In the midst of all the hype that awards season in the entertainment industry creates, short films are often overlooked because they don’t bring in the big bucks that studio films generate. Most of the time, short films are a labor of love for filmmakers, both beginners and veterans. Many times, they are made in order to bring awareness of stories or issues to the public consciousness.
The theater near me was only showing the animated and live action shorts, but not the documentary shorts. Even so, all the short films I saw were thought-provoking, many were disturbing, and one was ironically very funny.
For those of us in Catholic or Christian ministry, especially teaching ministry, short films can provide something that longer feature films cannot: the opportunity to watch an entire film and enter into conversation about it in a shorter amount of time, such as during a class, a youth ministry meeting, or a parish prayer service.
This year’s lineup of Oscar-nominated short films are definitely worth seeing. They led me to contemplation and prayer, especially for the suffering depicted in many of the films. Whether based on actual events, such as “Saria” or fictional stories, such as “Memorable,” these films tell stories that are so human we all can relate in one way or another.
I hope you get a chance to experience these amazing short films. If I could find the film online, I’ve included a link in the title so you can see it for yourself. If not, the link is to the trailer.
Oscar Nominated Animated Films
Dcera/Daughter (Czech Republic)
Out of all the shorts I saw, this was the one I didn’t really understand. The animation was somewhat unusual as the characters looked like they were made out of paper mache but it was beautifully done. The story is of a dying man and his adult daughter. The flashbacks take the audience to an incident in the daughter’s life when she was let down by her father and she seems to hold that against him the rest of his life. This film would be a good beginning to a conversation about resentment and reconciliation.
From Sony Pictures Animation, “Hair Love” tells the story of a young African-American girl and her father’s struggle to fix her flyaway hair each morning. Immediately noticeable is the absence of the girl’s mother but I won’t spoil this delightful film by telling you what happens. Clocking in at just under seven minutes, this film could be a great way to talk to kids about suffering and keeping faith during difficult times.
Still from short film, "Hair Love." © 2019 Sony Pictures Animation. All Rights Reserved.
“Kitbull” is the very cute result of a Pixar project called SparkShorts which is “designed to discover new storytellers, explore new storytelling techniques, and experiment with new production workflows.” This film follows an alley cat as it makes friends with an abused pit bull. At first, they are wary around each other but through fun provided by the cap of a soda bottle, realize they can be friends. Very much a statement against cruelty to animals.
Louis and Michelle are an elderly couple and it’s apparent that Louis, an artist, is suffering from dementia. The 3D animation gives the film exquisite detail and the visual elements move the story forward as Louis remembers less and less of his life. Meanwhile, Michelle is a patient and loving wife as she cares for her husband.
“Sister” was, for me at least, the most heartbreaking of the short films. With animation that recalls plush toys, the film is narrated by a young man who was a boy in 1990’s China, he tells of his annoying little sister and all the ways she made his childhood difficult. Just normal sibling rivalry. But there’s a huge twist in this story that just breaks your heart and could make you reflect on your own siblings (if you have them) and just how much of a blessing family is.
Oscar Nominated Live-Action Films
Set in Tunisia, “Brotherhood” explores the family dynamic of an oldest son who has disappointed his father with his choices. Gone to Syria to fight for ISIS, the young man comes home with a Syrian wife. His father, trying to teach his two younger sons how to help the family by learning to care for the sheep, is troubled by the way the younger boys look up to their brother. Family dynamics are never easy and each member of this family, the women included, wrestle with their son and brother’s changed reality.
Nefta Football Club (France)
The only one of the short films that could be labeled a comedy, “Nefta Football Club” uses irony and the innocence of childhood to make its point. Two brothers happen upon a donkey loose in the mountains near their home. When the older one checks the animal’s side bags, he finds packages of drugs. The younger brother accidentally tastes some and comes to the conclusion that the white powder is laundry detergent. His older brother does not correct his assumption. Taking the stash home intending to sell it, the older brother returns to their house after contacting a seller to find the drugs missing. I won’t spoil the practical use to which the younger brother put the ‘laundry detergent.’ It’s priceless.
The Neighbor’s Window
“The Neighbor’s Window” is probably my favorite out of all the shorts I saw. Alli (Maria Dizzia) and her husband (Greg Keller) live a pretty normal life with their three children. Alli, though, seems to be dissatisfied, wanting more in life. From their apartment window, they can see directly into the home of a twenty-something couple who never bother to close their curtains…ever. Alli takes to watching them as they party with friends and live a life unencumbered with the responsibilities of parenthood.
One night Alli witnesses something that leads her to head next door. I won’t spoil what happens but the cliché, “the grass is always greener on the other side” comes to mind. Themes of gratitude, family, acceptance, and compassion make this movie a good conversation starter for adult groups.
Still from "The Neighor's Window." © 2019 Marshall Curry Productions. All Rights Reserved.
To me, “Saria” was the most devastating of all the short films, yet it is a story that needs to be told. In 2017, 41 girls between the ages of 13 and 17 lost their lives in a fire at the Virgen de Las Asuncion orphanage in Guatemala. This true story follows two sisters who planned to escape the orphanage where they were subjected to all kinds of abuses, including rape, and flee to America. When the two girls led an uprising against the abuse and escaped with their fellow orphans, their freedom did not last long.
All of them, locked up in a small room, died in that room when a fire started and no one moved to let them out. The filmmakers pay tribute to these young women, listing all their names at the end of the film. The actors who played the girls were actual orphans from other orphanages in Guatemala.
A Sister (Belgium)
This film shines a light on domestic abuse. A courageous young woman, abducted by a man she knows, calls emergency services and pretends to be conversing with her sister. Meanwhile, the operator on the other end does everything she can to make sure her caller is rescued safely.
Who will take home the golden statue?
Well, we won’t know until late on Sunday, February 9th when the Oscars air, but here are my picks for Animated and Live-Action short films.
I’m going to go with “Memorable” for the animated group, although I wouldn’t mind if “Hair Love” gets to take home Oscar.
Picking the winner of the Live-Action shorts is much more difficult. They were all really good. If I was only going by the importance of the subject matter, I’d go with “Saria” but for relevance in today’s world, I’m going to pick “The Neighbor’s Window” because I think it’s a good call-out for all of us to appreciate what we have in life rather than pine away being jealous of others.
Regardless of which films pick up an Oscar, all the short films are worthy of the recognition they have received just by being nominated.
About the Author
Sister Hosea Rupprecht is a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, a religious community dedicated to evangelization with the media. She holds a Master of Theological Studies degree from the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto and an MA in Media Literacy from Webster University in St. Louis.
Sr. Hosea is director of the East Coast office of the Pauline Center for Media Studies, based in Staten Island, NY, and speaks on media literacy and faith to catechists, parents, youth, and young adults. Together with Father Chip Hines, she is the co-host of Searchlight, a Catholic movie review show on Catholic TV. Sr. Hosea is the author of How to Watch Movies with Kids: A Values-Based Strategy, released by Pauline Books & Media.
For the past 15 years, she has facilitated various film dialogues for both children and adults, as well as given presentations on integrating culture, faith and media.