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), 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.
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 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.