Academy's Short Film categories stand up to their bigger halves
// JJ Brewis

The hype surrounding the Oscars is definitely more about pop culture than filmmaking itself. However, the short film categories, which have been a part of Oscar history since 1932, are becoming more prominent. While the nominees generally go unnoticed to the general public, the shorts are finally getting some airtime in larger cities. Vancouver's Vancity Theatre, for instance, will be previewing the short films in the Animation and Live Action categories on Feb. 20 and 22.

The Oscars are certainly well-known for their star-studded audience, which sees the same faces on the red carpet year after year. The short film categories are more varied, however, and offer some recognition to the non-celebrity filmmaker circuit. Because these films have much less time with their audience than feature length equivalents, their jobs are that much harder in connecting their story to the viewer, but when done successfully, a short film is a great medium in storytelling. Here is an overview of the three categories’ nominees for 2012.


The offerings in this category almost seem to outdo the Feature Film category this year in terms of gripping content. The interesting factor here is that the films have such a minute amount of time to hook their audience while discussing sincere issues.

Perhaps the most exhilarating is Raju, a German nominee about a German couple who adopt, and subsequently lose track of, an adopted orphan from India.

The longest of the live action shorts, Ireland's The Shore, runs just 30 minutes and sees a daughter reunite her father and his long-lost best friend who he hasn't seen for 25 years.

Running on similar themes, Tuba Atlantic, a Norwegian film, delves into nostalgia via a 70-year-old man told he has a week to live and wants to contact his overseas brother to iron out their relationship.

America's Time Freak attempts at forging humour and science fiction into a tale of time travel where one man tries to undo all of his "stupid little mistakes" with mixed results.

In terms of personal coming-of-age films, it appears Ireland's Pentecost
has done it a bit more legitimately, through the eyes of an 11-year-old boy put in a personal crossroads between his own endeavors and becoming an Altar boy.


In the UK's A Morning Stroll, the computer animation used shows a young New Yorker busily playing on his phone, ignoring a chicken hopping about at the next door apartment's stoop.

America's La Luna, produced by Pixar's John Lasseter, is a slick-looking adventure that has all the markings of the Disney/Pixar combinations: thoughtful character animation, sharp landscapes, and childlike innocence, all revolving around a child taken out to sea on his first day of work in his family’s fishing business.

Canada's Dimanche/Sunday explores simple themes of repetition and redundancy viewed in a routine train stop through a town used to its frequency, and the mundane reactions which go on to become rhythmic and musical.

Another Canadian entry, Wild Life, showcases an English businessman who moves to the Frontier in the early 1900s, where his discomforts in doing so are shown through a series of letters he sends home.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mister Morris Lessmore, the category's longest entry at 17 minutes, seems to be the edgiest in the category in its uses of computer, 2D, and stop-motion combinations.

The Academy has certainly carved out a visually interesting blend of films here, mixing up Wild Life’s watercolour-looking scenes with the Pixar standard of computer animation in La Luna. Whereas Pixar films generally seem to scoop up the Full Length Animated Film category at the awards, their shorts never seem to make the Academy's mark – despite nominees almost every year in the past few decades, they haven't seen a win in this category for nearly a decade. For American nominees, Flying Books seems like the best shot, while the National Film Board of Canada's two entries offer polarizing competition with more understated, classical animation.


A short documentary has the advantage that their subjects are just as gripping, but they do not need to fill excess time with plodding, unnecessary material, as often seems to be the case in full-length documentary films. The selection in this category is interesting in that it is the most varied: all of the films have very different subject matter.

God is the Bigger Elvis tells the tale of Dolores Hart, a former promising film actress who went from co-starring roles with the likes of Elvis Presley to becoming a nun. The short captures Hart's first-hand tale of the road she chose.

The Iraq War is represented here with Incident in New Baghdad, a 22-minute epic in which the slaying of two journalists is explored.

In the equally horrific Saving Face, a Pakistan/USA release, the directors unfold a horrifying social issue in which many Pakistani women are attacked with acid, sometimes by their own husbands. The film does add a bit of light to the dark, in which they spotlight a doctor who returns to his home country to help these women.

The Barber of Birmingham is this year's Americana entry, though it does seem to have a huge amount of heart underneath. The film follows a Birmingham, Alabama barber; 85-yearold James Armstrong, whose shop's walls are covered with clippings and signs promoting social justice. Armstrong is known not only for his decades of haircuts, but for his social activism and his past as a foot soldier in the First World War.

On the note of heartwarming, Japan bounces back from last year's natural disaster in an artistic tribute to their country and its resiliency with The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom. This film recounts the event of the tsunami, and the rebuilding of the country afterward.

Each of these nominees is altogether gripping, and each drives home an important part of society and human nature. With a short film capturing the essence of each cause, the Academy has its work cut out for them in terms of picking the winner.

Each of these categories is chock-full of deserving nominees, and it will be interesting to see which films the deciding committee ultimately chooses to reward.

Vancity Theatre will preview the titles in the Animated category at 6:30pm and the Live-action category at 8:30pm on February 20 and 22.

//JJ Brews, art director
//Graphics by Katie So

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