Academy Awards Preview – Live Action Shorts

Oscar, Academy AwardsGetting ready for Oscar, the Trenton Film Society continued its “shorts weekend” yesterday with the live action shorts (see 3-1-14 post for the documentary shorts). Again, there were five nominees—all  foreign.  Between films were excerpts of interviews with a number of directors, including Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) and Sean and Andrea Nix Fine who grabbed the documentary Oscar last year for Inocente and Shawn Christensen who won the live action prize with Curfew—both of them extraordinary.

In these interviews, a number of producer/directors talked about the constraints of the short film, which are parallel to the challenges of the short story. The author/creator must be economical, focused, and, if the creative process is working well, can say something more piercingly memorable than in a novel or full-length film. They also spoke about how early short films presage the themes and approaches of full-length features later in the creator’s career.

Possibly, the beauty of short films will become more recognized as people become accustomed to consuming media in shorter and shorter formats. (Thank you, YouTube!)

The live action nominees were:

  • Helium (Denmark) – a sweet film, in which a new hospital worker befriends a dying child and helps him prepare for death by envisioning the imaginary land of “Helium”
  • Avant Que de Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)(France) – A woman and her children flee her abusive husband—tremendous tension, nicely paced
  • Pitaako Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I have to Take Care of Everything?)(Finland)—Hilarious doings as a couple and their two young daughters get themselves ready for a wedding—the shortest, at 13 minutes
  • The Voorman Problem (U.K.)—starring Martin Freeman (Dr. John Watson in Sherlock) as a prison psychiatric consultant who confronts an inmate prisoner who believes he is a god, possibly God. Based on a bit of David Mitchell’s interesting novel No. 9 Dream (though I didn’t remember this bit)
  • Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me)(Spain)—Spanish aid workers encounter xxx child soldiers, and it isn’t pretty.

Watch them online or through Netflix and know what Ellen DeGeneris is talking about tonight!


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Hot Ticket

Ra Paulette, Academy Award, documentary, Cave DiggerImpossible to view and practically ignored a few years ago, the Oscar-nominated short films have become one of the hottest tickets around. Last night I saw the documentary shorts and later today will see the live action shorts. These viewings are courtesy of the Trenton Film Society, which shows the films at the intimate Mill Hill Playhouse in Trenton. (The festival also offers the nominees in the animation category.)

In recent years the short films have become available through Netflix and other resources, but I like the Big Screen—well, the Bigger Screen—at the Playhouse.

Only one overworked word describes the five documentary shorts: Awesome.

  • A 109-year-old Holocaust survivor, Alice Herz-Sommer (obituary, 2/27/14), who played the piano in Theresienstadt and was still playing at the time of filming, who says, “I love people” (The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life).
  • A gay man, nearly beaten to death as a teenager, becomes acquainted with the former skinhead who was one of his attackers (Facing Fear)
  • The Yemeni protests that turned violent and led to the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, seen through the eyes of youthful cameramen (Karama Has No Walls)
  • Unlikely artist, Ra Paulette, working alone and by hand carves magical caves out of soft New Mexico sandstone (Cave Digger)
  • The last days and death of convicted murderer Jack Hall in the loving care of inmate volunteers in an Iowa prison hospice (Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall)

Real people doing amazing things. Truly awesome.