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Short films wow at DPAC

| Monday, February 3, 2014

ShortFilms_BannerERIN RICE | The Observer

Last Friday and Saturday, the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center’s (DPAC) Browning Cinema screened the nominees for the Best Short Film categories in the upcoming Academy Awards.

The short films from all three categories — Animated, Live Action and Documentary — were shown throughout the weekend in a special theater limited release that gave Oscar enthusiasts a look at the contenders.The five nominees from the Animated category this Friday gave a diverse snapshot of the world of animation, with a great range in both style and content. From a silly story about a witch based off of the children’s book “Room on the Broom” to minimalistic animation and heavy themes in “Feral,” about a boy raised in the woods then brought into civilization, the shorts exemplify just how many directions the animated format can move.

The Animated category’s likely winner is “Get a Horse,” the Disney short seen at the beginning of new film “Frozen,” which combines classic 1920s Mickey Mouse animation with fun, modern manipulations (much like previously-nominated Disney short “Day and Night”). Though not as interesting or complex as others in the category, the short is fun and happy enough and will unfortunately probably take the Oscar.

DPAC showed the Live Action nominees Friday. Again, the films represented an array of genres, reminding us that a shorter run time doesn’t mean compromised style. On the contrary, standout Live Action short “Just Before Losing Everything” used all of its 29 minutes to build up suspense in ways a feature film could never do. The French short, about a woman and her two children escaping an abusive husband, keeps the audience on the edge of their seat.

Similarly, Live Action shorts “That Wasn’t Me” and “The Voorman Problem” both involved some gripping tension, albeit for very different reasons. The former is a Spanish film about aid workers who meet a child soldier in an (perhaps reprehensibly) unspecified African country. The latter is a star-studded, cerebral comedy starring Martin Freeman of “The Hobbit” as a prison psychologist and Tom Hollander as an inmate who claims he is a god.

The remaining nominees in the category were a bit more lighthearted, with Finnish short “Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?” about a mother attempting to get her family ready for a wedding, and the sappy and over-the-top Danish “Helium,” about a hospital janitor befriending a terminal child.

The films in the final Short Film category, Documentary, screened Saturday and explored a number of profound topics. Because the documentaries are usually longer than their animated and live action cousins, the entire screening is more than a little lengthy. Running 184 minutes total for the five nominees, watching all of them in one screening is demanding — be warned — but what makes the three hour-long viewing possible is the emotional intensity in each one of the films.

The documentary shorts include “CaveDigger,” which follows manic “cave sculptor” Ra Paulette as he pursues his art of making enormous caves in New Mexico. While Paulette frantically carves out caves with a wheelbarrow strapped to his back, he is sharply contrasted by Jack Hall, the subject of another nominated short, “Prison Terminal.” The film follows Hall, a terminally ill inmate in the highest security prison in the United States, during his last six months.

“Karama Has No Walls,” about the events surrounding the Yemeni revolution in 2011, provides vivid images of Yemen and the tent village set up during the revolution three years ago as well as intimate interviews with those involved or impacted by the tragic day when a pro-government group opened fire on a protest.

“Facing Fear” is the unlikely story of a gay man who, by chance, met the neo-Nazi skinheads who attacked him 25 years ago. The film is an emotional tale about empathy, fear and forgiveness.

But the standout documentary and probable winner is “The Lady in Number 6: Music Changed My Life,” which examines the life of 109 year old Alice Herz Sommer, the world’s oldest pianist, as she doles out wisdom, shares the power of music and explains how, during the Holocaust, music kept her alive.

The short films may not get much attention at the Academy Awards, but these nominees were often compelling, heartbreaking and thoroughly entertaining. And don’t worry, if you missed the one-time screening of these shorts, all of the nominees will be available on Vimeo On Demand and on iTunes on Feb. 25. With the diversity of films between the three categories, you’re sure to find something you’ll like.

Contact Allie Tollaksen at atollaks@nd.edu

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About Allie Tollaksen

Scene Editor. Senior studying Psychology and dabbling in everything else.

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