughters end up in Halloween costumes. They forgot their present so they take their plant instead. even after they drop it while running to the church and smash the pot, they still take the plant there. The ending is a hilarious surprise. Definitely the funniest of the five and succeeds in entertaining in the seven minutes it has.
And there you have it. My thoughts and predictions of the five nominees from both shorts categories. Any of the five can win. I remember last year the ones I thought would win didn’t. We’ll just see which ones win on Oscar night. For those that want to know my predictions for all the other categories, click here.
Interesting how these past few years, they’ve released the short films nominated for an Academy Award as reels at the box office. They’ve since drawn good-sized crowds as they’ve been doing it again ever since. This marks the fifth year in a row I’ve seen them and this year’s crop of nominees are both entertaining to watch and interesting to see the visions of either the director or the animators. Here’s my rundown of this year’s nominated short films:
BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM:
–Adam And Dog – dir. Minkyu Lee- Unique story how a dog became man’s best friend as Adam meets the dog before Eve. It seems charmingly cartoonish at first and gives the viewer a feel. Soon it becomes more cartoonish both in drawing and in the characters of the two. Also the plot before the ending becomes a bit awkward. Nevertheless it did end well. Overall I felt something was missing in it and I don’t think it will win.
–Fresh Guacamole – dir. PES-What can an animated film accomplish in two minutes? This film does a lot as it goes from cutting items for guacamole into turning it into gambling goodies and toy bits. It’s both entertaining and charming. It doesn’t even have to tell a story to entertain. Its ability to charm and entertain in its two minutes is why this is my Should Win pick. Great job!
–Head Over Heels – dir. Timothy Reckart- Walter and Madge are an unhappily-married couple. They live in the same house but she lives right side up while he lives upside down as the house floats in the sky. It’s a shame since they used to dance ballet together. One day Walter tries to solve things by repairing Madge’s ballet shoes. However something goes wrong between him and Madge and the separateness grows. Its use of its form of 3D ‘puppetry’ adds to the unique charm of the story but its ability to convey human emotions much like flesh and blood people is its biggest quality that makes it shine and why this is my Will Win pick.
–Maggie Simpson: The Longest Daycare – dir. David Silverman- Maggie Simpson is the star of this funny short where no dialogue is needed. If you’ve seen Ice Age 3 in the theatres, then you’ve seen this short already. Maggie is left at the Ayn Rand School For Tots. And when there’s a daycare run in the spirit of Ayn Rand, you know trouble will abound. This Simpson’s short without dialogue succeeds in entertaining while remaining true to the flavor of the Simpsons show. And you finally find out why Maggie always had animosity to the baby with the unibrow. I always had a feeling he was diabolical!
–Paperman – dir. John Kahrs- If you’ve seen Wreck-It Ralph in the theatres, then you’ve seen this short already. Done in black and white with the only color being the woman’s red lipstick. It’s a charming boy meets girl story where they meet on a subway platform and boy attempts to meet girl again by making paper planes out of his inbox papers. Eventually the paper planes become his destiny as they send the message the two were meant to be. Another charming short from the Disney studios.
One thing to say about all five of the films is that you’ll notice all are done without dialogue. I find it unique that all five nominees possess that quality. Shows how volumes can be spoken without uttering a word. Pixar’s been showing that for years in the shorts they’d shown before their features. Another thing is that it’s something that none of the nominated shorts were done in 3D computer graphics. That’s a bit of a surprise for me considering it’s now all the rage for feature-length animation.
BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM
–Asad – dirs. Bryan Buckley & Mino Jarjoura- Normally you would not expect a story of Somalian children being caught in the war to be a comedy but this is and it succeeds well. It does show a lot of the nastiness of war with the temptation of young children to become pirates but it has an ironically humorous ending that makes it a delight. Normally a story about a child being caught in an African cival war doesn’t sound like comic material at all but this film does an excellent job in making a comedy out of it without crossing the line. Also this film could be seen as a ray of hope for Somalia as most of the actors are in fact Somali refugees living in South Africa.
–Buzkashi Boys – dirs. Sam French & Ariel Nasr- This is a story of two poor boys in Kabul, Afghanistan. One, Rafi, is the son of a blacksmith whose father expects him to carry on the family tradition. The other, Ahmad, is a young fatherless street urchin who begs on the streets. One day Rafi’s father allows him to see a game of Buzkashi with Ahmad. Ahmad tells Rafi his dreams of being a Buzkashi star and isn’t afraid to shout out his dream from a demolished castle while Rafi is skeptical for his future. One incident changes everything that changes how Rafi thinks and dreams. This story is the one of the five that most stayed with me. It was very well-played out and gets you thinking. That’s why I declare this to be my Should Win pick.
–Curfew – dir. Shawn Christensen- This is a dark story that features some humor. The girl is a scene stealer even thought the man is the main protagonist. Often you’d wonder why a sister would let her suicidal brother babysit her daughter but it turns out to be the best thing for both of them in the end. It’s dark humor is what gives it its edge. Definitely the most original of the five.
