Each year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognizes the best of filmmaking with the Academy Awards, aka the Oscars. Among the films honored each year are three categories of short films. These are films that few people get to see (unless you go to festivals), but these films are just as worthy of recognition as the big-name films that everyone gets to see. Because they are short (maximum running time of forty minutes including credits), these films tell their stories with conciseness and clarity. Each year when I watch the films nominated for Oscar in short film categories I wish that distributors would package a short with each feature film. (Disney/Pixar does this very well.)
Five films have been nominated for Best Live Action Short. It is an eclectic set of films including a comedy, some “ripped-from-the-headlines” type stories, and a children’s advocacy piece. Four of the films are based or inspired by true events. Two are from the US, with others coming from Australia, the UK, and a German/Kenyan project.
DeKalb Elementary (21 minutes) from Reed Van Dyk is inspired by a 911 call placed from a school office when a man shows up with a gun. The film is essentially a two-character play between the school receptionist (Tarra Riggs) who is being held hostage by a gunman (Bo Mitchell) who seems intent on committing suicide-by-cop. The receptionist serves as the mediator between the gunman and the police over the telephone and in the process creates an opportunity for things to have a more positive outcome than we might expect. The specter of gunmen in schools is all too familiar to Americans. This short is not about finding an answer to the problem, but rather it shows us a human side of those involved that allows for hope.
In 1955, in one of the many heinous acts of racism in American history, fourteen-year-old Emmett Till was lynched for whistling at a white woman. Kevin Wilson, Jr.’s My Nephew Emmett (20 minutes) tells that story from the perspective of his uncle Mose Wright (L. B. Williams), a Mississippi preacher who sought to protect his nephew. We may feel that we have made progress from those days (and we have in many ways), but when we must still assert that Black Lives Matter and witness the reemergence of alt-right politics, this film serves as a reminder that we must continue to seek justice and reconciliation.
Derin Seale’s The Eleven O’Clock (13 minutes) has a Monty Python-esque feel to it. In a psychiatrist’s office two men (Josh Larson and Damon Herriman) have a therapy session. One is the actual psychiatrist, the other his new patient who has delusions that he is a therapist treating a man who believes he is a psychiatrist. But which is which? The film rests on witty dialogue as each man asserts his sanity and the other’s madness. It really is quite fun.
Dealing with disabilities is the focus of Chris Overton’s The Silent Child (20 minutes). Four-year-old Libby (Maisie Sly) is profoundly deaf, but her busy middle-class family only wants her to be normal. When a caring social worker introduces her to signing, Libby’s world opens up. But will her family open to her as well? Title cards at the end of the film share percentages of deaf children who are mainstreamed in schools without signing, effectively limiting their potential.
Watu Wote: All of Us (23 minutes) is a German/Kenyan film by Katja Benrath. The area between Kenya and Somalis has been troubled for many years by Al-Shabaab, an extremist, terrorist organization. Distrust in the area between Christians and Muslims runs deep. The film portrays an event from December 2015 when an Al-Shabaab group stopped a bus in a remote area and demanded that the Muslims on board identify the Christians so they could be killed. The Muslims however rejected the demands, even arguing the ways that this was not the way of Islam. Some of them even put their lives on the line to protect the Christians. Confronting evil is not as simple as standing up and saying no. But then again, sometimes it is.
My favorite among these nominees is Watu Wote, for the power of the storytelling and the message it shares that peace can sometimes happen between people even in the midst of terrible evil. My runner up, for sheer enjoyment, is The Eleven O’Clock.
The Oscar Nominated Shorts will be playing in select theaters worldwide beginning February 9.
Photos courtesy of Shorts.tv