Once again, the selection of live action shorts from all over the world are exceptional. Maybe because there are so many made every year and no doubt many entered for consideration, the Academy showcases only the best of the best. In almost all cases, politics and war and the politics of war lend an urgency to those selected, but there are films in the lineup that have nothing to do with war and yet one can still sense their urgency. One is about an apocalyptic future, one is a parable, one is a kind of love story.
The only one of the films I have not seen is Ennemis Intérieurs, which looks great, of course, because they’re all great. All of them.
These are the ones I think have the best shot:
- Nocturne in Black Written and directed by Jimmy Keyrouz as a thesis film at Columbia University’s School of the Arts Film Program. They raised $20K on Kickstarter to film in Lebanon. The film is inspired by an article about a Syrian musician who continues to play his piano under threat of persecution. There isn’t a wasted frame in this, which tells a compelling story with characters who are worth the time, about a war in a country the likes of which many of us in the modern world haven’t seen. It is about Syria but it is also about fascism, totalitarianism, and religions and governments who seek to destroy music and the arts. Nocturne in Black has already won the Gold Medal in the 43rd Student Academy Awards and is shortlisted for the 2017 Oscars in the Live Action Short category. It also won Jury Selects at the Columbia University Film Festival as well as the DGA Student Film Award, the National Board of Review Student Grant, the Caucus Foundation production grant, the Marion Carter Green Award and the IFP Audience Award. It premiered at the Lincoln Center in May 2016, and screened at Telluride, LA Shorts Fest. I knew none of this when I sat down to watch it cold. Needless to say, it stood out.
- The Way of Tea – director Marc Fouchard’s The Way of Tea is another brilliant work. With richly developed characters who bring with them their own backstory that doesn’t even need explaining. Here is another film that deals with the rising tensions between the far right catching fire in Europe and now in the US vs. the muslim world. We should all be very afraid and the Way of Tea does a great job showing the problem and suggesting a possible solution: offer your enemy a cup of tea. It’s such a seductive scene, watching the careful brewing of the green tea, the steam rising. It’s the rare film that makes a person just cry at the end but this one did that to me – the epilogue, which stated that this, too, was drawn from a true story about how sharing tea ended a conflict. Like Nocturne in Black, it is great not just in its storytelling but in its filmmaking.
- Bon Voyage – Writer /Director Marc Wilkins made a film that puts together two worlds. That of wealthy vacationing Europeans on a sailing trip meeting up with a boat full of refugees. One of the documentary shorts, 4.1 is about this very thing and you see babies and children pulled aboard boats to save their lives. It’s a harrowing thing to watch. Borrowed Time puts that exact dynamic in a short but here, the Europeans are loathe to help the refugees. And that, sadly, tells the truth about the first worlds. Tense and lean, this short really does provoke our ideas about what we would do in that situation and what “getting involved” means. Moreover, we all have to answer this question – here in America we’re about to close our doors and borders. What then.
- La Femme et le TGV – lovely Jane Birken at 70 plays a lonely, somewhat bitter woman who lives in a small house near a train track. Every day she waves a small flag at the passing train. At some point, someone on the train notices her and throws her a thank you note because her flag waving made his day. They begin a correspondence and little by little her life is examined. It makes the case that it isn’t over until it’s over and that there is still much to offer the world for women in their 70s. It’s one of the few films with an uplifting ending, which might give it some leverage. Written and directed by Timo von Gunten from Zurich.
- Graffiti – Lluis Quilez’ film about a post apocalyptic world. His main character finds himself alone with just a scappy dog following him around. He leaves graffiti messages and soon finds out that someone is leaving messages back to him. He has the chance to be rescued to join what’s left of civilization but can’t leave until he finds out who “Anna” is. It’s a film about hope, really, hope in the face of despair, hope when you don’t even know what the outcome will be but you gamble everything anyway. From a technical standpoint, this one looks like a feature. It would probably make a good feature, actually.
- Sing – writer/director Kristof Derek’s film about how we put up with injustice rather than stand up to it because disruption is hard. Sing is a captivating story starring two young girls as singers in a chorus. One is told she can’t sing and should mime the words while another is told she can sing and therefore should sing out and proud. The teacher compromises the integrity of her chorus to win the first place prize. But the children have a different idea. Sing is beautifully done, and a joy to watch.
- Silence Nights – Danish director Aske Bang’s short once again puts the two worlds together – impoverished third world in Ghana and the wealthy Denmark. A volunteer at a homeless shelter forms a bond with an immigrant who is trying to make money to send to his family back at home. To her, it’s a love story. When she finds out about his family she feels hurt and betrayed. By now, she’s pregnant with his baby and dreams of a happily ever after for them. But of course, it is a bigger story about how different our perspectives are, and how we can often take our privilege for granted. These are well written, well acted characters in a film that has a powerful ending, even if it may be up for interpretation.
- The Rifle, The Jackal, The Wolf And The Boy Lebanese director Oualid Mouaness puts a parable on the big screen. Though it takes us intimately into a family’s daily life, it also a cautionary tale about violence and how it can spiral out of control even with the best of intentions. It’s beautifully filmed and feels organic and raw.
- Timecode – Juanjo Giménez Peña’s short film comes with a lot of support behind it and award nominations. This playful, clever, unpredictable movie is about security guards examining timecode, punching time cards, putting on their uniforms and going about their mundane lives until suddenly, the timecode reveals dancing. Yes, they’re breaking out in dance at various points on the security tape. It starts off slow and strange. But the film reaches breathtaking heights, even while keeping its tongue firmly in its cheek.
They are all so entertaining and thought provoking. Well worth your time if you can find them at a local movie theater. Some of them hit me harder than others. I don’t know how the Academy will find these films – whether they are drawn to the more serious fare given our current political climate or whether they prefer the opposite, to be taken away from grief.
I am predicting these five:
Nocturne in Black
The Way of Tea
Timecode but this is my least confident prediction. Could be The Rifle, could be Bon Voyage. I’m just not sure. Whatever they pick, they will be great choices because they’re all great.