February 13, 2013

Short and Strong: Oscar Nominated Shorts

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The Oscars ceremony is film’s biggest family reunion and the Shorts category is  the family’s youngest (and well, shortest) member, overlooked and undermined at every get-together.

Where the other family parties (Golden Globes, SAGs and most recently the BAFTAs) don’t bother to even distribute invitations to the shorts, the Oscars do, cultivating a tradition of recognizing the film world collectively. The Academy acknowledges and Daniel Junge, the host of the screening and last year’s winner in this category, notes that “Some stories were meant to be feature-length while others were meant to be short, depending on the story your telling.”

There are three categories for short films to compete in at the Oscars: Documentary, animated and live action. The five nominees for this year’s documentary section were screened on Tuesday Night at Schwartz. They were all powerfully executed and are quite the screen weepers (so don’t forget your tissues like I did – I left Schwartz, eyes smudged with teardrops and eyeliner). Below, I have broken them down (and may have ranked them according to my favorites).

1.InocenteThe husband-and-wife team Sean Fine and Andrea Nix, who were nominated in this category back in 2007, have come back to film. The film’s titular subject, Inocente, is a shy 15-year old Latina living in San Diego, CA. She’s homeless but that isn’t what drives the narrative. Instead the story centers on her art which starkly contrasts the violence and depression she has endured. The film does a beautiful job of juxtaposing her artwork with her everyday life, which can begin anywhere from waking up under a bridge in the morning to sitting alone on a bus dreaming. Inocente is her brightest when she is sharing her detailed dreams which never seem to end. The film ends, leaving us with a sense that we haven’t heard the last from this face-painted San Diego native. A critics’ favorite this year, Inocente has my vote.

2. Mondays at RacineOnce a month on a Monday, a Long Island beauty salon offers free beauty services to women undergoing cancer treatment. We see women trickling into the shop. Some have been coming for as many as 17 years while others are newcomers, suppressing the terror of having their hair shaved off in a few moments time. These Monday guests quickly become a support group for each other. Most of them are victims of breast cancer.

Director Cynthia Wade’s way of constructing the portraits of these female victims is extremely detailed. Wade has done an incredible job of gaining access to the women and their spouses’ private lives and capturing the feeling of a diminishing grasp on femininity in a judicial yet connected way. Her snapshots of hair loss or the flat scars that have replaced breasts is simultaneously jarring and stunning.

3. Kings PointFormer New York residents who have recently been widowed, move down to a senior community in Florida where they expect to live out the rest of their lives. Kings Point has a growing population of singles and, as a result, the topic of love and relationships is on the back of every resident’s mind. This allows the filmmaker, Sari Gilman, to dig out each subject’s stance on relationships at their age, and we slowly and painfully discover the bitterness they have when it comes to forming friendships. Gilman skillfully shows us that many of the residents seemingly harsh responses are not cold or cruel in any way, but understandable after what the residents have been through.

4. Open HeartBy the end, Open Heart becomes an ad for medical and financial attention for children whose chances to receive the treatment they need are slim. However, the mode of storytelling that writer-director Kief Davidson employs is well deserving of the Oscar nods. It begins with a heart-wrenching focus on a group of Kenyan children who are sent on a difficult journey to Sudan by their hesitant parents.  Their hearts have been damaged by rheumatic fever, but a Sudanese hospital has offered to give free heart surgeries to the kids. One of them, Angelique, and her wide-eyed gaze becomes the emblem of the group, representing their vulnerability. As the film moves forward, the spotlight is taken off the children and the story quickly spirals into a human rights ad. Nevertheless, this short is sure to make your heart churn over and over.

5. RedemptionThis short is probably the least poignant of the documentaries presented this year. Co-directors Jon Alpert and Matthew O’ Neill, both experienced broadcast journalists, reveal their former professions through the way they unravel their stories. The film focuses on New York city’s “canners.” But Alpert and O’Neill reveal little of each character, only going as far as asking their previous occupation. Beyond handling the camera, there isn’t much more these filmmakers do, and, consequently, no particular voice or message resonates. In a world where documentaries on the homeless are a plenty, Redemption simply floats among them.

These films all pivot around heavy subjects and contain the emotional/mental upheaval that the best films can unleash.  They confront issues that we are all familiar with, but aren’t motivated to do something about it until we come across a related story with a candid viewpoint that plucks at our heartstrings. And this is where documentaries can shine.

Throughout the week, Cornell Cinema will be gearing up for Oscar weekend by screening more Oscar-nominated shorts. Although the documentary category could only be seen on Tuesday night, you can still catch the Animated shorts (Feb. 14,15,16) and Live Action! Shorts (Feb. 16 and 17).

Original Author: Teresa Kim