When it is time to award the best in films each year, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences include three categories of short films in their Oscar ® presentations. Most people don’t get to see many shorts. They play at festivals, and occasionally in front of a feature film. But short films are an art form worth attention. Many (probably most) feature filmmakers started out making short films. To tell a story in such a brief format takes skill. All the Oscar-nominated short films will be playing in theaters and on virtual cinema in special programs.
Let’s take a look at the Oscar ® nominated live action shorts.
Feeling Through (19 minutes, directed by Doug Roland). Tereek, a homeless teen helps Walter, a blind-deaf man (played by a deaf-blind actor), find his bus to get home. He learns to see the man as more than a problem, and also gets perspective on his own trials. This is a very moving story. In just a few minutes of screen time, we see tremendous growth in Tereek’s character. For him this is truly a life changing experience.
The Letter Room (33 minutes, directed by Elvira Lind). When a sensitive prison guard gets transferred to the mail room, his job is to read all the incoming and outgoing mail. He is enthralled with the very personal letters sent to a death row inmate. But perhaps the reality is less than he imagines. Nice performance from Oscar Isaac as a man who strives to be kind, even in an unkind environment.
The Present (25 minutes, directed by Farah Nabulsi). This Palestinian film is the story of a man who sets off with his daughter to go into town to buy an anniversary gift for his wife. The way is complicated by checkpoints, hostile Israeli soldiers, and segregated highways. It becomes a trial by humiliation. Can the man get the gift home and still maintain his stature in the eyes of his daughter? This look at life within the occupied Palestinian territories shows some of the injustice that people must face, with no real rights or power. The Present is currently streaming on Netflix.
Two Distant Strangers (29 minutes, directed by Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe). When a man wakes up in his girlfriend’s apartment, he sets off home to take care of his dog. But when he runs into trouble with a racist policeman, it ends tragically. Then he wakes up again…. This is something of a Black Lives Matter version of Groundhog Day. There are lots of different scenarios, but it always ends in the police killing of a black man.
White Eye (20 minutes, directed by Tomer Shushan). In Israel, a man finds his bike stolen weeks ago. It now belongs to a Somalian immigrant who bought it at bus station. When the police get involved it becomes far more complicated than the man wanted. The film moves from being about what rights a person might have to what is the right thing to do in a difficult setting.
My favorites among these are Feeling Through,because it brings hope out of darkness in a touchingly human way; and Two Distant Strangers, for the way it uses the time loop trope to emphasize the way the killing of black people seems be something we wake up to anew each day.
To see where you can see these shorts, go to https://shorts.tv/theoscarshorts/