Short films often get short shrift, floating about in obscurity with few hopes of being widely seen. The shorts in this program are the lucky few recently nominated for a 2006 Academy Award. The old canard is that "it's an honor just to be nominated." That may be so many polite words from a shattered loser, but it is true that their status as "nominated" ensures that these shorts get bundled up and screened in movie theaters.
This year, the Oscar-Nominated Shorts program is being released before the awards ceremony scheduled for Sun., Feb. 25, so you'll have all the anticipatory privilege of an Academy member. You won't be able to vote, but at least you can root for your favorite with authority. The films will be presented in two programs, one highlighting the live-action shorts and the other the animated films.
Last year's selection was marked by gloom, darkness and a fair amount of death. It may simply be a coincidence, but the 2006 nominees are a considerably more upbeat lot.
Bringing the Lord to reluctant sinners is never an easy task, and Peter Templeman and Stuart Parkyn's nicely acted "The Saviour" (Australia, 19 min.) offers a wry spin on a pair of Mormon-esque missionaries working a Sydney suburb. "West Bank Story" (USA, 21 min.) grew out of Ari Sandel's final project for the University of Southern California. In this tongue-in-cheek musical comedy set in the milieu of fast food, Sandel grafts the popular West Side Story into the disputed territory between a Palestinian-run Hummus Hut and its neighbor, the Kosher King. It's a joke that runs a trifle too long, but at least it brings peace to the falafel world.
Greater understanding among peoples is also the heart of "Binta and the Great Idea" (Spain, 30 min.), made by Javier Fesser and Luis Manso, in cooperation with UNICEF. The beautifully shot film is set in a rural village in Senegal, with vignettes that emphasize the power of educating children, and the importance of traditions and cultural morés that bind the community.
A pair of deadpan father-son dramedies round out the live-action program. In "Helmer & Son" (Denmark, 12 min.), co-directed by Soren Pilmark and Kim Magnusson, a man is called away from the family business to a nursing home, after his recently admitted father goes missing; his dad is closer than he suspects. And in "Eramos Pocos (One Too Many)" (Spain, 16 min.), a man whose wife recently left him checks his mother-in-law out of a nursing home, hoping that she'll tend the home for himself and his grown son. Their laziness may prove to be an unintended virtue.
The longest of the animated shorts, "The Danish Poet" (Norway/Canada, 15 min.), ponders the joyful coincidences that propel our lives forward. In charming hand-drawn animation sprinkled with wee visual jokes, director Torill Kove details a pair of journeys between Denmark and Norway that find the lives of a novelist, a poet, a farm girl, a student and a hairdresser crisscrossing with happy serendipity. A happy ending is unlikely in Roger Allen and Don Hahn's adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen classic "The Little Matchgirl" (USA, 7 min.), but this Disney venture, with its lush dreamscapes, sketches out what warmth it can.
Next, two computer-animated animals get their due. A penguin is carefully groomed for a public appearance by an articulated arm-cum-dresser in Geza M. Toth's "Maestro" (Hungary, 5 min.). In "No Time for Nuts" (USA, 7 min.), that freaky squirrel-like creature from the Ice Age films, Scrat uncovers a time machine while trying to bury a nut. The last nominated short, "Lifted" (USA, 5 min.), directed by Gary Rydstrom, features a young alien struggling with his first earthling abduction.
A selection of qualifying shorts (not available for preview) will round out the animated program. They include "One Rat Short" (USA, 10 min.), "The Passenger" (Australia, 7 min.), "The Wraith of Cobble Hill" (USA, 15 min.), Bill Plympton's "Guide Dog" (USA, 6 min.) and "Gentlemen's Duel" (USA, 8 min.). The two programs will screen in a double feature Fri., Feb. 16; Sat., Feb. 17; Sun., Feb. 18; and Thu., Feb. 22. Live-action program only screens Mon., Feb. 19, and Wed., Feb. 21. Animated program only screens Tue., Feb. 20. For showtimes: 412-681-5449 or www.pghfilmmakers.org.
Starts Fri., Feb. 16. Harris