–Death Of A Shadow – dirs. Tom van Avermaet & Ellen De Waele- This is a haunting story of Nathan, a death photographer who photographs deaths and transfers the shadows onto his master’s wall for his artistic entertainment. We later learn that Nathan died in World War I and the master will give him his life back upon 10,000 photographs. He wants to return to life to return to the love he believes he could’ve had if he wasn’t killed by soldiers. It’s the 10,000th photograph and the aftermath that changes everything including his perspective. Very dark and haunting. Very well-directed and well produced. That’s why I give it my Will Win pick.
–Henry – dir. Yan England- This is a story of an elderly man with Alzeimer’s trying to remember and reclaim the past for his memory. It starts in a bizarre situation. He’s strapped to his hospital bed and can’t remember his wife Maria or daughter Nathalie. His recollection progresses through the help of his daughter, his twentysomething self and the classical music he played with his loved ones. It’s through both of them and the music that he’s able to go back in time to remember the two for their sake and for his. It’s haunting as it is touching. It is a sad story but it does lead to an ending that’s somewhat positive. Very good and very intimate as it’s honest in human feelings.
This is the difficulty of predicting a short film. The winner could be a story that makes you think like recent past winners Toyland or The Shore. Or it could be something humorous like past winners The New Tenants or God Of Love. There’s no telling what will impress the Academy.
And there you have it. My thoughts and predictions for the short films. Predicting short films in never easy. Any five can be the winner. There’s no clear favorite. Nevertheless it’s always great to see that he audience again has a chance to see them on the big screen. Also those interested in seeing some new directing talent or animating talent, here’s your chance.
I mentioned that I already saw one shorts program at the VIFF. I was lucky to come across a second one. City Lens wasn’t just any shorts program but one done by Vancouver filmmakers in the late 50’s and early 60’s and all were filmed in black and white. It was an interesting look at Vancouver through those years and what they showcased. Here are the films I saw and what I thought of them:
-City Patterns (1962)-This was a ten-minute short that featured images of Vancouver architecture to band music. It’s not necessarily the quality of the short I paid much attention to but of the places that were filmed. I often thought things like “So that’s what it looked back then” or “Does that place still exist?.” It was just a piece-by-piece film but I was amused with it.
-The Outcast (1963)-This was a biographical film of a former criminal trying reintegrate himself back to society. He’s both the subject being filmed and the narrator. We see him in a hotel on Main Street getting ready for the morning. We see him walk from industrial area to industrial area looking for work. We see him have a nervous look as a flashing police car drives by. During the filming shots he narrates who he is and what crimes he committed. He talks of his struggles to find a job with his criminal record. He also talks about his hopes to leave his bad past behind. The short left me wondering about former criminals and their opportunities to reintegrate into society back then. It left me wondering what was it like then? Is it better or worse now?
-PNE Midway (1960)-Now this is something that would definitely take a Vancouverite back in time. The Pacific National Exhibition fifty years ago. It was nice and fun to see how a day in their life of the PNE was like back in 1960 from workers setting things up to the rides and performances happening all day and night to the closing down for just another night. It was really neat and exciting to see. There was one scene I wasn’t happy to see which was the performance of an African American singing group with ‘Ebony Queen’ on the sign. It was a reminder that entertainment was one of the few big opportunities open to blacks back then and even having ‘ebony’ in the name was unpleasant to see. We should remember this was three years before Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech.
-The Seeds(1959)-This was actually a show meant for CBC Vancouver back then but it never was aired due to what claimed to be disturbing content. The movie starts with a gang of guys who like to control a diner. When the owner tries to stop the leader from harassing a girl, he gets beaten up. We later see the gang hang out in their favorite abandoned building playing cards and drinking straight whisky. At night they like to drive around like maniacs anywhere and everywhere. One day a young woman goes shopping with her young daughter when she caught the attention of the gang. She tries to get away only to be found in a shopping area. S tells the daughter to go home, sensing danger. They all try to chase her into a corner of the parking lot and it ends with her unhurt, unrobbed but scared. I didn’t understand what the point of the show was. Violence? Misogyny? I was left confused. I’m sure I would’ve felt uncomfortable watching that on television. I found it disturbing enough watching it in the theatre.
Overall I thought it was a nice break from the usual film fare. It was also nice to see how Vancouver looked those many years ago. I’ve only lived in Vancouver for 11 years but it was still quite an eye-opener to see how the city looked back then. Also it was unique to see four different types of films: documentary, a drama, a visual diary and a parade of images. This program was brought to us by Videomatica’s Graham X Peat along with some assistance from a Vancouver Archival Film company. It’s very rare to have a chance to see something like that.
City Lens was a welcome break for me at the VIFF. I think there should be something like this every year at the VIFF that shows images of Vancouver past.
