Posted by keelsetter on February 27, 2011
Today marks the 83rd Academy Awards Show. Last year some 42 million viewers tuned in to watch the hoopla. While this is far behind the 111 million mark achieved here in the U.S. by those watching the Super Bowl, it’s still a staggering number. (The global numbers for the television audience to both events shoot to 150 million and 1 billion, respectively.) I’m able to tangentially tap into the popularity of the Academy awards show thanks to the relatively neglected realm belonging to Oscar‘s shorts. This year, the calendar film series I program devoted these last five days to screening them all. The previous three years we’ve shown both the Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts and Live-Action Shorts, but this is the very first year we also had access to the Documentary Shorts.
The Documentary Shorts posed an interesting and unexpected problem for me. My calendar always goes to press before the Oscar nominations are announced, so I’ve traditionally given the Animation and Live-Action Shorts generic start times of 7pm and 9:30pm – a two-and-a-half hour spread that usually gives me plenty of time between shows – especially for the Animation program, which tends to clock in at just over an hour in time. So I did the same thing for the Documentary Shorts, and I did this without realizing that all five of the doc “shorts” hit the maximum length allowed for Oscar consideration. That’s a three-and-a-half-hour long program! Oops. Long story not-so-short: the people who showed up for the 9:30 show had to wait and were there until almost 2am on a weekday night.
Enough preamble. One of the reasons the shorts program is one of the more popular shows we put on is because a lot of people have office-pools and friendly wagers on what titles will actually walk away with an Oscar. These people want to have a little insight on all the contenders so, to that end, here’s the full lineup, along with some cherry-picked info provided by the company responsible for distributing the program, Shorts International:
Rothstein has been making documentaries since 1995, and is currently working on one called Heavy Metal Islam that “follows young Egyptians as they struggle for freedom and the chance to play once forbidden music on the world stage.” With recent developments in Egypt, I’m guessing that film just got a whole lot louder.
Huffington Post adds: “Murray was featured on the cover of the Army’s official magazine, transformed into a poster girl for the ideal female soldier. After a tour manning a machine gun and examining dead civilians, Murray returned home a physical and emotional wreck.” Director Nesson shares an office with Ross Kauffman, who won an Academy Award for Born into Brothels – so I’m sure she’s gotten some very good advice on her path to an Oscar nomination.
Lots of good intentions here, as the filmmakers follow three children for 15 months. The directors have made over 20 docs which have been broadcast on PBS, HBO, and MTV – with subjects ranging from “Toxic Tales of Teens and Alcohol” to Cairo belly dancers. Personally, I think they missed an opportunity by not uncovering the scourge that is drunken beer-belly dancing (although I’ll admit this might only be a growing problem in my immediate neighborhood).
Redfearn’s Bachelor’s degree in Environmental studies from Wellesley College and her Master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University are serving her well. She also recently completed When the Water Ends, about climate change in East Africa.
Crib Notes: Unlike the animated and live-action categories, whose shorts are usually made with film festivals in mind, the documentary category is hampered by more restraints because docs are usually made the television market in mind, and television shows are disqualified from Oscar consideration. (Other restraints on all shorts are that they cannot be longer than 40 minutes, be ads, unsold pilots, episodes, or music videos.) The selected docs above offer an interesting range in topics: terrorism, post-traumatic stress disorder, human interest, climate change, and toxic pollution. The smart money gives the first two (Killing in the Name and Poster Girl) an edge over the competition. Both being equally compelling, it’s hard to figure out what factor will produce a tie-breaker – but if I had to guess, I’d put the money on Killing in the Name.
Dubois is a young director (born 1983) with a background in creating web sties and video game animation. His passion for travel led him to Madagascar and inspired this short film about the island.
Boedoe has worked as an animator since 1988 and chalked up experience working with all the big names: Pixar, ILM, DreamWorks, etc. (He designed, for example, the opening title sequence to Monsters, Inc.).
Schuh is a caricaturist and illustrator for the Süddeutsche Zeiting, while Lang has a background as a storyboard artist and animator – this is his first commercial film as director.
Ruhemann’s production company, Passion Pictures Australia, has its fingerprints on all kinds of projects, including work with the animated band Gorillaz and The Beatles: Rock Band game. His co-director, Tan, wrote and illustrated the book upon which this film is based.
Crib Notes: As a rule of thumb, outside of the assembled package that’s made available to select theaters, it’s pretty hard to see most of these shorts. The exception here is Pixar’s Day & Night, which they slapped in front of Toy Story 3 - making it the one short most people will already be familiar with. That will probably help its odds for getting the Oscar – and many critics already have it leading the pack anyway.
Side note: Since this animation program clocks in at 65 minutes, two “bonus” shorts were added by Shorts International to beef up the length of this program to something closer to the running time of a normal feature:
The title says it all – but suffice to say there is a change of heart once the titular cow sees what’s really involved.
LIVE ACTION SHORTS
Toom’s background is as a director of commercials and The Confession is his 5th short film.
This is Barne’s second short film. His first one, Swing, “graphically showed how adultery can seriously damage your health.” (I have to admit that one piqued my interest and I quickly looked to see if I could find it on YouTube – no dice.)
Writer-Director-Producer Ivan Goldschmidt clearly likes being a multihyphenate, and, in addition to being a film director, lists a background in advertising, theater stage directing, sculpting, and painting.
Creagh was born in Belfast and moved to Dublin to follow a career in advertising. This is his debut short film.
Crib Notes: Talking with viewers who came out of the Live Action program my sense was that the two shorts that had the best shot at the trophy were either Na Wewe or Wish 143. The caveat is that Na Wewe had as many people trashing it as people to sing its praises. Wish 143, on the other hand, won most people over – so I’m guessing it’s got a better shot at the prize.
Caveat to all gamblers: if you’re putting down serious money on Killing in the Name, Day & Night, and Wish 143, I cannot take responsibility for your losses. The Oscars has always been a crapshoot, and it’s not helped any by the fact that Academy members can vote on things they haven’t even seen. As far as I’m concerned, the selection process is akin to waiting to see whether the ballots cast by cardinals voting on the next Pope emit either white or black smoke from the chimney of the Vatican Palace. To be sure, you’re better off asking the Pope for his Oscar picks, since he’s the infallible one. That guy could do some serious damage in Vegas, too bad he’s against gambling. Me? I’m the anti-Pope; both fallible and a regular fixture at the poker table. It’s not the greatest combo in the world, but I have my share of fun – and the perk is that I don’t have to wear pointy hats or hide behind bullet-proof glass.
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