For some filmmakers, the short film is a proving ground to help raise funding to make a feature-length movie. For students, it's a way to learn the technology and hone the tricks of the trade necessary to have a career in the industry. And for many homegrown filmmakers toiling around the world, the short is a way to scratch a creative itch: to tell that one story inside.
In other words, it's not a novelty. The proof is on display this weekend when this year's crop of Oscar-nominated shorts will be screened at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. The program is presented by the local film festival organization On Location: Memphis. All five nominees for Best Short Film, Live Action and five for Best Short Film, Animated will be screened.
The live-action nominees include a trio of modern-day nightmares, a black-as-death joke, and a palate-cleansing comedy.
Kavi is set in present-day India and shines its light on slavery in the world's second-most populated country. Kavi (Sagar Salunke) is a little boy who is subjected to back-breaking, skin-tearing work making bricks to help his father pay off a debt. In the distance he sees other kids playing cricket, and he longs to be one of them. "School is for rich kids," Kavi is told by the slave-camp master. "But cricket is for everyone," Kavi responds.
There's one word that's never uttered in The Door that informs and colors everything in it: Chernobyl. Igor Sigov stars as Nikolai, a father and husband who must flee with his family from their home following the 1986 nuclear disaster. What they don't realize at the time is that the refugees are "ticking time bombs" evacuated into the world.
Okay, Miracle Fish might be a little tough, too. For his 8th birthday, Joe (Karl Beattie) is given a little wish-fulfilling fish novelty by his father. Joe suffers at the hands of grade-school bullies, who taunt him and call his family poor, so he hides in the nurse's office and takes a nap. He wakes to find that everyone in the school has disappeared. There's a book about alien abductions left behind. Is that a clue? Joe doesn't care. He's happy to be by himself. He's not alone, though.
Strangely, The New Tenants ties these other three together. It opens with a two-and-a-half-minute rant from Frank (essayist/actor David Rakoff), sitting at a kitchen table with his partner/roommate Peter (Jamie Harrold), who has heard it all before. Right now, somewhere else in the world, people are dying horrible deaths. Every moment of every day: misery and biological expiration. The couple then proceeds to be interrupted by a series of other tenants.
Instead of Abracadabra is different: It's about 25-year-old amateur magician Tomas (Simon Berger), who still lives with his parents, and no one dies. It's kind of a Swedish Napoleon Dynamite.
On the Animated side, the mainstay animated characters Wallace and Gromit anchor the field. The oblivious Wallace and his ingenious dog Gromit return in A Matter of Loaf and Death, another in Nick Park's multiple-Oscar-winning films. There's also a screed by an old woman who's bitter about being cast aside by the younger generation (Grammy O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty), a comic tug-of-war between a doctor and death (The Lady and the Reaper), a karmic comeuppance for a man who has lost his wallet and can't pay for his coffee (French Roast), and, best of all, a brilliant rendering of L.A. as a cacophony of corporate logos caught up in an action disaster plot like only Hollywood could imagine (Logorama) — worth the price of admission.