On Tuesday, February 19, 2008, at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, Curtis Hanson hosted the Academy’s pre-ceremony screening of the nominated live action and animated short films. With directors and producers of eight of the ten films in attendance, the sold-out event was a rare opportunity for the filmmakers to see each other’s work and for the audience to hear what inspired these Oscar-caliber stories. The one-time-only gathering also drove home the point that none of this year’s honorees are from the United States, and only one producer and one director have ever been nominated before. “We are seeing the future,” announced Hanson in his opening remarks to the program, which lasted over four hours, including two panel discussions and an intermission.
The first short screened was also the evening’s shortest: Canadian filmmaker Josh Raskin‘s five-minute 2D animation “I Met the Walrus.” Having studied at the new media program at Ryerson University in Toronto, Raskin made a rash of short films/musical pieces before tackling “Walrus.” The goal of the film was to “visualize the words” captured on the reel-to-reel recording of a teenager’s interview with John Lennon. Clearly at home in front of audiences, Raskin got a laugh when he said his influences were “John Lennon, Terry Gilliam, Stanley Kubrick, and Biggie Smalls.”
Also from Canada was the 17-minute claymation/CGI train-travel nightmare, “Madame Tutli-Putli.” Produced by the National Film Board of Canada, the film was a collaboration between Montreal-based Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski. The pair, who work as animators, sculptors, collage artists, screenplay writers, and art directors, described their wordless short as “a form of a poem” and a “collusion of archetypes.”
France made a strong showing in the animation category with “Meme les Pigeons Vont au Paradis (Even Pigeons Go to Heaven),” a 9-minute CGI comedy about a corrupt priest hawking a time machine that he promises will transport his elderly customer directly to heaven. Director Samuel Tourneux previously created the 1998 animated short “Vache Folle (Crazy Cow)” and the 2003 satirical “Idiotheque (Idiotech),” which he co-directed. Tourneux said he originally thought his short should be serious film about “the meaning of life” but couldn’t help but make it a comedy.
The fourth animated short was a beautifully illustrated, 27-minute long tragic Russian romance by Alexander Petrov entitled “My Love (Moya Lyubov).” A graduate of the Jaroslawl Art Institute and the Vsesoyouzny Gosoudarstvenni Institut Kinematographiy (VGIK) in Moscow, Petrov is the only animator who was not able to attend the screening. An Oscar veteran, he previously took home the golden statue for “The Old Man and the Sea” (1999) and was nominated for both “The Mermaid” (1997) and “The Cow” (1989).
Both the United Kingdom and Poland produced “Peter & the Wolf,” a 27- minute piece set to Prokofiev’s classic score. The only female director nominated this year in the live action or animated short category, Suzie Templeton is a BAFTA-winning filmmaker whose previous credits include “Stanley” and “Dog.” Asked to name a film that inspired her, Templeton deadpanned “Bambi.” She also astonished both moderator Curtin Hanson and the audience by announcing it took five years to make her film.
The live action portion of the evening started strong with “At Night,” a 40-minute tearjerker from Denmark about three hospitalized young women spending New Year’s Eve together. Director Christian E. Christiansen previously helmed a 2006 feature, “Life Hits,” and it was his desire to keep working with those actors that inspired him to make the short.
Italy’s contribution to the night was Andrea Jublin‘s 17-minute comedy about an anarchistic substitute teacher entitled “Il Supplente (The Substitute).” A Turin-native, Jublin studied both at UCLA and Radiotelevisione Italiana in Rome. Jublin was hesitant to talk too much about his film because his panel took place before his film had been screened, but he did admit the actual location was a major inspiration.
France’s second film of the evening was “Le Mozart des Pickpockets (The Mozart of Pickpockets),” a 31-minute comedy about two hapless thieves who join forces with a child prodigy. Filmmaker Philippe Pollet-Vilard, who was not able to attend the screening, studied at the School of Fine Arts at St Etienne and Lyon before directing music videos and commercials. In 1998, his first short “Ma Place sur le Trottoir” won the Grand Prize at Clermont-Ferrand. Pollet-Vilard then developed that short into a feature film, “Jacqueline Dans Ma Citrine,” which he co-directed with Marc Adjadj. Next up was “Tanghi Argentini,” a 13-minute Belgium comedy about co-workers with dancing aspirations, helmed by Guido Thys. In addition to making the 2001 short “Mon,” Thys has worked extensively in television, making soaps, series, and live news/sports broadcasts in Belgium, Germany, and in The Netherlands. His producer, Anja Daelemans, was previously nominated for a 2002 live action short, “Fait D’Hiver.” Both Thys and Daelemans fell in love with “Tanghi’s” script, and revealed the actors spent three months learning how to dance. Closing the evening was Daniel Barber‘s 36-minute Elmore Leonard adaptation, “The Tonto Woman.” Barber attended the Saint Martins School of Art and makes his living as a commercial director in England. His CV states very clearly his personal history regarding making shorts: “Decided to make a short film age 39. Finished short film age 42. Nominated for an Oscar age 43.” Barber admitted his brother pushed him to make the film, which has puzzled some people. “It may seem unusual for an Englishman to make a Western, but why not?!”
For those who couldn’t attend the Beverly Hills screening, have no fear. All ten nominated live action and animated shorts are currently showing in theaters around the country in programs distributed by Magnolia Pictures and Shorts International. Additionally, the films are available on iTunes.