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Oscars

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"Butter Lamp" ("La Lampe au Beurre de Yak"), is a French/Chinese co-production and features a series of blackout scenes of Tibetan families having their photos taken against a variety of backdrops. Photos courtesy of oscar.go.com

The Oscar nominees for Best Short Film (Live Action) will play Friday, Jan. 30, at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center. Sponsored by Shorts HD for the past 10 years, the five films represent Israel, Northern Ireland, China, Switzerland, and Britain.

Aya, the entry from Israel, opens at an airport outside Jerusalem, where a young woman named Aya is waiting to meet someone unidentified. She is enlisted by a driver to hold a placard for a Mr. Overby, and when he shows up, she spontaneously decides to drive him to his hotel in Jerusalem. Directed by Mihal Brezis and Oded Binnun, Aya quickly establishes an intimacy that is characteristic of live-action shorts. Mr. Overby (Ulrich Thomsen), a Danish music historian, has come to Israel to serve as a jury member for the Rubinstein Piano Competition. He doesn’t know what to make of Aya (Sarah Adler), who objects when he puts on headphones to listen to a music CD.

“I feel closer to people I don’t know,” Aya confesses. She asks her passenger to tap along to the music with his fingers on her hand and then on her thigh. Once they arrive at Mr. Overby’s hotel, he invites her to join him. Her response, and the subsequent close to the film, take it in a strange and unexpected direction.

Based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1978, Boogaloo and Graham, directed by Michael Lennox, opens with soldiers walking along a neighborhood street. Immediately afterward a man (Martin McCann) opens a box, leaving the viewer to wonder if perhaps he is about to produce a bomb or a weapon. Instead he takes out two fluffy chicks. They are presents for his two sons, Jamesy and Malachi. With the ’50s classic Why Do Fools Fall in Love by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers playing in the background, the two little boys are captivated by their new and unusual pets, and the viewer watches as the chicks mature. The boys’ mother (Charlene McKenna) is less enamored of the fowl, and lobbies to get rid of them, especially after a change in the family dynamics occurs. Set against a backdrop of the Troubles in Ireland, Boogaloo and Graham captures a charming and comic domestic anecdote.

"Butter Lamp" ("La Lampe au Beurre de Yak"), is a French/Chinese co-production nominated for an Oscar in in the Best Short Film (Live Action) category. — Photos courtesy of oscar.go.com
“Butter Lamp” (“La Lampe au Beurre de Yak”), is a French/Chinese co-production nominated for an Oscar in in the Best Short Film (Live Action) category. — Photos courtesy of oscar.go.com

Butter Lamp (La Lampe au Beurre de Yak), a French/Chinese co-production, adopts an unusual format by creating a series of blackout scenes of Tibetan families and groups who are having their photos taken against a variety of realistic-looking backdrops. Director Wei Hu utilizes a variety of comic details enlisted by the photographer (Genden Punstock) to evoke the characters and situations for each photo, including prayer wheels; a backdrop of Potala Palace, revered by a grandmother; a photo of a child held by an elderly family member; clothing props; and a motorbike. Although the film is essentially plotless, it captures a surprisingly rich portrait of Tibetan culture.

Oscar nominated "Parvaneh" is set at a refugee camp outside Zurich, Switzerland. — Photos courtesy of oscar.go.com
Oscar nominated “Parvaneh” is set at a refugee camp outside Zurich, Switzerland. — Photos courtesy of oscar.go.com

In what is perhaps the strongest entry, Parvaneh, set at a refugee camp outside Zurich, Switzerland, describes the plight of an Afghan teenager who wants to send money back to her family. When she arrives at the Western Union office in Zurich, her identity card is rejected, and Parvaneh (Nissa Kashani) starts looking for someone with a valid ID card who will send the money for her. A young punk teen (Jana Pensa) offers to do it, but the two arrive at the Western Union office after it has closed. Despite her tough appearance, Parvaneh’s new friend has a soft heart. She takes the Afghan immigrant to what is probably her first party and steps in to help her when Parvaneh loses her money. With particularly strong acting, Parvaneh, directed by Talkhon Hamzavi, effectively captures the immigrant experience in what seems like a threatening, alien world.

"The Phone Call", the British entry in the live-action-short Oscar contest, features Heather, a young woman who works at a crisis call center. — Photos courtesy of oscar.go.com
“The Phone Call”, the British entry in the live-action-short Oscar contest, features Heather, a young woman who works at a crisis call center. — Photos courtesy of oscar.go.com

The Phone Call, the British entry in the live-action-short Oscar contest, features two celebrated actors. Golden Globe winner Sally Hawkins plays Heather, a young woman who works at a crisis call center, and Oscar winner Jim Broadbent is Stan/John, the mystery man whose call for help she fields. Director Mat Kirkby deftly conveys the intimate nature of the conversation between Heather and Stan and the urgency underlying it.

