One of the best things about the Academy Awards is the way in which they showcase short films. Clearly feature length movies reach a much wider audience, often irrespective of quality, but those that run under forty minutes are not normally seen by anywhere near enough people. It isn’t about availability any longer, the internet has pretty much solved that problem, it is about publicity and, directly related to that, marketability.
It is easier for the projects linked to larger films such as the Gravity spin off Aningaaq or the Marvel One Shots because they make nice little DVD extras but other shorts just don’t get the press.
Of course it isn’t just The Academy of a Motion Arts and Sciences that reward achievement in short film making; they are honoured at Film Festivals and there are prizes given out by BAFTA, but no one quite bolsters a movie like Oscar.
The five films nominated by The Academy this year are now available together on iTunes and should certainly be sought out. One of them, in particular, is better than nearly any of the forty other flicks I saw in the cinema last year.
I think there is an idea that people who produce short films do so because they don’t have the finances for the features they really want to be making. To some extent this is because a lot of successful shorts are later extended or remade for cinema release – very often as the first films for new directors. Neil Blomkamp’s District 9 famously started out this way as did Napoleon Dynamite, Boogie Nights and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
When you look at the films in this selection though you realise that they are exactly the length they need to be to tell the stories that they tell – and that in some cases, there are no great budgetary restrictions.
(Denmark) 23 Minutes
Helium is the film that actually won the Oscar and it is a wonderful little piece. It centres around a hospital porter who starts to tell stories of magical afterlife fantasy worlds to a terminally ill child. It sounds heart breaking, and it is, but it is also beautiful, moving and ultimately rewarding. There are elements of the story and visuals that can be read different ways and it certainly provokes conversation. The film also examines the value of providing hope even though there is none, which subtly raises some interesting sociological, philosophical and religious questions.
The Voorman Problem
(UK) 13 Minutes
This is the only English language film in the selection and features Martin Freeman as a psychiatrist called to visit and assess a prisoner with a major god complex. It is one of the lighter films on the list but is no less smart. Unsurprisingly with such little screen time it only really has one idea but it is a good one and they manage to do some intriguing and satisfying things with it. I should also say that the divine detainee is played by Tom Hollander so you’ve got a pretty enticing two hander right there.
Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)
(France) 30 minutes
There isn’t too much I can say about this one because if you are going to watch it, it is better you do so without knowing what it is about. Due to the way it is constructed you slowly realise what is going on and the tension begins to build. It is grounded in reality a lot more than some of the films it was up against and it is a situation that is all too palpable for a lot of people around us. It only tells one small part of what would clearly be a much bigger story for those involved but has all the more power for what it doesn’t tell you. It is an immediate and progressively engrossing half an hour.
Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me)
(Spain) 24 Minutes
This is the one that blew me away. It is the story of three aid workers in Africa (probably) trying to save young men who have been forced and brainwashed into becoming child soldiers.
As you would suspect, it is a little harrowing but it is also incredibly powerful and moving. It effectively shows what makes these children do such unimaginable things without the need for any exposition and beautifully plays the mix of compassion and revulsion felt for these mini murderers.
The film also shows different time frames with great efficiency and is very skilfully directed and written.
Elsewhere I have debated the decision to award Cate Blanchett the Oscar for Best Actress, suggesting that Sandra Bullock or even Amy Adams may have been more deserving. Here though, Alejandra Lorente (pictured) is one hundred times better than all of them. Her performance is simply fantastic, displaying a wide range of emotions and complexity fantastically.
Again, this film works best for its brevity but if this kind of tension, character development and action had been played out across a running time six times longer then this would have been one of my films of the year. It is interesting that The Academy ultimately went for an easier watch. I’m sure the reasons for this would also explain why 20 Feet From Stardom got Best Documentary over The Act of Killing.
Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)
The shortest and the lightest of the bunch, this is quite fun but there is no way that a feature film with the same comic tone would ever have been considered for best picture. I’m afraid this film doesn’t really deserve to be in this company and it is hard to think that there weren’t a dozen better contenders that missed out on a nomination.
The tale is one of a couple late for a wedding and it is instantly reminiscent of the opening of Four Weddings and a Funeral. It is really little more than a gently amusing comedy skit and there is nothing here that would be out of place in a sitcom or a sketch show.
While I’m talking about Short Films I do need to mention two delightful pieces made by Adam Watkins and London based Horseshoe Boy Productions. The guy is a good friend of mine but he is also a genuinely talented film maker and like all high quality mini movies these pics deserve to find the widest audience.
Check out Jonah’s Quids, showing how even the tiniest windfall can provide some escape, and Shino’s Show, which is about ambition and the common desire people have to inspire pride in others.
See the links below: