Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live Action (2018)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
Always a great presentation and fantastic trip to the movies, you have to look fast because the short films are only in theaters for a few weeks, prior to the Oscars.
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.
Every year, the ballot busters for Oscar pools and Oscar parties are the short film categories. Some advocate for their removal from the televised ceremony. Others seek them out e very February and celebrate the creativity that lies within each slate of nominees. I, for one, love uncovering these each year, as well as other short films which gain traction within the industry and hope to make it to the highest stage possible – the Academy Awards.
Each year, ShortsTV and Shorts International secure the rights to the 15 short film nominees in the Animation, Live Action, and Documentary Short Subject categories and release them as individual screening packages in theaters. The week before the Oscars, they shift them to digital platforms for people to buy and watch at home.
The Short Film packages have proven wildly popular. Each year, the box office numbers have grown and the mini-film festival idea has really caught hold with Oscarwatchers, and those genuinely curious about the potential next wave of storytellers and filmmakers out in the world.
Before these nominees received theatrical distribution in 2005, the short film nominees were nearly impossible to find. Now, we cannot envision an Oscar season without them playing at a theater near us.
And so, without any further ado, let's dive into this year’s nominees for Best Live Action Short Film.
DeKalb Elementary | 21 Minutes
Directed by Reed Van Dyk
Masterful in how it places you in the palm of its hand and makes you feel like your soul can be crushed at any moment, DeKalb Elementary, written and directed by Reed Van Dyk, takes a nightmarish situation and allows it to unfold in real-time in a surprising and novel way.
Right after school begins at DeKalb, a secretary is greeted by a 20-something man, who quietly and calmly pulls out a rifle. At once, we anticipate and expect the worst, and Van Dyk's film is based on an actual 911 call that took place in Atlanta, Georgia. The man (Bo Mitchell) begins pacing around the office, barking orders, and demanding that he wants the police to arrive.
Tarra Riggs stars as the woman stuck in an untenable situation, but as the man shows himself to be struggling with a lot, she provides a nurturing, tone, eerily calm in how she navigates conversations with the man and the 911 dispatcher.
If anyone wants to understand how to set mood and atmosphere, DeKalb Elementary nails it perfectly. By the end, we see a situation conclude, a cathartic release of emotion play out, and then we are left to weigh the film's unanswered questions about mental health, school safety, and how fragile we are as a society right now.
The Eleven O'Clock | 11 Minutes
Directed by Derin Seale
Levity is appreciated in this slate and Derin Seale's The Eleven O'Clock is a wickedly funny and clever sketch about a psychiatrist preparing for his next appointment - the proverbial Eleven O'Clock.
Once the stage is set and the doctor waits for his patient, a different man, with a briefcase and suit, arrives to his office, ready to meet his Eleven O'Clock.
So, who's the doctor? Who's the patient? And where is Donna?
The Eleven O'Clock is something that easily could have worked brilliantly in an old episode of "Monty Python's Flying Circus", or been a great inclusion within an episode of "The Office" or "The IT Crowd", for example. Overall, the cadence and delivery of the lines comes lightning quick, and even if I was able to figure out what was happening, I still was questioning things right up until the end.
My Nephew Emmett | 20 Minutes
Directed by Kevin Wilson, Jr.
What exists here is great, but My Nephew Emmett really should be a longer project, exploring the final hours in the life of Emmett Till, a, African-American teenager who was lynched by a gang of white men in 1955 for whistling at a white woman in a convenience store. Till's story is canon in the legacy of the Civil Rights movement in this country and writer/director Kevin Wilson, Jr. takes a rather unique angle in telling this story.
Rather than share this from Emmett's perspective, we live through these last hours by way of Emmett's Uncle Mose (L.B. Williams), who looks as if he is seen a ghost when he learns of Emmett's behavior at the local store. Wilson, Jr. has crafted a strong film, but one whose running time undercuts the impact it is trying to convey. The acting is terrific, Jasmine Guy is here in a supporting turn (!), and watching Williams' performance as Mose is riveting. And yet, the movie unravels a bit with an accelerated conclusion that leaves the film feeling incomplete.
