The Trenton Film Society is cueing up the films for its annual popular screenings of Oscar nominated shorts.
The three-day event that opens on Thursday, February 19, is a lead-in to the 87th Academy Awards on Sunday, February 22, televised live around the world.
The Academy Awards program is produced by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a professional honorary group that recognizes the science and art involved with making films. Members of the academy are appointed by a board of governors who represent 17 divisions that are annually awarded, ranging from best feature film director to sound effects.
The Oscar Shorts category celebrates the art of brevity in film making. To qualify films move a story arc along in less than 40 minutes, compared to their two-hour or more blockbuster counterparts. The reality is that in the time it takes to watch one Oscar-nominated movie, a viewer could see four or five of these films.
The 2015 presentation at the Mill Hill Playhouse is divided into the following categories: Documentary (Thursday, February 19, starting at 6:30 p.m., and Friday, February 20, at 7:30 p.m.), Live Action (Saturday, February 21, at 11:30 a.m., 3:40 p.m., and 7:50 p.m.), and Animated (Saturday, February 21, at 9:40 a.m., 1:50 p.m., and 6 p.m.).
While the voting block for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science is 94 percent Caucasian, 77 percent male, and 54 percent over the age of 60 — demographics that produce results that have left the voting body open for criticism for its general mainstream sensibilities — the less visible Oscar Shorts category seems more unpredictable and seemingly opens the door to anyone who has a compelling story to tell and tells it well.
The Animated Shorts range from only 3 to 20 minutes long but have a goal of making a lasting impression in theme, artistry, and storytelling. Given that animation is a purer visual art form that is not bound to physical reality, anything is possible.
The nominees for animated shorts are:
A Single Life comes from the Dutch directing team of Job Roggeveen, Joris Oprins, and Marieke Blaauw. In the film, a magical vinyl single record provides a young woman with the power to move back and forth through the various times of her life. All in two minutes.
The Bigger Picture, a seven-minute British film directed by Daisy Jacobs and produced by Christopher Hees, uses 2-D animation and stop motion simultaneously to tell the story of two brothers caring for their elderly mother. It’s like a David Hockney/Wallace and Grommit mash up with brilliant results.
Dam Keeper is the film by the former Pixar artist and director, Robert Kondo and Daisuke Tsutsumi, who have started their own studio, Tonko House. The film is about a young pig windmill operator that keeps a village safe from poisonous gases. Tsutsumi links the story to the tale of the Dutch boy who keeps his finger in the dike to ward off a flood. However, here the pig, despite his efforts, is mistreated by villagers and classmates. Yet when a new student arrives on the scene everything changes. The 18-minute story is disarmingly innocent considering the devastating environmental and social themes.
Feast is Disney’s six-minute story of the relationship between a young man and the stray puppy he takes in, told through the food the dog receives. Available images squarely connect the film with past animated Disney dog films such as “Lady and the Tramp.”
Me and Moulton was made in collaboration with the Canadian National Film Board and Norwegian animator Torill Kove. Charmingly simple animation is used to tell the 14-minute story of three sisters living in a Norwegian village in the 1960s and whose lives are complicated by angst-producing unconventional and modernist parents. The sisters’ lives and affections are complicated when instead of receiving bicycles like everyone else, they get is a Moulton, a modernist parent approved, two-wheeled “not normal” bike.
Oscar Live Actions Shorts are more conventional in approach, yet by being restricted to 40 minutes they can be seen as more focused mini- masterpieces.
Leading the list is Aya. The English/French/Israeli and Danish collaboration brings together an Israeli woman and Danish man who are traveling to a classical music competition in Jerusalem. Taking place mainly in a car, the 39-minute film is a thoughtful, authentic, and revealing conversation between strangers.
Boogaloo and Graham is a British film about two brothers growing up in Belfast, Ireland, in the 1970s, an era dubbed “the troubles” (referring to the bloody conflicts with the Irish Republican Army). It is an endearing and quirky film that takes its name from the boys’ pet chickens. The comical relationship between the brothers and the birds incongruously clashes with the city’s gritty, war-torn streets. Run time is 14 minutes.
Butter Lamp is a surreal collaboration between French, Chinese, and Tibetan filmmakers. A nomadic photographer uses his own style of “green screen” to photograph Tibetan villagers. The premise of the 15-minute film is simple, but the results are not, and the villagers suddenly see themselves in spaces they have never imagined: Disney World, an American McMansion, the Beijing Olympics, and more.
Parvaneh, a 25-minute film directed by Iranian Talkhon Hazavi, is a Swiss/Dari and German production about a young Afghan refugee in Switzerland. In her struggle to send money to her ailing parents in Afghanistan she befriends a disillusioned Swiss teenager,
The Phone Call stars Academy Award-winning British character actor Jim Broadbent and Golden Globe winner Sally Hawkins in an emotionally wrenching 21-minute film about a young woman who works at an emergency hotline. Her first call of the day is with a desperately frightened and suicidal widower.
The final short category is documentaries and includes the following films.
Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 is an HBO film that examines traumas experienced by American veterans. The 39-minute work provides a look at the trained responders who are on the front line of providing intervention and support to save the lives of those who served and have now have nowhere to turn.
Joanna, a 40-minute Polish film by director Aneta Kopacz, portrays the simple and meaningful moments in the life of a family as a young woman with an untreatable illness promises her child that she will do her best to live for as long as possible. The film has been called “visual poetry” and noted for exploring relationships, tenderness, love, and thoughtfulness.
Our Curse is another Polish entry from filmmakers Tomasz Sliwinski and Maciej Slesicki about their own infant son’s diagnosis with Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome, sometimes referred to as Ondine’s curse. The sufferer of CCHS risks losing control of their breathing during the night. It is a brave and hopeful 27-minute film about the strength and vulnerability of family ties.
The Reaper (La Parka) is director Gabriel Serra Arguello’s documentation of a man who has worked in a slaughter house for 25 years and his deep relationship with death and his struggle to live. The 39-minute work is first Nicaraguan film to be nominated by the Academy.
White Earth is a look at the North Dakota oil industry as seen through the eyes of three children and immigrant mother braving the harsh weather to find the American Dream. J. Christian Jensen directs. Running time is 20 minutes.
Since the Oscars Shorts recipients generally serve as a counterpoint to the image-driven aspects of feature film marketing, their directors and producers are much like their subjects and can bring a touch of authenticity, diversity, and spontaneity to the ceremonies.
And the Trenton Film Society’s Oscar Short weekend gives area filmgoers a chance to see these films on the big screen, where they belong — giving film lovers something to think about long after the Best Picture and Best Actors are announced.
Trenton Film Festival, Academy Award Nominee Shorts, Mill Hill Playhouse, 205 East Front Street, Trenton. Documentary: Thursday, February 19, 6:30 p.m., and Friday, February 20, 7:30 p.m. Live Action: Saturday, February 21, 11:30 a.m., 3:40 p.m., and 7:50 p.m. Animated: Saturday, February 21, 9:40 a.m., 1:50 p.m., and 6 p.m. $15 to $20. www.trentonfilmsociety.org or 609-331-9599.