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Notes on the Oscar Shorts


by Stephen Becker 26 Feb 2009

Guest blogger Bart Weiss sends this report. Bart is the Artistic Director of the Dallas Video Festival. I hate the Oscars – it’s bad TV about film. The week before you hear talk show hosts that know nothing about film and have maybe seen two of the nominees talk in great length some utter nonsense. […]

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Guest blogger Bart Weiss sends this report. Bart is the Artistic Director of the Dallas Video Festival.

I hate the Oscars – it’s bad TV about film. The week before you hear talk show hosts that know nothing about film and have maybe seen two of the nominees talk in great length some utter nonsense. But I guess it does get some interest in film and will helps ticket sales, and with the impending Screen Actors Guild strike, getting more people in theaters is a good thing. But the show itself goes on forever, and I keep thinking of Roy Sheider’s character in All that Jazz making fun of the pompous nature of award shows with them finishing each tribute with the words, “and he is a great humanitarian.”

But for the last few years one of the nice off-shoots of the telecast is the appearance of the Oscar-nominated live-action and animated shorts in movie theaters. They’ve been playing at the Magnolia Theatre in Dallas, though today is the last day they’ll be there (after that, iTunes is your best bet). Both shows were excellent. The world of short films allows a freedom and freshness that a feature might now have. You have to establish the universe your characters inhabit quickly. The live-action shorts are mostly not that short – to me a 30 to 40 minute film is a short feature, not a short.

When you watch a program of short films, it takes more energy then a feature that you build with. It is not uncommon to fight fatigue after a block, but the diversity and freshness is worth the effort. This year there is a Holocaust short called Toyland, which of course won on Sunday because the Holocaust films always win. But the others are worth the view, all of them. With some shorts you get the feeling that it’s a feature that they didn’t get the money to do. These seem like they were really meant for this length.

The animated films are wondrous to see. Most programmers know that you can’t go wrong with animation. Some of these programs are funny updates on the old cartoon, and some are serious and poetic. Almost all have that sense of an individual taking on or being trounced by the world around them. Animators more than any other kind of filmmakers can do more themselves – they don’t need gaffers and grips, so their work tends to be more introspective. The themes and approaches to these sets of animated films are the same this year as they have been for the last 30, but the technology has made it easier for them to look better, and they do.

In the theater, these films were interrupted by quotes from famous people telling you how great shorts are.  I found the quotes totally annoying –  you could see that they are and were great. I mean, do you really need a laugh track to tell you that something is funny.

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  • Cathy

    I agree with Jennifer. LOVED La Maison.

    Sure wish that along with the animated and live action shorts, a theater would also offer the nominated documentary shorts…