This year’s Oscar-nominated shorts begin a two-week run at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, starting Friday, Feb. 9. The categories include Animation, Live Action, and Documentary shorts.
Short-form films excel by putting theme and/or character into sharp, compressed focus and by using distinctive production techniques best suited to an abbreviated format. Animated shorts utilize their production values to create imaginative storylines and visually unusual characters. Five animated shorts have earned Oscar nominations this year.
From Canada come “Blind Vaysha” and “Pear Cider and Cigarettes.” “Blind Vaysha” tells the story of a girl with one blue and one green eye. She sees only the past out of one, the future out of the other. Because she lacks a way to access the present, Vaysha is in fact blind, and she struggles to lead an ordinary life. Director Theodore Ushev uses the ancient form of linocut block printing to produce a narrative that emphasizes the importance of the present.
“Pear Cider and Cigarettes” explores the values of friendship and loyalty. The longest of the animated shorts at 35 minutes, it uses director Robert Valley’s actual friendship to create the central character. Techno is a man who likes to drink, smoke, fight, and push the limits of acceptable behavior. Once he’s injured in an auto accident, his life begins to deteriorate. The director’s voiceover provides equal weight with the animation. Because the film incorporates violence, sex, and drugs, it is not recommended for children. It will run last in the animation series, so viewers with children can watch the other five shorts and then leave.
Three of the animation entries are American. California’s Monument Valley inspires the setting for “Borrowed Time” by U.S. directors Andrew Coats and Lou Hammou-Lhadj. A Pixar-produced short that examines death and grief, it concerns a weatherbeaten Western sheriff who returns to the scene of a terrible accident which continues to haunt him. The directors use flashback memories to knit together a story where the flinty, Clint Eastwood–like central character carries the animation.
Patrick Osborne, the director of “Pearl,” won the 2015 Oscar for his short “Feast.” His latest film is set entirely in a family’s hatchback auto, a 1983 Chevy Citation, where a music-loving father inspires his daughter’s commitment to music.
Finally, Pixar has produced “Piper,” which describes the growth of a sandpiper fledgling who learns how to brave the surf and forage for food. American director Alan Barillaro relied on Northern California’s Emeryville coast to create his computer-generated short, and Vineyarders will identify with the subject of this charming little film.
Live-action shorts move closer to conventional, full-length films in their development of storylines and use of imagery. Five are under consideration for the Oscar in this category.
Netflix’s “Enemy Within” is a French entry that builds its narrative around the interview of a French-Algerian man applying for citizenship. The French official who conducts the interview presses the man to reveal names of men he has socialized with who might be part of a terrorist cabal. Relying on tightly shot close-ups to build the tension, “Enemies Within” presents a different view of the search for terrorist connections.
In “The Woman and the TGV,” Swiss director Timo von Guten creates a portrait of Elise, an eccentric woman who waves every morning at the passing TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse or High Speed Train). She gradually develops a friendship with the train’s engineer, who becomes the focus of her life until his route changes.
In the Danish entry “Silent Night,” Kwami, an illegal immigrant from Ghana, develops a romantic relationship with Inger, a young woman who volunteers at the homeless shelter he visits. Once she discovers he has a wife and children in Ghana, their relationship changes in unexpected ways. Set at Christmastime, this short spotlights the contrasting cultures of the two main characters.
Music is the theme of the Hungarian short “Sing,” based on a true story. When Zsofi enters a new school and joins its chorus, the choral director says she is not good enough to sing and must mime the songs. The chorus finds a way to fight back at this suppression, which echoes the film’s 1990s political climate.
The Spanish entry, “Timecode,” is set in a parking garage and combines a bureaucratic world with a more fanciful one. The two guards who share shifts develop a relationship based on dance.
Stay tuned for next week’s rundown of the documentary shorts. For tickets and more information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.