The importance of Oscar's short films

Sunday, January 31, 2016 - 5:08pm

If there is one commonality between this year’s Oscar nominated live-action shorts, it's that they are all depressing — but in the best of ways. In such a small period of time, the shorts are able to evoke real, heartfelt emotion. The miniature movies — powerful, thought provoking and often political — leave one wanting more from their storytellers. All five of the nominees hold their own while telling drastically different tales. The nominees are “Ave Maria,” “Shok,” “Everything Will Be Okay,” “Stutterer” and “Day One.”

The short film is a peculiar medium in which the storyteller must get in, do their thing, and get out all within 40 minutes or less as regulated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Yet, beautiful stories are able to be told through the short film.

What makes a good short film, however, is not necessarily what makes a good movie. A short film must be wholly unique, something never been seen on the screen, or at the least a very original take on something that has. To be successful, the short film can’t simply be some action scene for twenty minutes and then be over. It must ask a question of the audience. It must make them empathize. It must make them think and respond to the question posed.

Ultimately, the short film is like a personal statement from the director and the storytelling team. They demonstrate their prowess and potential as filmmakers. A short should give insight into what kind of interesting and creative stories these individuals tell, how they tell them, perhaps even why they tell them and most importantly, what kind of films they are capable of making in the future. A short film is in itself a work of art but it is also an essential marketing mechanism for the filmmakers. Shorts that are successful in the award circuits often create opportunity for filmmakers in the feature length movie world. Those truly exceptional shorts keep the audience wanting more, wanting a feature from its creators.

The majority of the nominees this year did just that.

“Ave Maria” is a dark, comical encounter in which a family of religious Jews’ car breaks down and they must seek help and work together with a group of nuns who have taken a vow of silence. The short is thought provoking about the situation in the West Bank while simultaneously being humorous.

Perhaps the most depressing of all the short films is “Shok.” It is the story of two young boys growing up and trying to survive during the Kosovo War. “Shok” was powerful, making the audience cringe, and react. For those unfamiliar with this conflict, the short makes one only want to learn more.

The German-Austrian co-production “Everything Will Be Okay” starts with a divorced husband picking up his daughter from her mother’s house and later, he tries to steal her away. The film depicts fatherly love in a unique way but the short was, as a whole, slightly boring. It drags on; but perhaps, the film intentionally does so as the father clings onto the last of his relationship with his daughter.

“Stutterer,” the shortest short lasting only 12 minutes, is a depiction of the inner life of someone who stutters. It is touching, sad and cute. Although the film is about a stutterer, the emotions evoked are universal.

The only American short nominated is “Day One” in which the audience sees a glimpse into the first day on the job of an interpreter for the United States Army. The short is jarring. It twists and turns and keeps the viewer at the edge of their seat waiting to know what happens next.

Although the Oscars as whole may lack diversity, the shorts do not. They tell a wide array of stories, quite different than the films nominated for best picture. The shorts are, for the most part, excellent and may point in the direction the Oscars, and film at large, will take in the future.