Believe it or not, the century-old film business is undergoing a time of great change. New technologies, fast-moving political and social issues, new distribution platforms and so much other change demand new ways of telling meaningful, relevant stories.
But the best place to see these changes wouldn’t be among the feature-length nominees.
Instead, to see the future of long-form movies, watch this year’s shortest Oscar candidates. Soon enough, these stories, their creators, and the technologies they use will all be routinely part of the movies we watch.
The fifteen films nominated in the shorts categories for live-action, animation and documentaries represent a startling array of creative endeavors, providing a thrilling window into what’s coming for the film industry, and for all of us, over the next few years.
Shorts are where the medium started in the early 1900s and, because of their relatively low cost and short germination periods, allow a wide range of nimble, innovative filmmakers to experiment wildly, chasing fast-breaking technologies and stories, and pushing the industry forward.
This is nowhere more true than in the new technologies used to create the animated short nominees. Feature-length animated films require a daunting level of investment and time. Shorts, by contrast, allow a far more cost-effective way of building the skill sets, production processes and efficient workflows needed to tell sophisticated tales in new ways. It’s no accident, for instance, that animation giant Pixar got its start making shorts as it developed its revolutionary methods of 3D computer-generated storytelling.
Accordingly, this year’s animated short nominees use a wide variety of technologies and styles. “Pearl,” for instance, is the first 360-degree virtual reality film whose linear director’s cut has been nominated for an Oscar. It’s also the first nomination from Google. But “Pearl” is hardly the only nominated animator tapping new or different technologies.
Pixar’s “Piper” took home the Oscar for best animated short last night, and is the world’s first successful marriage of photorealistic animation with more traditional 3D character animation. “Pear Cider & Cigarettes”, an angular 2D noir, is the Academy’s first nomination straight out of a modern graphic novel, an updated and fast-moving version of comic books past. “Borrowed Time” is a beautiful 3D computer-generated film but is unusual for the medium, a tale of regret and memory set in the American West of the 19th Century. And the allegory “Blind Vaysha”, adapted from a story by Georgi Gospodinov, updates the style of 14th-century woodcuts into a modern film.
But revolutionary animation techniques are not the only thing creating buzz around this year’s short-film nominees.
The short documentaries explore subject matter of the greatest relevance and urgency, their relatively modest costs and lengths allowing filmmakers to quickly respond to and explore major issues.
Three of the five documentary nominees focus on the Syrian civil war and related refugee issues: “Watani – My Homeland” follows a Syrian family from combat in Aleppo to refugee status in Germany; the New York Times Op Doc “4.1 Miles” explores the impact of Syrian refugees as they cross the sea from Turkey to Greece against perilous odds; and Netflix’s “White Helmets” shows in riveting detail the lives of Syrian civilian rescuers who respond to government bombings.
This tour de force of documentary filmmaking is rounded out by “Joe’s Violin”, an emotional story of a holocaust survivor and former refugee who donates his violin to charity and its impact on the life of an underprivileged young New Yorker, and “Extremis”, about end-of-life decisions and the impact of life-saving technology. Both provide fascinating insights into modern-day challenges.
The Live Action nominees, alongside the Foreign Language Film Award, are the Oscars’ most international category. All 5 nominees hail from beyond the United States, and feature a host of emerging international talent, whether handling timely stories or updating old Hollywood movie formats.
Three of the live-action shorts are timely – “Ennemis Interieurs” (“Enemies Within”) from France, “Silent Nights,” from Denmark, and “Sing” (“Mindenki”) from Hungary – tackle issues facing refugees, immigrants and outsiders. With Hollywood swooning over the classic musicals recalled in “La La Land,” “Timecode” from Spain brings a very different and very modern take on dance, while “La Femme et Le TGV” explores a new role for Jane Birkin, one of French cinema’s greatest actresses.
This year’s diverse palette of films is also where we once again see the widest array of nominated filmmakers. There are more female director nominees than any feature film category and nearly half the nominated shorts were made by international filmmakers.
Great movies. New techniques. Challenging insights. Diverse, global talent.
This year’s Oscar Nominated shorts represent some of its best filmmaking and filmmakers, while showcasing truly exciting developments in the art and science of the industry. Some may say TV is eclipsing feature filmmaking, but the Oscar Shorts portend a bright future indeed.
About the Author
Carter Pilcher is CEO and founder of the ShortsHD network and a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.