Also opening this weekend are the Oscar-nominated documentary films, and the Oscar-nominated animated shorts will play the following weekend.

Oscar-nominated live-action shorts, Friday, Jan. 30, 7:30 pm.

Oscar-nominated documentaries, Saturday, Jan. 31, 4 pm.

All films at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, Tisbury Marketplace, Vineyard Haven. For tickets and information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.

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Moviegoers will have the chance this weekend to view the shorts that have been nominated for the 86th annual Oscars. Playing at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, the three-part series consists of films in three categories: animation, live action, and documentary.

Two of the five animation entries offer particularly stunning examples of innovative filmmaking.  “Possession,” by Japanese director Shuhei Morita, tells the story of an 18th-century hiker who takes shelter from a storm in a small shrine. He finds himself inside a magical world where umbrellas dance and kimonos turn into colorful strips of cloth, creating a feast of colors, designs, and shapes. In “Feral,” director Daniel Sousa, a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, draws narrative inspiration from Francois Truffaut’s film, “Wild Child.” A small boy is rescued from wolves by a horseman and taken to a town where he can attend school, but he resists domestication and retains his wild nature. Both of these shorts utilize the transformative potential of animation by allowing images to change shape before the viewer’s eyes.

If the animation techniques used in “Room on the Broom” are more conventional, the storytelling about a witch who makes room on her broomstick for one friendly animal after another will charm viewers. British director Max Lang, best known for “The Gruffalo,” collaborates with Jan Lachauer to base their short on a children’s book by Julia Donaldson. Luxembourg director Laurent Witz creates a world overrun by machinery in “Mr. Hublot.” The reclusive central character tries to adapt to his machine-driven city and the mechanical dog he adopts. In “Get a Horse!”, American director Lauren McMullan pays tribute to early versions of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse, combining hand-drawn images with more modern color, 3D, and character generation.

The Live Action program presents a diverse range of storytelling in five very different films. The Finnish entry by Selma Vilhunen, “Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?”, uses slapstick humor to follow the desperate attempts of a family trying to attend a wedding after they oversleep. Danish director Anders Walter combines fantasy and realism in “Helium” to tell the story of a hospital janitor named Enzo who helps a terminally ill little boy cope with his fear of dying. Domestic abuse is the subject of “Just Before Losing Everything” by French director Xavier Legrand. In it, a mother, her son, and daughter plan and execute their escape from a threatening father who shows up at the department store where the mother works.

The most gripping of the Live Action shorts is “That Wasn’t Me” by Spanish director Esteban Crespo. This tale begins with two doctors and their driver attempting to pass through a checkpoint guarded by child soldiers in an unnamed African country. After violence wreaks havoc, one of doctors escapes with a child soldier who recounts to a Western audience the story of his forced conscription. In a British entry, “The Voorman Problem,” directed by Mark Gill, a psychiatrist finds himself interviewing a mental hospital patient who believes he is a god. The doctor’s world turns upside down as he deals with this persuasive madman.

The longest of the three shorts programs consists of Documentary films and plays on Friday, Feb. 7. Set in northern New Mexico, Jeffrey Karoff’s “Cavedigger” offers a portrait of Ra Paulette, an eccentric artist who sculpts caves out of sandstone, transforming their interiors into architectural works of art filled with sculpture, furniture, and skylights. In “Facing Fear,” U.S. director Jason Cohen tells the remarkable story of Tim Zaal, a former neo-Nazi skinhead who nearly beat to death a gay man named Matthew Boger. Tim meets his victim 25 years later at the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance, where Matthew is the manager, and the two discover the power of forgiveness.

“Karama Has No Walls,” a Yemeni, British, and United Arab Emirate film directed by Sara Ishaq, captures the 2011 student uprising at Change Square in Sana’a, Yemen, using actual footage taken on the scene by two videographers. Interviews with the fathers of two slain students are also included. Fifty-three protesters were killed and 1,000 more supporters were injured when pro-government snipers shot at the peaceful demonstrators. Czech pianist Alice Herz Sommer is the subject of the Canadian Oscar nomination, “The Lady in Number 6.” This 109-year-old, ever-optimistic musician is the oldest Holocaust survivor in the world and still plays the piano daily. “Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall” chronicles the life of an Iowa State Penitentiary prisoner during his dying days.

The variety of subjects and techniques used in the three Oscar-nominated short programs makes them especially entertaining, and provides viewers with an opportunity to predict which shorts will win at the March 2 Oscar ceremony.

Oscar-nominated Shorts: Documentary, Friday, Feb. 7, 7:30 pm.

Oscar-nominated Shorts: Animation, Saturday, Feb. 8, 4 pm. Suitable for children.

Oscar-nominated Shorts: Live Action, Sunday, Feb. 9, 7:30 pm, M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven. $12; $9 M.V. Film Society members; $7 ages 14 and under.