NY Times February 9, 2012
A Short Stay at Theaters Before the Oscars
By STEPHEN HOLDEN
There is no dearth of troubling subject matter in
the three-part Oscar Nominated Short Films 2012, especially in the
documentary category. The shorts divided into programs for documentary,
live action and animation open on Friday in
more than 200 theaters in the United States and Canada.
The documentary topics include the tsunami that
devastated northeastern Japan last year; a
sickening wartime horror story; and, most
disquieting, attacks on Pakistani women by men hurling acid in their faces.
But each has a silver lining. Unthinkable events
be they catastrophic assaults by nature or acts
of barbarism are easier to tolerate if there is
a countervailing narrative, a glimmer of hope.
And in none of these films do the positive
elements feel forced or sentimental.
Lucy Walker's documentary The Tsunami and the
Cherry Blossom begins with indelible images of
the mammoth March 11 wave, unfolding as a kind of
slow-motion disaster that is almost more than the
eye can take in. The film eventually turns its
attention away from the devastation to examine
the victims' remarkable stoicism, which it traces
to Shinto religious traditions. The tsunami
struck shortly before the spring bloom of cherry
blossoms, a Japanese symbol of hope, continuity and renewal among the ruins.
James Spione's Incident in New Baghdad is
grounded in the resolute, eloquent voice of its
narrator, a United States Army specialist named
Ethan McCord, who witnessed an attack in which
two journalists were killed, along with unarmed
Iraqi civilians, by shots from American
helicopters in 2007. Refused treatment for
post-traumatic stress disorder, he returned to
the United States, where he lectured on the
rights of those traumatized by their experiences at war in the Middle East.
The Barber of Birmingham, directed by Gail
Dolgin and Robin Fryday, is a stirring tribute to
the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement,
black Southern activists like the film's focal
character, James Armstrong. Now in his mid-'80s,
Mr. Armstrong, a barber in Birmingham, Ala.,
rejoices at having lived long enough to see the
election of the first African-American president.
The ravaged faces of the victims of acid attacks
shown in the HBO documentary Saving
Face, directed by Daniel Junge and Sharmeen
Obaid-Chinoy, are almost too painful to look at.
In the film Dr. Mohammad Jawad, a British plastic
surgeon, returns to his Pakistani homeland to
treat the survivors. A woman whose features were
all but erased fights for justice and is
supported by women in the Pakistani Parliament,
which passes a law condemning the perpetrators to life imprisonment.
(Not included in the documentary program because
of licensing issues is the fifth nominated
documentary short, God Is the Bigger Elvis, by
Rebecca Cammisa. The film focuses on Dolores
Hart, who in her early 20s abandoned a Hollywood
career to become a Benedictine nun.)
In the live-action category, The Shore, directed by Terry
George, is an Irish reunion drama set in Belfast,
starring Ciaran Hinds as an expatriate American
who returns home after many years. With its
themes of forgiveness, ties that bind and the
healing effects of time, it has the richness and
humanity of a James Joyce short story.
In Max Zehle's Raju, a German couple go to
India to adopt a 4-year-old orphaned boy. He
vanishes while he and his new father are
observing kites in a crowded city square. The
desperate search for him produces information
that forces the adoptive parents to make an excruciating choice.
Time Freak, written and directed by Andrew
Bowler, is a clever, mind-twisting comic vignette
about a crude time machine. In Peter McDonald's
Pentecost, a mischievous Irish boy gives in to
his impulses to sabotage Sunday Mass. In the
whimsical Norwegian film Tuba Atlantic,
directed by Hallvar Witzo, a 70-year-old man who
is given six days to live tries to contact his
estranged brother in America with the world's
largest tuba, which they had constructed together as children.
The best two animated short nominees the Pixar film La
Luna and The
Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore,
by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg are both
American. La Luna is the fable of a boy who
joins his quarrelsome father and grandfather in a
rowboat that they paddle into the middle of the
sea. A ladder appears, and the boy is instructed
to climb it to the rising moon, which he
discovers is covered with gold stars. This slight
but magical seven-minute film, directed by Enrico
Casarosa, is as luminescent as the golden
fragments these moon sweepers rake into piles.
The Fantastic Flying Books is a wondrous
14-minute allegory about literary imagination
(set to the tune of Pop Goes the Weasel), in
which a Buster Keaton look-alike is whisked by a
storm to a land where books fly off their shelves
in flocks and tow people around in the sky. Here
he finds his new home in a giant nest.
In the Canadian spoof Wild Life, directed by
Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby,
a gung-ho, naive English adventurer moves to
Alberta in 1909 to be a rancher. The film takes a
melancholy turn when he finds himself alone in a harsh wilderness.
The focus of A Morning Stroll, from Grant
Orchard, is a hardy chicken whose daily walk
remains the same, despite surrounding
catastrophic changes. Patrick Doyon's
Dimanche/Sunday examines a family's Sunday
routine through the bored eyes of a child left to amuse himself.
If some of these shorts are stronger than others,
there are no lemons among them, and a half-dozen are truly memorable.
The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2012
Opens on Friday nationwide.
Three programs of short films. Animated short
film program includes Patrick Doyon's
Sunday/Dimanche, William Joyce and Brandon
Oldenburg's Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris
Lessmore, Enrico Casarosa's Luna, Grant
Orchard's Morning Stroll and Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby's Wild Life.
Live-action short film program includes Peter
McDonald's Pentecost, Max Zeele's Raju, Terry
George's Shore, Andrew Bowler's Time Freak
and Hallvar Witzo's Tuba Atlantic.
Documentary short film program includes Lucy
Walker's Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, James
Spione's Incident in New Baghdad, Daniel Junge
and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy's Saving Face and
Gail Dolgin and Robin Fryday's Barber of
Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement.
Released by ShortsHD and Magnolia Pictures. In
Manhattan at the IFC Center, 323 Avenue of the
Americas, at Third Street, Greenwich Village. In
various languages. Animated program running time:
1 hour 20 minutes. Live-action program running
time: 1 hour 50 minutes. Documentary program
running time: 2 hours 10 minutes. These films are not rated.
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