Three kinds of Oscar-nominated shorts


With the Oscars arriving on April 25, it’s time to look at the short film nominees. The M.V. Film Society begins screening them virtually on Friday, April 2, as well as at the Film Center. The potential winners come in three categories: animation, live action, and documentaries. Although they may not be full-length, the shorts pack plenty of power. Your reviewer will offer recommendations after critiquing the entries.

Animated shorts

What is special about the five animated shorts is the way they employ the medium. “Burrow,” written and directed by Madeline Sharafian and Michael Capabarat, narrates the charming story of a rabbit’s life in his burrow. As he digs underground, he meets a number of other creatures, including a mole and a mouse. After he establishes his home, he has a number of adventures.

Next is a French film, “Genius Loci,” by Adrien Merigeau. The animation is brilliantly imaginative at the same time as it narrates effectively the story of a woman and her toddler. What makes the animation unique is the way it transforms images without losing track of the story.

“Oh Good,” by Will McCormack and Michael Govier, takes on a more serious tone. Told in black and white, it features a couple saddened by a traumatic event that their little girl suffers.

“Opera,” by Erick Oh, presents a short without any particular plot. Instead, it presents a pyramid filled with people tiny as ants, requiring the viewer to watch the multiple activities of its inhabitants.

Finally comes an Icelandic short, “Yes — People,” written and directed by Gísli Darri Halldórsson. This film follows the characters’ activities, including snow shoveling, appropriate for the world of snowbound Iceland. In addition, there are three more selected shorts that are not nominees.

Live-action shorts

Viewers may recognize two of these fiction shorts, which were already screened at the Film Center. The poignant “The Present,” directed by Farah Nabulsi, tells what happens when a Palestinian buys a refrigerator as a present for his wife and tries to bring it home across an Israeli checkpoint.

“White Eye,” written and directed by Tomer Shushan, takes place on an urban Israeli street. When a man tries to reclaim his stolen bike there, he runs into a series of unexpected complications.

Written and directed by Doug Roland, “Feeling Through” is a heartfelt story about a young Black man’s choices. Looking for a place to crash for the night, Tareek instead spends his time helping a white man who is blind and deaf.

“Two Distant Strangers,” directed by Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe, again narrates a story about a young Black man. Like in “Groundhog Day,” this person is caught in a time loop. He relives in nightmares meeting a cop, who proceeds to shoot him. The credits list innocent Black people, including George Floyd, who were killed.

“The Letter Room,” written and directed by Elvira Lind, concerns a prison guard who is in charge of reviewing prisoners’ mail. Not only does this film show the importance and poignancy of letters, but the steps the prison guard takes in response.

Documentary shorts

These films comment on real-life events. First comes “A Concerto Is a Conversation,” directed by Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers. In it, a young Black composer listens to his grandfather recount the story of his life growing up in the South. The conversation between them is like a concerto, where the music and the orchestra speak to each other.

The title of “Colette,” written and directed by Anthony Giacchino, is the name of a former WWII resistance fighter. A young woman accompanies her to the concentration camp in Nordhausen where Colette’s brother died. The relationship between the two enriches and softens the bleakness of visiting a place where such inhuman events took place.

Anders Hammer filmed and directed “Do Not Split.” This documentary captures the protests in Hong Kong against mainland Chinese authoritarianism. As such, it immerses the viewer in the intense dissent of Hong Kong citizens.

“Hunger Ward,” directed by Skye Fitzgerald, depicts the story of malnourished Yemeni children in Aden’s Sadaqa Hospital. The film conveys not only the horrific scenes of dying children, but also details such as radio news commentary of the event, and even a heat-conveying overhead fan. The children shown are all female, possibly because food goes first to boys.

Finally, “A Love Song for Latasha,” directed by Sophia Nahli Allison, is a tribute to a child killed trying to buy a bottle of orange juice. It describes her life in South Central Los Angeles up until her death.

The following are your reviewer’s picks for the Oscars. Among the animated shorts, the one that stands out is “Genius Loci.” It’s exceptional for its inspired use of the medium and its firm use of narrative. Charming “Burrow” is a close follow-up. “Distant Strangers” earns the accolade for its persuasive and imaginative looping storyline. Not far behind is “The Present,” again for a strong narrative and a politically significant message. One of the documentary shorts in particular stands out. It’s “Hunger Ward,” which carries an important message about the horrific malnutrition of Yemeni children. This film tells a story that needs to be told. The quiet charm of “A Concerto Is a Conversation” earns this short second place. When the Oscars arrive in five weeks, see if these choices win statuettes.