The Oscars are the grandest of all the film awards, and despite the complicated feelings many have towards the event, it is supremely cool that three short films are honored at Hollywood’s signature ceremony every year. Being recognized in front of an audience of millions worldwide while in a room of some of the cinema’s leading talents, the pageantry of it all provides an unparalleled rush for the filmmakers on-hand, well-earned validation that will hopefully buoy their careers, and also serves as the most high-profile acknowledgment of the short film format that we, as a culture, share.
Admittedly, we don’t have much of a feel for the Academy’s tastes when it comes to the short film categories, and this year it seems that neither did you. In our post announcing this year’s short film nominees, we put up a poll, and the wisdom of the S/W audience only picked 1 of the 3 eventual winners.
As painful as that was to our Oscar pools, it is undeniable that audiences globally were touched deeply by each of those three winners, and we do mean globally—in a welcome development, more than half of the nominees in the 3 categories streamed online for free throughout the awards process, including both of the category winners in Animation and Live-Action. While filmmakers in recent years have warmed to online releases as a marketing tool during the shortlist and nomination processes, historically, nominated films have been removed from free online platforms once selected. This year however that tradition was bucked, and millions of viewers discovered and shared the films during this period when the spotlight is brightest—while still partaking in the lucrative theatrical and digital release from ShortsTV.
So, in case you missed it, here are the winning films!
ANIMATED SHORT FILM
Matthew A. Cherry’s touching short, Hair Love, was a betting favorite—the ex-NFL football player rode a tide of goodwill all the way from the film’s humble Kickstarter beginnings to an Oscar statuette. Its heart-warming message about a father and daughter captured a deep-seated longing for cultural inclusivity and attracted top-tier collaborators from Issa Rae to Sony Pictures Animation. One could tell from the 20M+ views it garnered online in the past two months that its blend of sincerity, skill, and representation would strike a chord with voters. Hair Love came to mean something beyond itself as a discrete piece of art, a message reinforced by Cherry in his acceptance speech.
LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM
Marshall Curry is easily the most established of the directors up for the three awards, albeit in a different format. A multi-time Oscar-nominee for his feature and short film work in documentary, it is somewhat amusing (even to him I imagine!) that his Oscar breakthrough comes not from his acclaimed work in that field, but from The Neighbors’ Window, his first foray into scripted fiction.
Even then, the script has non-fiction roots. Inspired by an episode of the Love + Radio podcast from Diane Weipert, the film is a poignant depiction of nostalgia, as a harried Mom (Maria Dizzia) enters into a personal crisis triggered by her voyeurism towards the young couple that move in across the street. Helped we’re sure by being the only American film in the category, the film is also just a well-balanced short story, alternately sexy and maudlin, and perfectly suited to the tastes of the Academy who, in general, skew a bit older and might themselves possess complicated feelings towards the loss of their carefree days.
DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILM
Carol Dysinger’s short should have been on anyone’s list of top contenders. The winner of the prestigious IDA prize for Best Doc Short, and just this week recipient of the BAFTA for Best British Short Film, the film was produced by London’s Grain Media which has been a recent fixture at the Oscars—Virunga was nominated for Documentary Feature, and The White Helmets won in the shorts category.
At first I was reminded by the premise of a viral hit of yesteryear, Skateistan: To Live and Skate Kabul, which was nominated for a Vimeo Award in 2012. A little digging made me realize the connection—it was directed by Orlando von Einseidel, who co-founded Grain Media! However, while that film, commissioned through Dazed magazine for the fashion brand Diesel, was a revelation at the time, it was still a bit surface. Dysinger, who has been traveling to Afghanistan for many years and is famous for her 2010 feature Camp Victory, Afghanistan, provides a new entré into the celebrated school in Kabul. By utilizing an all-female crew, Dysinger was able to gain access to the young women in a way impossible for a man, and the film is a deep, poignant look at the struggles for growth and empowerment that they face. Rather than being dour, however, Dysinger remembers to have fun. While not dodging deeper issues, the film is, ultimately, joyfully life-affirming.
Made for A&E Networks, while the full film isn’t streaming on Vimeo or YouTube, if you get A&E through your cable package you can watch the full film presently.
#Oscars Moment: “Learning to Skateboard in a War Zone (If You’re a Girl)” wins for Best Documentary Short. Carol Dysinger and Elena Andreicheva (@_Andreicheva) accept their Oscars. pic.twitter.com/PJThEPxXJJ— The Academy (@TheAcademy) February 10, 2020