Short Film makers honoured by Oscars Academy in LA

Jason Korsner reporting from Los Angeles. Photos available at http://www.ukscreen.com/gallery.htm?user=jkinla
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“It all started with a short,” the Oscar-winning short (Teenage Father, 1978) – and Oscar-nominated feature (Ray, 2004) – director Taylor Hackford to an audience of more than a thousand people in Hollywood, gathered to watch this year’s ten Oscar-nominated short films – five in the live action category, the other five animations. The screenings were followed by revealing Q&As.
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The forty eligible animated shorts from across the world were whittled down by the Academy’s branch that deals with shorts and animated features. Interestingly, three of the five nominees are backed by major animation studios. The nominees this year are:
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“The Danish Poet” – a hand-drawn animation by Norwegian Torill Kove, financed in Canada. It tells the tale of a poet, with writer’s block, who heads to Norway in search of inspiration, which he finds in the form of an unavailable woman. It’s a warm, sweet and witty comedy, and unusual in this world of increasing computer use. Interestingly, it’s the only one of this year’s nominees to have any dialogue at all, and even what dialogue there is as more a narration. It took Torill three years to complete, from start to finish.
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“Lifted” – directed by Gary Rydstrom at Pixar. He describes it as mixing alien abduction with driving school. A little green man, hovering in a flying-saucer over a remote farmhouse, is having difficulty pressing the right buttons required to suck a young boy up into his spaceship, as his teacher looks on disapprovingly, taking notes. Describing himself as “one of the top eighty sound people in the business,” Gary has spent twenty years operating mixing consoles, getting frustrated by having directors sitting behind him taking notes. This, he says, drove him to make a film about how he wants to be able to beat up one of these mixing consoles. The film took nine months to complete.
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“The Little Matchgirl,” is directed by Roger Allers, backed by Disney. It tells the story of a poor Russian girl, who lives on the street, dreaming of warmth, food and a loving family. From concept to completion, the film took nearly five years – about one year to make and more than three, arguing with Disney bosses about the ending. The studio demanded a happy ending, but after a “gruelling” process or trying different conclusions, the bosses eventually gave in and let him return to his original ending.
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“Maestro” is the Hungarian entry, from Geza Toth. It’s his first ever 3D computer animation, after a career in drawn and model animation. He wasn’t planning a career anywhere in the field, always thinking he’d end up as a pharmacist, architect or musician. Music plays a key part in the third of four films with no dialogue. In this one, a wooden bird is sitting at a mirror as a mechanical arm cleans him and prepares him for…well, if I told you, it would spoil the surprise. Geza is now confident that he’s found “the best form of expression to communicate professionally.”
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“No Time for Nuts” is the third studio-backed nominee, directed by Chris Renaud and Michael Thurmeier, for Blue Sky – a subsidiary of Fox. They were tasked with what Chris describes as the “unique challenge of doing something with an established character with a history” – the character in question is the acorn-loving Scrat, seen in the Ice Age movies. Here, while digging for an acorn in the snow, he uncovers a time-machine which causes no end of problems. He started out as a comic book artist and this project took him eight months from start to finish.
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It’s not unusual for the animated films to be humorous, but this year, without exception, there are at least wry smiles but at times big laughs to come from the live action productions too. Introducing the nominees, Taylor Hackford offered young film-makers a tip: take a concept that explores the human condition – and keep it simple, so that you can say something about humanity.
These five films were noticeably more independent, as a group, than the animations, with no major studio input at all. The films are no less slick or accomplished as a result though. The eighty eligible entrants were whittled down to the following five nominees:
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“Binta and the Great Idea” is the first of two Spanish-produced nominees this year. Director Javier Fesser went to Senegal to make a documentary for Unicef about why so few girls are allowed to go to school there, but when he arrived, the project turned on its head and he ended up making a fictional story on the subject instead. It’s warm, witty and worthy, without being overbearing. Producing it was, says Javier, not just a cinematic experience but a life experience. Apart from one minor character, the cast comprises actors who’ve neither been in – nor even seen – a film before.
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“Eramos Pocos” – or “One Too Many” – is the second Spanish entry. Borja

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