On Feb. 22, the 2009 Academy Awards will be presented to the lucky winners. But, as the oft-quoted adage goes, simply being nominated is an honor in itself.
Certainly for rarely seen short films, a nod from the Academy means a brief whirlwind of exposure, as compilation reels of nominated animated and live-action shorts get a theatrical release. The presentation is also a gift for Oscar-watchers, who, on the big night, can shout out their picks for best shorts with authority. This year's nominated films will be shown in two screenings, one comprising the live-action entries, the other the animated contenders.
- On the Line
The live-action selections are mostly a sober, reflective bunch. Filmmakers love featuring CCTV operators, with all the obvious parallels to watching film, and a department-store security guard enamored with a fellow employee is the focus of Reto Caffi's mini-drama "On the Line" (Germany, 30 min.) Seeing all, it seems, doesn't always deliver the truth.
Nor is there much comfort in gaining knowledge too late, as occurs in Elizabeth Marre and Olivier Pont's "Manon on the Asphalt" (France, 15 min.), a beautifully shot and constructed mediation on the unpredictable, ephemeral nature of life. In Jochen Alexander Freydank's "Toyland" (Germany, 14 min.), set in Germany during World War II, the nonlinear plot helps keep the filmmaker's cards hidden, resulting in an emotional twist.
- The Pig
Even the two films that offer at least some hope have their roots in seriousness. In "New Boy" (Ireland, Steph Green, 11 min.), Irish school kids harass a transfer student from some strife-torn region of Africa; meanwhile, loneliness, death and racial prejudice stalk a man's hospital stay in "The Pig" (Denmark, Dorte Høgh, 22 min.).
- Lavatory Lovestory
The films in the animated program offer more laughs: There are the imperiled, but acrobatic octopi in love in the computer-animated "Oktapodi" (France, multiple directors, 3 min.) and the simple black-and-white line-drawings that tell the whimsical "Lavatory Lovestory" (Russia, Konstantin Bronzit, 10 min.). "This Way Up" (U.K., Smith & Foulkes, 9 min.) may be about a pair of English undertakers, but despite its gloomy look, it's surprisingly droll.
In Kunio Kato's wordless "La Maison en Petits Cubes" (Japan, 12 min.), an elderly man literally excavates his past. It's a bittersweet snapshot of life -- and its overarching metaphor about how our past is continually submerged draws extra gravity from the possibility that in our deteriorating environment, this condition may be literal.
Plenty of folks have already seen Doug Sweetland's "Presto" (USA, 5 min.): It was the short that opened last summer's mega-hit WALL*E. In this Pixar computer-animated comedy, a hungry rabbit torments its magician owner.
- John and Karen
As a bonus, the animated package includes five worthy shorts that didn't make Oscar's list, including "Hot Dog," from Bill Plympton's crazed-dog series; Marc Craste's "Varmints"; and the wry domestic crisis of "John and Karen," in which a penguin and polar bear have a spat.
Remember, the big night doesn't just belong to Benjamin Button, Batman and Bollywood hybrids: Give these short films the attention they deserve.
Films are in English and various languages, with subtitles. The live-action and animated films screen separately. For a schedule, call 412-682-4111 or see www.pghfilmmakers.org. Starts Fri., Feb. 13. Regent Square