Featuring the 2013 Academy Award nominees for Best Live Action Short Film:
Death Of A Shadow
Directors: Bryan Buckley (Asad), Sam French (Buzkashi Boys), Shawn Christensen (Curfew), Thomas Van Avermaet (Death Of A Shadow), and Yan England (Henry)
Rating: Unrated (with only Curfew containing material beyond a PG-13 rating)
Running Time: 114 Minutes
Release Date: February 1, 2013
Shorts HD and Shorts International.
OVERALL GRADE: ★★★1/2
For years, no one knew about or much cared about the short film Oscar categories. My mother, the source for my rabid Oscar obsession, used to bemoan their existence claiming they were a waste of television time and took away from seeing the “celebrities we all tune in for.” As I have grown older, I have a wildly different view and see these animated, live action, and documentary short films as little discoveries. More short films are made then feature length films and yet, the visibility of these films is miniscule at best. If you attend film festivals, you will find dozens of short films compressed into a program or series of special presentations. Lost in the shuffle are countless works that end up on YouTube or Vimeo and live for the hopes of one day being discovered. Each year I am privileged to see these nominated works and applaud the artistry and the dedication it takes to get on Oscar’s radar. Long ago, I stopped seeing the Oscars as the definitive definer in what is or is not a good movie, but with the short film categories, due to a lack of accessibility and consistently impressive nominated films, I assume the nominating branches got it right.
This year, the five Live Action Short Film nominees place us all over the world – Canada, Somalia, Belgium, Afghanistan, and the United States. Four of the films are subtitled, but all carry deeply emotional stories with something tangible people can relate to. There is not a bad film in the bunch, which makes projecting a winner all the more difficult. Let’s try.
South African director Bryan Buckley’s Asad tells the story of a Somali child who is expected to fall in line with tradition and become a part of the fishing trade. His stern and disciplined father offers one perspective, but a pirate life and guns and an illicit fast-track to a “better life” lurks in the distance. Buckley has great command of a cast of non-actor Somali refugees, and a quirky twist at the end is rather distancing. ★★★1/2.
A searing and powerful film, Buzkashi Boys takes us into contemporary Afghanistan where two boys dream of becoming successful at playing the national sport of Buzkashi, a polo-like game where players mount horses and sling around a decapitated goat instead of a ball. The two children, one a street urchin and the other a blacksmith’s son, seemingly come from different slices of life but have a tightly held bond that becomes challenged when tragedy strikes. Developed like a feature film, Buzkashi Boys is directed by Philadelphia-born Sam French and is the first film originating out of a non-profit film company he started in Kabul, which documents stories about the modern Afghan experience. ★★★★.
Shawn Christensen’s Curfew is a pleasant surprise, with dark melancholic comedy lining up alongside some intense dramatic bends. A mother of a mature and whipsmart 9-year old girl has no one else to turn to but her estranged brother and begrudgingly asks him to watch his niece for an evening. Christensen wrote, directed, and stars as the uncle who receives his sister’s request at the most inopportune time imaginable. While the film feels truncated at 19 minutes, I liked the timbre of the piece, mixing a post-modern indie rock soundtrack with some haunting demons hanging over Christensen’s character. ★★★1/2.
Visually arresting, Death Of A Shadow looks every bit the part of a big budget feature film and taps into a world that I kind of hope to revisit again in a bigger and grander scale. I doubt that I will, but this steampunk thriller features Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead, Rust and Bone) as a photographer with a fantastic camera which can capture shadows and spirits in the afterlife. Captured and imprisoned by a Grim Reaper-esque character, the photographer is offered the chance at finding the love of his life if he can photograph 10,000 people at the time of their death. As morbid and morose as the film sounds, the production design, period costumes, and cinematography are unparalleled and Flemish filmmaker Thomas Van Avermaet’s second short is compelling and quite unpredictable. ★★★★.
Yan England’s Henry is a film which seems to be a contemporary to Michael Haneke’s Oscar-nominated Amour. Henry is an aging pianist who seems to have lost his wife Maria. Meeting a woman for coffee, he notices a man staring at him from across the outdoor cafe and when Henry confronts the man, things become very confusing for Henry. England turns the film internal, placing Henry in scenarios which cross cut between then and now, reality and memory, and leave us deciphering what is truth and what is fabrication. French-Canadian actor Gerard Poirier gives a terrific performance but the film misses that emotional beat it needs to really connect. ★★★.
As I consider the films, I have no idea how the Academy will vote. Buzkashi Boys would earn my vote, but the inventive and beautifully rendered Death Of A Shadow has stayed with me in the days since I saw it.
SHOULD I SEE IT?
- Always a great presentation, you have to look fast because the Short films are only in theaters for a brief time.
- Oscar pools and Oscar party contests can be won and lost with the Short Film categories. Experiencing these nominees achieves both a better chance at victory and the opportunity to see some terrific and original films.
- Casual movie watchers tend to watch high profile, big name star movies and convincing people to watch short films is a challenge. No matter how good these films are, a large number of people are not going to care much.
- You are not a fan of a wide range of genres and themes. You never know what you are going to get with these short film presentations and that mix of styles can throw people off.