Previewing Academy Award-nominated short films on his home TV makes Richard Beer hungry to get back to the cinema where he can see the same small features on a properly vast screen.
Beer, the programming manager at Vancouver’s Kiggins Theatre, said his cinema’s recent quarter-capacity reopening for a St. Patrick’s Day screening of “The Quiet Man” (with live bagpipe music) was a big success, and he’s looking forward to welcoming more moviegoers back into the theater.
Now that Clark County has reached the third phase of the state’s pandemic reopening plan, local movie theaters can operate at 50 percent capacity as long as there’s still 6 feet between masked-up audience members.
“We’ll just have to wait and see who comes back,” Beer said. “We were delighted at how ‘The Quiet Man’ went.”
Audience masking and distancing were no problem at all, he said, as people were just happy to be inside a theater.
“They followed the rules and bought a lot of concessions. It was great for us,” he said.
There’s no better welcome back than this year’s crop of so-called “Oscar Shorts,” Beer said, which open Friday at both the Kiggins and at Camas’ independent Liberty Theatre. (The Kiggins is also streaming these features, so if you prefer to stay home you can still rent them online and watch on your TV or device.)
The Oscar Shorts are bundled for viewing in three categories: animation, documentaries and live-action features. The animated films average 11 minutes long; documentary and live-action films average about double that.
Beer said he’s always loved short films because they require discipline and sharp, careful storytelling. Many tiresome two-hour films have one strong 15-minute film embedded inside of them, he said.
“It’s like reading a short story versus digging into ‘War and Peace,’ ” he said. “The delightful thing is, if something isn’t grabbing you, you can just wait a few minutes for the next thing.”
But this year’s Oscar Shorts will grab you because they’re stronger than ever, Beer said. You can probably thank the pandemic for that, he added, as major movie studios stopped making and distributing new films. That left more room for smaller, independent filmmakers to get interesting things done – and get some attention for it.
“I was happy that a lot more indie films were released last year – a lot of really quality stuff,” he said. “No huge blockbusters but a really nice, diverse, interesting lineup.”
Hope and play
It’s an across-the-board good year for indie cinema, Beer said, but here are the professional movie programmer’s favorite 2021 Oscar Shorts.
• “Opera,” a nine-minute Korean animation that seems to survey all of human life and activity while rolling up and down a perpetual-motion mural of dazzling, nightmarish complexity.
“I can’t wait to see that one on a big screen. It was so thrilling, so original,” said Beer. “My brain just didn’t know where to look. I don’t care how big your TV screen is at home – this one needs a big screen.”
• “Two Distant Strangers,” a 25-minute time-twister about racism, police violence and fate starring a Black man determined to get home to his dog and the white cop who keeps getting in his way. Beer described the surreal, cyclical story as “a socially conscious version of (the Bill Murray classic) ‘Groundhog Day’.”
“There are surprises that take the narrative in so many different directions,” Beer said. “It’s a pretty heavy message but it’s done in such a life-affirming way, you feel good watching it. There’s a sense of hope and play.”
• “Do Not Split,” a documentary that takes viewers inside recent protests against Chinese takeover of Hong Kong. “You feel like you’re in the middle of a riot,” Beer said.
He added that drone photography has added new dimension to documentaries. Drone-filmed destruction in “Hunger Ward,” a powerful film about war and famine in Yemen, is more chilling than anything he’s ever seen before, he said.
“I had to stop it three times to take a break,” Beer said.
Back to the movies
Beer is cautiously encouraged by audience response to the “The Quiet Man,” but nervous about the ever-increasingly complexity and competition of the cinema business.
The biggest problem remains TV-based streaming services and all they offer the home viewer, he said.
“There’s just so much competition,” he said. “So much going on with Hulu and Netflix and HBO Max and Disney+.”
Last year, the Kiggins tried training patrons to rent films from its own “virtual screening room” and stream them at home, but that was never very successful, Beer said.
“There were many different platforms and each had its own quirks. It was pretty discombobulating,” he said. “We never thought of it as a huge income generator. We just wanted to stay connected to folks.”
Kiggins will continue streaming a few films that can’t be found anywhere else, but its focus will continue to be great films and great times in the theater, he said. Look for the return of the Kiggins’ film-noir-and-red-wine series, Noir Nights, in May.