Perhaps Wilson, Jr. can find a way to explore this more in depth, because an Emmett Till movie like this would be a fantastic and powerful story to tell to the masses.
The Silent Child | 19 Minutes
Directed by Chris Overton
Perhaps the finest short in the entire slate, regardless of category, Chris Overton's The Silent Child is a tremendous film, starring Rachel Shenton, who wrote the screenplay based, in part, on growing up with a father who became deaf when she was 12 years old.
Shenton stars as Joanne, a social worker hired by 4-year-old Libby's parents. Libby (Maisie Sly) is deaf and isolates herself, seldom interacting with her family. With two older hearing-abled children and two working parents, Libby gets lost in the shuffle and it is her mother, Sue (Rachel Fielding), who brings Joanne into the fold.
Soon, Joanne starts making progress and a new side of Libby begins to emerge. She is communicating, happy, expressive, and as happy as Joanne is to share these breakthroughs with Sue, Libby's mother starts to become resentful and upset by a bond that she has not yet been able to create for herself.
The Silent Child hooks you right from the start and Sly, deaf in real-life and just 5 years old at the time of filming, is a stunning discovery, a natural on screen. Shenton offers a terrific performance and the film finds a way to tell a story that allows each main character their own chance to become a three-dimensional character. Shenton and Overton create a film that never feels rushed or has to rely on shortcuts to get through the limited time they have to tell their story.
I could see this expanded into a feature-length project, and the chemistry generated between Shenton and Sly is tremendous. When it comes to Academy voters watching these nominees and choosing the movie that hits them in the feels, it is going to be hard to vote against The Silent Child.
Watu Wote (All Of Us) | 22 Minutes
Directed by Katja Bernath
The politically-charged entry in this year's slate, and winner of a Student Academy Award last summer, Watu Wote (All Of Us), recreates a true story where a woman, riding a bus in northeastern Kenya, near the border of Somalia, sees her bus hijacked by members of the al-Shabaab terrorist network.
Directed by the talented Katja Bernath, the woman (Adelyne Wairimu) has a hatred for Muslims, as she remains anguished from a Muslim-led terrorist attack which killed her husband and son. As a proud Christian woman, she finds her view of the world at odds with the situation she finds herself in on this fateful bus ride.
al-Shabaab members board the bus and demand that the Christians be identified, as they will be killed. What transpires on the bus is perhaps predictable, but still riveting, when the Muslims on board take a stand against the jihadists, creating a tense and untenable anxiety among the passengers.
Bernath builds her story well and the screenplay by Julia Drache, Alexander Ikawah, and Brian Munene keeps us on edge. We have heard dozens of these kind of stories, but few quite like this. Watu Wote is the latest in a long line of short films which have focused on conflicts in and around the Middle East in a post-9/11 world, but the film is exceptionally well made and the mix of professional and non-professional actors makes this a unique and compelling experience.
The Academy did a fantastic job with this slate of nominees. Each film makes a case for being in the category and there is not a bad film in the bunch. My Nephew Emmett is hurt by its run time - it needs to be longer to really deliver a proper impact. Watu Wote is exceptionally well-made, while The Eleven O'Clock is the lone entry with some levity and humor.
At the top of the pile for me: DeKalb Elementary, and its sobering, surprising look at the all-too frequent horrors of campus violence and The Silent Child, which I would bet walks home with the Oscar on March 4, as it is a truly memorable and moving film that hits you right in the heart.
CAST & CREW
Directors: Reed Van Dyk (DeKalb Elementary), Derin Seale (The Eleven O'Clock), Kevin Wilson, Jr. (My Nephew Emmett), Chris Overton (The Silent Child), Katja Benrath (Watu Wote - All of Us)
Release Date: February 9, 2018, with VOD availability on February 27, 2018