Death, Drugs, Dough and Dark Humour as Oscar Honours Shorts
The nominees in Live Action and Animated Short Film Oscars have been honoured with a screening at the Academy’s Beverly Hills headquarters.
The Academy’s governor responsible for short films, Bill Kroyer, told a crowd of more than a thousand that many of the film-makers nominated in the past have gone on to become some of the biggest names in Hollywood.
The event was chaired by the actor Peter Riegert â nominated himself for directing a live action short in 2000. He said short film makers had to be clever enough to recognise good ideas and brave enough to see them through. Only one film could win in each category, he noted, but at the very least, the nominees had improved their obituaries exponentially.
Representatives of seven of the ten nominated shorts were there to speak about their work â including Irish film-makers on both categories, but not including the only British nominee, Nick Park, going for his third Oscar with his latest Wallace and Gromit outing, A Matter of Loaf and Death.
There were some interesting themes coming out of this year’s selection. Lots of death. Some strong child performances. Satire, irony and modern-day slavery, to name but a few.
Unlike last year’s selection of animations, none of which had a single line of dialogue, two of this year’s were very dialogue heavy, including Nick Park’s entry and the Irish animation Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty. Director Nicky Phelan and producer Darragh O’Connell’s film presented us with a terrifying tale of a witch-like, bitter old grandmother, putting her own twist on the Sleeping Beauty story as she read her frightened young grand-daughter a bedtime story. Phelan said he saw actress Kathleen O’Rourke playing Granny O’Grimm on stage and wanted to turn it into a film. He contrasted a more realistic animation style for the Granny and her granddaughter with a more stylistic technique for the fairytale she describes â with what he describes, with a sense of irony, as a “passing resemblance” between the granny and the evil fairy of the story. “I’ve heard from everyone I’ve ever met,” he laughed, when asked how the film had been received back home.
The French film French Roast features a wealthy Parisian businessman, shooing away a tramp begging for money at a cafÃ©, only to find out that he’s forgotten his wallet. A delightfully simple tale, told in a series of what, in a live action, would be described as single shots, engages the audience from the start, with a clever use of reflections and sound effects. The director, Fabrice O. Joubert says he had a team of sixty people working on the film, with a separate animator for each of the five main characters â based on ideas conjured up by rehearsing the film with real actors.
A second French film was nominated in this category. Logorama, as the title suggests, is oddly heavy on what on the surface might seem to be product placement, but the highly imaginative use of almost every brand known to man is frequently as unflattering as it is satirically amusing.
The first-time Spanish director Javier Recio Gracia was there to discuss his animation about a sick, elderly woman being fought over by the Grim Reaper and the doctor determined to save her life. The Lady and the Reaper was, he said, inspired by his realisation, when his own grandmother was dying, surrounded by her family, that some people are lonely and in pain and would, perhaps, rather die than be saved. He wanted to tackle this theme with humour, like Tex Avery. Rather than using a script, he used his storyboard background to make a 2D version of the film, which was then turned into a 3D animation by his team.
As is often the case, where the animations are more humorous, the live action films tend towards the dramatic â or at least the dark. The Door â another Irish film â told the story of a family forced to flee the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. Director Juanita Wilson says it took her three years to finance the film after being turned down twice. “Persist and have patience,” is her message to budding film-makers. For her, one of the key elements of her film was shooting it in a city abandoned since the tragedy â completely radioactive and barred to anyone without permission. The location defined the film and informed her emotionally, she said.
Her film â shot in Russian â is one of many this year to have been made in a language other than the director’s own. American Gregg Helvey worked with a crew who spoke Hindi and a cast who spoke Marathi â and he could speak neither. Kavi tells the story of a young boy whose family is among dozens of slaves, working at a brick kiln in western India. Kavi dreams of going to school and playing cricket, like the rich children, in this brutal story of modern day slavery. This was Helvey’s thesis film from USC Film School, so he got away with researching the subject by telling taxi-drivers he was a student, interesting in seeing how bricks are made. For him, this was an opportunity to tell a powerful story, while raising awareness that twenty seven million people around the world still find themselves in slavery.
The Australian film Miracle Fish also tackles dark themes â such as loneliness and bullying in a primary school, which receives an unexpected visitor. Although it took him a year to get the financing together, director Luke Doolan says it all came together remarkably well.
Even darker themes abound in another film that sees a director working outside his native tongue. In a Danish-American co-production, Joachim Back reveals drug-dealing, infidelity and ruthless murders against a background of black humour in The New Tenants, featuring the best-known actors of the night â Vincent D’Onofrio and Kevin Corrigan â in supporting roles. Back told a Danish story in an American setting â the infamous Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan.
Equally dark humour abounded in a Swedish film about a budding magician whose ambitions are perhaps higher than his ability. A caped prestidigitator dances to his own magic word, as he develops a dangerous new trick to try to impress his new neighbour.
Among the nominees, Nick Park is the only previous winner and a number of them are first-time film-makers. Some of already gone on to make features. The awards will be handed out on Sunday in Hollywood. The films themselves are being screened in cinemas across the UK, America and Canada.