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Reviewing the Live Action Shorts

Some of the best cinema of the year is present in the short list of live action short films from which the nominating committee will select five. That’s going to be tough, as each of these films is so wonderfully done they could be features. It’s too bad there isn’t a showcase anywhere that brings together the shorts from all over the world and allows people to view them – a Netflix for short films? There isn’t one yet but there should be. There is no reason why only some of us should be allowed to watch them when they are this good.

My aim here is to give you my impressions of the films and end with what I think are the five most likely to earn nominations. We’ll enter into an agreement here, that I’ll provide you with my opinion if you promise not to be angry if I steer you wrong. In other words, just because I like the movies doesn’t mean the majority of voters will. This is just my own take on what I’ve seen.

  1. Shok – I would be surprised if this film isn’t nominated, and it has a really good chance to win. It is a complete story, with richly developed characters, realistic dialogue, heartbreaking conflict throughout and a killer of an ending. It follows the friendship of two boys who are living in Kosovo under the newly formed Serbian government. It’s about the dehumanization of war and ethnic cleansing but mainly it’s about friendship, trust and alliances. Written and directed by Jamie Donougue, based on true events, it’s an example of a director fully in command of the story and the frame.
  2. Stutterer – Most of these shorts are tearjerkers and this one is no exception. The story is simple enough — a guy who stutters is nervous about meeting a girl he’s only known online for the past 6 months. How does he tell her he has such a crippling stutter? It affects everything he does from having to speak to a computer voice on tech support, to having to defend a woman when her boyfriend is attacking her. How do you use a voice you can’t depend on? His inner voice is loud and clear, his inner world attractive, confident, perceptive. It’s just that voice. The ending is the heart-grabber, which I won’t spoil in case you have the chance to see it, which you should. Written, directed and edited by Benjamin Cleary (who has a bright future ahead of him), Stutterer is a film that could maybe win, provided it gets nominated, which it very likely will.
  3. Day One – this is another threat to win, along with those mentioned above (how do you choose), and is the work of an American soldier Henry Hughes who served two tours in Afghanistan before enrolling in AFI Film School where he was mentored by George Lucas. Day One is really a stunning work of storytelling, with compassion and understanding for a world we barely know. It is one of the few live action shorts that centers on a female protag, an Afghan-American interpreter who accompanies US troops to a house where a pregnant woman is about to give birth. This film is going to be distributed, so if you’re lucky you’ll get to see it. I will not spoil it for you because I didn’t even know I’d been clenching my fist until the film ended. It is suspenseful, and deeply moving. Tears were streaming down my face by the end of it. Word has it it will be developed into a feature film and it’s one of the few that really could be an interesting full length movie, although what happens in this short would have to be the climax.
  4. Everything Will Be Okay – Another absolutely brilliant film that keeps you guessing from the beginning. In this story, a father is taking his daughter away without telling the mother. It is a slow burn that builds to a suspenseful, gripping climax. The surprising thing about it is how ordinary it all seems until it starts to get very weird. Writer director Patrick Vollrath never lays out any facts explicitly, it’s for us to guess and presume based on what we’re seeing. The actress who plays the kid is astonishing. Like the three mentioned above, what sets it apart is not just production value but its completeness as a whole story.
  5. Bis Gleich (Til Then) – It’s a toss-up for the number one spot, with this film and every other film on the short list. Here again is another intimate personal drama about two nobodies who make a connection. Here, they both stare out their windows and watch the world go by — pretty girls, fighting couples, parenting, construction workers. Whatever their connection, it is abruptly interrupted when the old woman in the story steps outside her comfort zone to make life better for the old man. It’s a simple yet profound gesture.
  6. Ave Maria – One of the few “comedies” — where a car full of Israelis crash into a nunnery on the border of Israel and Palestine. Their religious customs and habits keep getting in their way of getting a ride home. They bicker back and forth as the nuns try to solve their problem. Three religions coming together and getting in the way of human beings living their lives. It delivers this heavy message with a lightness that is refreshing. It could very well be among the nominated five.
  7. Winter Light – probably the most visually ambitious of the bunch — with dazzling production values and a standout visual sense. An old man protects his land from hunters. Director Julian Higgins adapted the story by James Lee Burke. It stars well known actors like Vincent Kartheiser and Raymond J. Barry.  The story seems to be a standoff — a revisionist western — between the old and the new. Hunters who shoot for sport, and a man who cares about the animals and the land.
  8. Contrapelo – Here is another film that could really make the cut. Directed by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer, the film is about  a barber who has the opportunity to cut the throat of a man he believes is destroying his country with the drug cartel.  He enters a dreamlike state as he imagines how this thing could go.
  9. Bad Hunter is about a young woman hunting in Kurdistan when he comes upon a rape. He helps the woman up and then gives her some water, and helps her mend her clothing. She tells him that if there isn’t blood on the sheet on a woman’s wedding night the woman is killed. The unspoken conversation is that, even though her only sexual encounter was a rape, the fact remains she is no longer a virgin and thus, not considered the marrying kind. Later that day, her family visits the young man who rescued her. The story takes a surprising turn from there, and it would be a spoiler to tell anymore. Directed by Sahim Omar Kalifa.

The only film I haven’t seen: The Free Man

So there you have it. The best I got for the live action shorts.