Oscar Shorts 2011 (Part I)
On February 20 I screened all of the films in the Oscar nominated short subject nominees: documentary, live action and animated. The screenings took place at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ beautiful screening room at 111 East 59th Street. The event was programmed and moderated by Patrick Harrison. The screenings began at noon. By the time the final film had unspooled, it was nearly 8:30 pm.
As I stumbled out into the darkness and cold I reflected on what a shame it is that these films are not seen by more people. While it is one thing to debate the merits of “The King’s Speech” vs. “The Social Network,” a day spent looking at short films has infinitely more variety than a day of feature film watching. Besides, with shorts, if you do not like a particular film, wait a minute, it will change.
So, how do I evaluate the 15 short films I screened? A quick overview has the live action and documentaries all uniformly strong, with the animation uneven.
If there could be said to be a consistent theme to the documentary category, it is that of people being decent in the face of indecency. My favorite short documentary was a very touching and involving film called “Strangers No More.” The film is about the Bialik-Rogozin School in Tel Aviv, whose students include kids from 48 countries, many of whom have come to Israel to escape war and poverty. Some of the students profiled in the film are from South Africa, Nigeria, Ukraine, Egypt and the Sudan. Although the students speak many languages, learning Hebrew is what brings them together. “Strangers No More” is a very efficiently made documentary, that, in the space of only 40 minutes, gives a portrait of individual students, their parents and the caring teachers and principal who work with them to give them a quality education. I think there must be enough material to fill out “Strangers No More” to feature length, which I hope the filmmakers will do one day.
In the live action category my favorite film was “The Confession.” In this drama Sam, a young boy, who will soon have to give his first confession, works with a friend to commit a sin to which to confess. “The Confession” has been beautifully photographed and contains very good performances, particularly from its lead actor, Lewis Howlett. To say anymore about this extraordinary film would be to diminish its power.
In the category of short animation my favorite was “Let’s Pollute” a wonderfully satirical look at the things people do to pollute their environment. The film is very funny and topical and is done in the style of educational science films from the 1950s and 1960s.
All of the Oscar nominated shorts can currently be seen at IFC Center, 323 Avenue of the Americas.