Best Director. Best Actress and Actor. Best Picture. The ultimate honors for greatness in full-length feature films. They’re why some folks wait out the extremely full length of that annual spectacle of showbiz self-congratulation known as the Academy Awards — scheduled this year for Feb. 26 and expected to last well over three hours, as always. (Other folks just cannot learn to care.)
You don’t have to wait in order to catch up with the very best of all the rest: “minor” movies that don’t get screened at the local megaplex, but are great enough to get nominated for lower-profile Academy Awards. If your usual movie experience is all about bigness — big stars, big superheroes, big explosions — then you owe it to yourself to check out these Oscar-Nominated Short Films.
“It’s really hard to make a good short film,” said Richard Beer, the director of programming at the Kiggins Theatre in downtown Vancouver. He takes in hundreds of short films every year as a juror for various film festivals, and Beer sees the short film as a truly tough challenge in resisting familiar dramatic formulas while staying tightly focused and compressed. His personal favorites, he said, are the ones that declare their originality immediately, with no time wasted in introductions or preliminaries — they just drop you into a different world.
Most of the 2017 Oscar-nominated shorts are foreign films.
“They have more respect for shorts in other countries,” Beer said. “They have government funding. In France, England, Ireland, Scotland, they have national film commissions.” Public arts funding in the U.S., by contrast, is always meager and always under some degree of political threat; the Trump Administration has said that the National Endowment for Arts, the National Endowment for Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting may all be on the chopping block.
Nonetheless, Beer said, short films are gaining popularity in the U.S. thanks to the recent spread of film festivals. In Portland alone, he said, there’s a festival just about every weekend of the year, celebrating just about any subject and style you can think of: comedy, music, international, LGBTQ, women, Germany, Italy, Africa, motorcycles, bicycles — even homemade horror-and-gore.
If You Go
2017 Oscar-Nominated Short Films
At the Kiggins Theatre
• Program: Animation
• When: 6:30 p.m. Feb. 10, 14; 4:30 and 8:15 p.m. Feb. 11, 13, 15; 3:30 and 7:15 p.m. Feb. 12.
• Program: Documentaries program “A.”
• When: 8:30 p.m. Feb. 10, 14; 2:40 and 6:30 p.m. Feb. 11; 1:40 and 5:30 p.m. Feb. 12; 6:30 p.m. Feb. 13; 4:45 p.m. Feb. 14.
• Opening Feb. 17: Live-Action and Documentaries program “B.” See website for schedule.
• Where: 1011 Main St., Vancouver.
• Tickets: $9, except $6 on Mondays. $30 pass for all four programs.
• On the web: www.kigginstheatre.net
At the Liberty Theatre
• Program: Animation
• When: 6:15 p.m. Feb. 10; 3:40 p.m. Feb. 11; 2:25 p.m. Feb. 12; 8:05 p.m. Feb. 14.
• Program: Documentary
• When: 10:30 a.m. Feb. 11; 7 p.m. Feb. 15.
• Program: Live action
• When: 1:40 p.m Feb. 11; 11 a.m. Feb. 12; 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14.
• Where: 315 N.E. 4th Avenue, Camas.
• Tickets: $4.50 before 6 p.m.; $5.50 for 6 p.m. and later; all shows always $3.50 on Mondays & Tuesdays.
• On the web: www.camasliberty.com
“There are so many festivals, and they’re all needing content,” he said. “There’s lots of opportunity for new talent. A lot of them get their first exposure at film festivals.”
Some ambitious filmmakers see short films as “calling cards” that will get them work in Hollywood, Beer added. “You make one right out of film school, you move on to the next ‘Iron Man’,” he said. But other filmmakers adopt the short as their life’s work, he said.
The Liberty Theatre in Camas and the Kiggins will start screening the Oscar-nominated shorts this weekend in their nomination categories: documentary, live-action and animation. All the documentary and live-action films are 15 to 30 minutes long or even longer; all but one of the animated films are shorter than 10 minutes. When you tally up those different categories, you come up with very different run times.
That’s why the relatively quick animation program (87 minutes) has been beefed up with three additional films that were “short-listed” but aren’t actual Oscar contenders this year. And that’s why the Kiggins has broken the long documentary program (161 minutes) into halves that will screen separately. (Not the Liberty, which believes in your documentary stamina.) The resulting schedules are “a little confusing,” Beer acknowledged, “but we’re trying to screen all of them as often as possible before the Oscars.”
This year’s documentaries are particularly vital and newsy, Beer said: three of them are unflinching, up-to-the-moment explorations of the ongoing civil war in Syria and the global refugee crisis it has unleashed. “4.1 Miles,” in Documentary Program A, follows a Greek Coast Guard captain and his crew as they are repeatedly summoned, on a single day in 2015, to save refugees from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. Filmmaker Daphne Matziaraki clambered all over the boat with her camera while the real lives were saved — and lost.
Similarly, a pair of documentaries in Program B are all about Syria. “The White Helmets” follows volunteer rescue workers through the war-torn city of Aleppo, while “Wanati: My Homeland” tells the Syria story through the lives of one extended family as they endure the violence and then flee for Germany.
“Those are all really powerful,” Beer said.
The animated and live-action movies are no less amazing, he added. In particular, Beer likes a quiet, dreamy live-action Spanish film called “Timecode,” which follows the unlikeliest of stories: love blossoming between bored parking-garage security guards. A similar story of unlikely connection is “La Femme et le TGV” (“The Woman and the High-Speed Train”), linking a lonely lady and the express-train conductor who zooms past her house every day. And “Silent Nights” is about love — and secrets — between a homeless man and a shelter volunteer.
There’s always a cute Pixar nominee in the animation category, Beer said, and this year is no different. But parents should be aware that animation does not automatically mean pink ponies. “Blind Vaysha” is a strange fantasy about a girl whose eyes see the past and the future, but never the present. And “Pear Cider and Cigarettes,” based on a popular graphic novel, is a 35-minute animated feature that’s heavy on sex, drugs and violence; it’s the final piece in the animation lineup, and parents can expect an on-screen reminder, before it begins, that it is definitely not suitable for children.
Many Oscar-nominated documentaries eventually appear online, Beer said, but the short animations and live-action films usually don’t. This may be your only chance to see them.