By Sarah F. Sullivan
for the Star City Blog
On February 22nd, a bunch of college friends and I gathered together to celebrate the Oscars. Though we hadn’t seen all of the nominated films, the Oscars were a good excuse to get dressed up and indulge a little. During the event, a little friendly competition broke out as each person tried to guess who would be the lucky Oscar winners. Several “clincher” moments came down to the winners of Best Animated Short Film and Best Live Action Short Film. Needless to say, none of us had seen the films and very few of us got the answer right.
This past week, I was able to indulge my curiosity and see the Oscar nominated animated and live action short films at The Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center. The films show individually, but you can watch both of them in one sitting if you so choose.
Going into it, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I had seen short films before, but never those of such high caliber that warranted an Oscar. I saw the animated shorts first, thinking (wrongly) that they wouldn’t be as overwhelming. Because the five Oscar nominated films are so short, they are shown alongside five “Highly Commended” Animated Shorts.
While the films are brief and the running time is only 88 minutes, the viewing experience may seem stilted to some because of all the stopping and starting. However, the subject matter and animation style of the animated Films are varied and creative, each one presenting a unique aspect to their story. The stories definitely vary. From men being struck by meteorites to lonely toilet attendants, to an old man fighting to save his home from ever rising waters, each one has something interesting to offer.
Besides the Oscar winner Le Maison en Petits Cubes, some of my favorites were:
Oktapodi - France:
Two love-struck octopi fight for their lives in a comical escape through the streets of a small Greek village. For only being 3 minutes long, it is the perfect example of the essence of the short film: a movie doesn’t have to be over 90 minutes to have a beginning, middle and end.
Presto - United States:
When a famous magician refuses to feed his pesky rabbit assistant, chaos ensues in this hilarious Disney/Pixar comedy.
John and Karen - UK:
In this unusual film, two animals struggle to resolve their relationship issues. These animals just happen to be a polar bear and a penguin.
The live action shorts run a cool 94 minutes, the average length of a regular movie, but offer an assortment of emotions and versatility that many regular movies do not offer. While the animated shorts seemed to delve more into adventures and experimentation with their art form, the live action films seem to experiment with how much emotion they can draw from the human subjects involved in their stories.
Watching the live action shorts is definitely a different experience from watching the animated shorts. Though some of the animated films tried to deal with serious matters and the human condition, there is really nothing like watching real people experiencing real things. Nothing is like the real thing.
While I can honestly say that I enjoyed every single one of the shorts, my favorites are tied:
New Boy - Ireland:
Based on a Roddy Doyle short story, the film follows a young African immigrant’s first day in his new Irish school and the tragic circumstances of how he came to be there. Though the subject matter is far from light, the young actors still manage to bring laughter and childish enthusiasm to the screen.
Manon on the Asphalt - France:
This truly touching film follows a young woman’s tragic final moments from her perspective. After being hit by a car, Manon lies on the asphalt imagining what will happen after her death. What will her friends do? When were the last special everyday moments she experienced, like getting caught in the rain? In essence, the film asks: what really flashes through your mind right before you die?
It is interesting to go into the films knowing which ones won the Oscar, as it creates lively debate after the fact. The winner for the animated shorts was Le Maison en Petits Cubes from Japan, and what a deserving win it was. An elderly man lives alone and desperately strives to save his home from the rising tide. As he tries to preserve his belongings, he remembers the many defining moments of his life. While not a word was spoken throughout the film, it was touching, heartbreaking and vivid throughout.
The winner of the live action shorts was the German film Spielzeugland (Toyland). It follows a mother and her young son living in 1942 Germany. When the mother tells her son that their Jewish neighbors will soon be going on a journey to ‘Toyland,’ he stubbornly insists that he should go too. It was a very powerful film, but I still felt that Manon on the Asphalt was a much more beautiful and intricate piece of work.
All in all, watching the short films was something of an inspirational experience. Being able to see this collection from all over the world undeniably provides the viewer with a wider outlook, and the fact that such emotion can be packed into a five or ten minute film is truly extraordinary. Watching the films will convince anyone that the short film is often a highly disregarded art form.
If you do choose to see both films in one sitting, you can purchase a pass good for one screening of each program. They are $12 General Admission and $10 for students, seniors and members. Showtimes can be found at The Ross website. The films run through March 26th.