Shorts are the incubators of filmmaking. It is by making short films that the filmmakers of the future learn their craft. Often in that learning process, a filmmaker will make something that is not just a learning exercise, but is a quality product. Each year a few of those worthy short films are nominated for Oscars in three categories. The Live Action Shorts category contains films of concise story telling. Yet, their brevity doesn’t mean they lack in depth. This year’s nominations are playing in theaters together as “Oscar Nominated Shorts 2016: Live Action.” There are separate programs for animated shorts and short documentaries. Here’s a look at the nominated live action shorts.
Ave Maria (France/Germany/Palestine, 15 minutes, directed by Basil Khalil and Eric Dupont ). A group of five nuns living in the West Bank have their Friday evening meal interrupted by a traffic accident outside their walls. A car has run into a statue of the Virgin, toppling and decapitating it. It also totals the car which was carrying a loud, bickering family of Israeli settlers. The settlers want to use the phone, but since Sabbath has started, they can’t dial. The nuns have taken a vow of silence, so are of limited help. Through this humorous situation, the two groups manage to work out a solution to the problems. The film reflects some of the prejudices between Jews and Palestinians, but does it with disarming comedy.
Day One (US, 25 minutes, directed by Henry Hughes). On her first day as an Army interpreter in Afghanistan, an Afghan-American woman must not only deal with the setting of war as her unit pursues a bomb-maker, but then must bridge the cultural gap when the man’s wife goes into labor with a difficult delivery. This serves as a reminder of the humanity inherent in all people, even those we might see as our enemy. The interpreter’s willingness to go beyond her role and to do more than she ever thought she could touches the lives of all involved. The theme of life in the midst of death is very strong.
Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut) (Germany/Austria, 30 minutes, directed by Patrick Vollrath). Michael, a divorced father, picks up his daughter Lea for their normal weekend but soon it becomes obvious that this will not be a routine weekend. As the story grows darker, the emotional level increases as Michael and Lea head toward an inevitable crisis in their relationship. While the acting was excellent, the ending left me unsatisfied.
Shok (UK/Kosovo, 21 minutes, directed by Jamie Donoughue). When a man returns to his childhood town, he flashes back to his friendship with another boy during the 1998 conflict. Their friendship had its ups and downs based on some of the choices they had to make in those deadly times. Eventually the man is left to remember a bit of what his life has been built upon and the cost of that life.
Stutterer (UK, 12 minutes, directed by Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage). A young man with a severe stutter can speak very plainly in his mind, but when it must come from his mouth, it is a terrible task. When a woman with whom he has been developing a relationship online comes to town, can he bring himself to actually meet her, knowing that he will be expected to speak? This is a sweet story of the possibility of a relationship if his difficulties and fears can be overcome.
Good films all around, but my personal favorite is Day One for the depth of relationships that are portrayed so well in such a brief story. It also is a film that manages to have a sense of hope that shines through a dark and sorrowful setting. I also want to name Ave Maria a very close second for its treatment of prejudice with humor and dignity.