Each year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka THE Academy) showcases ten short films through nomination. Each ranging from five to thirty minutes in duration, the films are designated into live action and animation categories. The films themselves are incredibly diverse, selected from all over the globe, exhibiting a vast variety of stories and perspectives.
This year, Melbourne’s Cinema Nova will be presenting these nominated shorts on the big screen, a medium which demonstrates the breadth of these filmmakers’ talents.
Whilst the majority of these shorts utilise computer animation (to spectacular success), only two out of the five films are constructed with either hand-drawn animation or stop-motion. Although there still remains a clear dichotomy between these two techniques, each entry into this category feels so dynamic and aesthetically unique. Here are the highlights:
Dear Basketball (USA, 5 minutes)
Following his retirement from professional basketball, Kobe Bryant debuts his autobiographical collaboration with animator and ‘Disney Legend’ Glen Keane. Employing the use of hand-drawn animation, Bryant narrates a letter to the sport that he has dedicated his life to, accompanied by incredibly fluid imagery of moments throughout his experiences playing the game. Keane uses mostly muted coloured pencils on a grainy pad of paper. The animation is exquisitely dynamic, clearly demonstrating Keane’s incredible capability as a honed animator. To top it off, John Williams lends original score to the five minute short, rounding the film out with palpable emotion. The three of them: Williams, Keane and Bryant are the best at what they do.
Lou (USA, 7 minutes)
Disney’s annual entry into the animated shorts category is customarily heart-warming. The short centres around a primary-aged school bully as he takes items from his classmates on the playground. A playful creature who lives in the lost and found box teaches the bully a lesson in kindness as he returns all of the belongings, both lost and stolen. The film does not employ any communicative dialogue, only non-verbal cues and physical comedy to portray this redemption story. The animation is consistent with Disney’s character design, with the animation group clearly at the top of their visual storytelling game. Lou is genuinely entertaining, but might not take the top prize this year.
Garden Party (France, 7 minutes)
This short is a slice-of-life film as audiences watch the very happy lives of frogs living in a mysteriously abandoned mansion. The CGI animation in this film is quite astonishing. The frogs are so incredibly life-like and tangible that I couldn’t quite believe that they were animated. The story is quite entertaining, with the film slowly unfolding that something unsavoury had previously occurred within the mansion. Tension builds with clues and music but all feelings of unease and stakes are banished by the fact that the frogs don’t give a shit about murder.
Live Action Shorts
Like many of the feature-length films nominated this year, these live action short films speak to the larger narratives which have driven art, politics and culture this year. Many in this category are socially or culturally motivated, some inspired by true events or experiences.
Deklab Elementary (USA, 20 minutes)
This film was so intensely powerful, telling a story which seems tragically ever-present within America’s narrative. The film is inspired by a real-life 911 call taking place during a school shooting in Atlanta, Georgia. The short takes place in one room, the office of the school. A man who is immediately positioned with his back to the camera asks to use the phone before pulling an assault rifle out of his bag. There is no non-diagetic music, no dramatic framing, only a harrowing sense of familiarity as we follow the school’s secretary through her interactions with the shooter and the police. Whilst the film doesn’t end as the audience expects, we know how it could end as we’ve seen countless times so very recently.
The Silent Child (UK, 20 minutes)
This short depicts the specific alienation of a four-year-old Deaf girl whose family fail to see the value in Sign Language. The family employ a social worker, framed with the likeness of Mary Poppins, who gives her the gift of communication through Sign. The child’s family is really quite awful, with almost all of them refusing to learn her language, talking behind her back when she’s in the room and enhancing her feeling of otherness. The film is an appeal for Sign to be upheld as a vital tool in schools, with the entire film accessible for Deaf communities through closed captions. The film’s visuals are incredibly dynamic, communicating the enhanced visual nature of the little girl’s world. Thematically, the short is really effective in communicating this specific (perhaps common) experience of communicative isolation.
Waku Wote/All of Us (Germany/Kenya, 23 minutes)
The film is prefaced establishing the setting of the border of Somalia and Kenya, a place of religious tension and anxiety. We follow a young Christian woman as she boards a bus to cross the border safely into Kenya. The only non-Muslim on the coach, the woman is outwardly suspicious of her fellow travellers, with some of the men selling bottles of water from backpacks much to her disdain. When they stop to refuel, she meets their conversation with the revelation that her husband and child were killed by Islamic extremists. Without spoiling what unfolds next, this film demonstrates the importance of humanism in times when we are vulnerable. The film is based on a true story and is a really remarkable piece of cinema.