Back on Saturday, I started my volunteer work for the Vancouver International Film Festival. It is my fourth year volunteering. It’s great being part of an event that gathers a lot of media attention and helps promote filmmaking.
If you look back to the late 1970’s, you might remember there being film festivals like the Toronto Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival that garnered very little attention but were growing at the time. They were still below the ranks and renown of the more established film festivals in Europe like Cannes, Venice and Berlin. Since then, Sundance and Toronto have made a major impact on the film world with its releases and its promotion of films. The Vancouver International Film Festival started in 1982 and now ranks as one of the top film festivals in North America. It nevertheless does carry a bit of an identity crisis but does have a lot to offer.
Since the Vancouver International Film Festival, the VIFF, opened in 1982, it has grown to an annual attendance of 150,000 every year since 2003. The 2000’s saw the construction of a special theatre, the VanCity Theatre, and an adjacent office for the VIFF organizers. This year it features over 300 films from 59 countries. Quite a lot. Nevertheless many feel that the VIFF is sandwiched in the role of playing second-fiddle to the Toronto Film Fest. In fact one person frequently tells me that we always get the ‘leftovers’ from Toronto. It is true that we get a lot of films that have already had their show at Toronto, especially those that get a special presentation at the Visa screening room. Very rarely, if ever, does a big-name actor show up. At most, a big feature will only have a tech person in the audience at the VIFF. What’s also true is what the VIFF has to offer on its own. Firstly the VIFF has more Asians films than any film festival in North America. This year there are more than 100 from dozens of countries. The VIFF also features more Canadian films and works than any other film festival in Canada. Not even Toronto has as much. They’re too busy hyping up the Oscar contenders. The VIFF also features loads of documentaries. There are dozens this year too from a wide variety of topics. The VIFF also features a lot of short films and films for youth. The film festival is not simply a festival showing straight features but a wide variety of films from across the spectrum from shorts both animated and live action to at least four films longer than 4 hours. There’s also the possibility of Q&A sessions from directors and even actors.
The VIFF also has a lot of dealings going on. Some films will catch the eye of distributors and will work things out to have them shown to the big screen. Others, like documentaries, will be able to be shown on specialty television networks. Some will be promoted as videos or films for special groups or resource centers. Like last year I saw the Canadian film Two Indians Talking and the director said in the Q&A that she hopes for it to be put on DVD and shown in First Nations resource centers. Then there are those where the VIFF will be the furthest their film will get. That’s the nature of the beast in filmmaking and promoting. It’s always a case of chance and luck of how far it will go.
Another thing the VIFF did was that it had a special panel. With this being the 30th Year of the Festival, it had a look back to the early years of the Festival and also hosted a free forum about the future of film. I wasn’t there at the Forum but I’m sure there’s a lot of discussion. I myself believe the world of film faces a lot of challenges in the years and decades ahead. One is the future of creativity and taking film in new directions in what is essentially a bottom-line business. Film can allow for a lot of creative minds to express themselves but there’s this beast called ‘showbiz’ where the subject of movie marketability is inescapable. Whether creativity can be taken in new directions and possibly even change filmmaking, only time will tell. Another factor to take into consideration is the multitude of media sources one now has, including some that didn’t exist ten years ago. When the VIFF opened, film’s top rivals were television, VCR and the newly-created pay TV. Multiplexes were increasing but it was still possible for a single-screen cinema to hold its own. Today, we have digital cable with hundreds of channels at our fingertips. We have websites like Youtube and Netflix. We can watch a movie on our laptop or even on our cellphone. Multiplexes are now the mainstay for big screen cinemas and single screen cinemas nowadays have either succumbed, are now in the fight of their life, or have to have some backing from some film source or company. Some of you may already have read some of the current difficulties of running a cinema as noted in my Hollywood Theatre article. Just to give a heads up, there’s going to be a multiplex opening in the new shopping mall at the New Westtminster station: ten cinemas with a total of 1800 seats. A multiplex with samll per-screen theatres; another example of what’s happening with the movie business. Don’t get me wrong. There will be a future for film–there’s no doubt in my mind– but it has a bumpy road ahead.
This year, there were some changes in the venues with the Festival. The Granville 7 still remains the biggest venue for showing films but the Visa Screening Room is no longer Cinema 7 on the top floor. Instead it’s the Vogue Theatre. The Park Theatre is not one of the alternative theatres this year. The VanCity and Pacific Cinematheque are still being used for the Festival. Last year, the Festival opened with the screening of a Canadian film–Barney’s Version— with promotion of Telefilm Canada. This year they open with Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In, a film from Spain. Last year, they closed with the animated movie The Illusionist. This year, they close with the French film The Kid With A Bike.
In its thirtieth year, the Vancouver International Film Festival shows strong signs of growth. It may have a while before it joins the ranks of Sundance and Toronto but I’m sure it will continue to establish its own identity in the future. For more information about the Festival, go to the VIFF website.