The 89th Oscars’ short film nominees took center stage Tuesday night at the “Oscar Week: Shorts” program held at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.
“Tonight we celebrate the short film,” Academy Governor Jon Bloom said during his opening remarks. “And clearly shorts are about passion, not profit.”
While it’s true these films recoup only a small fraction of their budget, digital downloading, on demand platforms and the annual Shorts HD theatrical release have exposed the short film medium to more audiences than ever before. According to Bloom, the theatrical release has grown 200% since last year, with more than 600 theaters worldwide screening the 10 nominated films.
The “Oscars Week” event featured screenings of the five animated and five live-action nominees, followed by Q&A sessions with the filmmakers moderated by “Deadpool” director Tim Miller. No stranger to the world of short films, Miller executive produced the 2004 Oscar-nominated cartoon short “Gopher Broke,” and made the Oscar nominations short-list for an additional three shorts he produced or directed.
“I want to offer a cautionary tale,” Miller told the audience, joking that a fifth short, “A Gentleman’s Duel,” was completely snubbed by the Academy. “We got f—k all for our trouble.”
His voice caught as he emotional added: “But that’s not why we do this. The reason we do this is because we love it, because you love the art form. Never get caught up in the other stuff. It’s a seductive thrill. You want more of it. But keep doing it for [the love of it] and no other reason.”
For more on these 10 incredible films, including fun facts about their productions revealed during Tuesday’s Q&A sessions, keep reading.
The Story: A young girl is born with an unusual ability—she sees the past in her left eye and the future in her right eye.
Inside the Short: “The imagery just came to me,” said writer and director Theodore Ushev. “I always wanted to make a film about our inability to live in the ‘now.’” According to Ushev, the wood-cut animation style was used to convey age, “like an old book you find in a grandparents’ attic, like lost knowledge.” Ushev is the first Bulgarian Oscar nominee ever. “Monday is a free day in Bulgaria,” he joked. “Everyone will be up late watching the Oscars.”
The Story: As an aging sheriff reflects on the tragic incident that took his father’s life, a relic from the past resurfaces when he needs it most.
Inside the Short: Filmmakers Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj work for Pixar, but the company allowed them to produce this film “outside of the system” on nights and weekends. The film, which took five years to create, is darker than most animated films and even included a bank heist in early versions of the script. “We wanted to challenge the notion that the animation genre is for kids,” Coats explained.
PEAR CIDER AND CIGARETTES
The Story: A man named Robert Valley recounts the life of his childhood friend Techno Stypes, a hard-living daredevil who winds up stranded in China in desperate need of a new liver.
Inside the Short: Filmmaker Robert Valley was not in attendance for Tuesday’s event, but according to an interview with AWN.com, he described “Pear Cider and Cigarettes” as “a documentary that happens to be animated.”
The Story: A single father and his daughter live on the road, sleeping in their car and performing guitar music for tips. As they grow older and their circumstances change, that car and their music continue to bring them together.
Inside the Short: Director Patrick Osborne conceived “Pearl” as a story about what cars mean to us. “They’re family heirlooms,” Osborne said. “And we don’t just get cars, we get tastes and passions. This is the musical version of that.” Originally created as a 360-degree virtual reality film, Osborne said he was happy to pull the camera back for a single-screen experience and “tell people what to look at.”
The Story: A hungry baby bird leaves his beach nest for the first time, but must face the perils of a rising tide to secure his meal.
Inside the Short: Pixar’s Alan Barillaro said the idea for the story came from the “fears of parenting, over-parenting and overcoming those fears,” but he only began creating the short as a mad scientist-like side project—a way of pushing the boundaries of the company’s animation tools. “I was rogue,” Barillaro joked. “A big lesson as a filmmaker.”
The Story: An Algerian man applying for French citizenship suddenly becomes the target of a terrorist investigation. Grilled about a meeting with Islamic men he met at a mosque, the man must decide whether to give up the names of his friends to save himself from deportation.
Inside the Short: When asked about his inspiration for the film, writer and director Selim Azzazi said he was a “sound editor who didn’t see French films dealing with issues I cared about. I wanted to tell a story of a common man asking for citizenship and being blackmailed, which is something that happened to my father.” Azzazi also revealed he rewrote the script several times so it could be viewed sympathetically from both sides represented in the film.
LA FEMME ET LE TGV
The Story: A lonely bakery owner lives in a small house on the TGV train tracks in France. Twice a day like clockwork, she waves a Swiss flag from her window at the passing train. When one of the train operators begins tossing letters and gifts to the woman in return, they begin an unlikely relationship.
Inside the Short: The film is based on a true story. Writer and director Timo von Gunten found a story about a woman waving to the TGV train every day in the newspaper. “I googled that woman and found her phone number,” Gunten revealed. “I told her I want to make a movie about her life.” The real-life woman, according to the director, carried on drive-by relationships with nearly two dozen train operators. The role of the woman in this film is played by legendary model and actress Jane Birkin.
The Story: A Danish woman, who lives were her alcoholic mother and volunteers at the local Salvation Army, begins a romantic relationship with a homeless immigrant from Ghana.
Inside the Short: Director Aske Bang got the idea for the film from his dad. “My father came to me with the story and we wrote the screenplay together,” he revealed. Bang said he liked the idea of two people with very different backgrounds bonding over their adversities. “In Copenhagen, we see a lot of immigrants riding around on bicycles collecting bottles,” Bang explained. “They seem so lonely. She also has a hard life.”
The Story: A young girl named Zsofi joins a new school and immediately finds a passion in the institution’s award-winning choir. But when the choir’s director insists Zsofi only mime her singing, claiming her vocals aren’t up to snuff, the kids set out to plot a fitting revenge.
Inside the Short: “The story basically came to me from a friend,” writer and director Kristof Deak said. “The first half is true. The second half I made up. I really felt some empathy for her—to be denied the very thing you joined the choir for.” Deak praised the film’s child actors, with whom he shot for five days, claiming that they were more poised and professional than some adult actors he’s worked with.
The Story: Luna, a parking garage security guard, checks the lot’s security camera footage to find culprit responsible for a broken taillight. What she discovers is more unusual than she could have ever imagined.
Inside the Short: Director Juanjo Gimenez didn’t want the film’s narrative twist to be a predictable one. It isn’t. And the inspiration behind the film is, perhaps, even more unexpected. “Twenty years ago, I was working for a big company,” Gimenez explained. “I used a company computer to write in my free time. A coworker found it and she passed my writings to other colleagues to laugh at me.” And now he could be an Oscar winner. Sweet revenge?