Short stories are a different creature, with quicker, more nimble storylines than their feature length counterparts, and often populated with instantly dynamic characters. Without time to meander, the narratives and characters often spring right into action, hurtling directly toward the conclusion. They are exciting, punchy creations.
The short film category—including live action, animation, and documentary—also is one of the most exciting to watch because the films are the true underdogs and outsiders, usually produced by directors and actors who don't have backing from big studios and maneuver their ways through film festivals around the world and toward the winner's circle at the Oscars. Oftentimes, these short films can preview up-and-coming directors and actors, like the fine director Lucy Walker who directed this year's excellent feature-length documentary, "Crash Reel," about an injured snowboarder, and last year won the Oscar for her short documentary film, The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom.
But these also are difficult films to track down, lacking marketing budgets and often lurking at obscure film festivals, barely with a Google presence, as evidenced by Avant que de tout perdre (Just Before Losing Everything), a stirring Finnish film about a beleaguered mom and one of this year's Oscar nominees, but which does not even have a Rotten Tomato entry or any reviews to its credit. In recent years, though, the Academy has bundled these short films and toured them to theaters around the country, and in the past two years, has included insightful commentary for the previous year's winner. Starting this weekend—and for the upcoming weekends—Tin Pan Theater will present these films, starting with the live action films. These are short narrative films. (Note: "Short" does not mean eye-blink quick, as two of this year's submissions clock roughly at half-an-hour.)
What is most apparent about this year's crop is that none of the five finalists for an Oscar are American produced. Last year's winner, Curfew, was from a Brooklyn-based filmmaker and musician, about a troubled man who is phoned in by his estranged sister to babysit for a precocious Manhattan niece. It was a dark, but endearing story, mixing hipster humor and tragedy. But this year's collection of five short films are from Finland, Spain, and Denmark. Also, as such, the films lack some of the previous American wit for irony, and taken as a whole, is a much more dour and serious collection than in recent years, serious in substance and craftfully artistic in execution. Even the touching magical realism of Helium, from two Danish filmmakers, does so at a children's hospital, and the The Voorman Problem is funny, but at an existential level, as a psychiatrist tries to assess whether an inmate is crazy or actually God, as he claims. Especially sobering is my choice for the Oscar, That Wasn't Me, a Spanish-produced film set in an unnamed, war-torn African nation. The film quickly leaves behind its smiling joke telling and enters into a terrifying and brutal world of child soldiers.
Tin Pan Theater
Fri. & Sat. 9 pm.