By Kim Adelman | Indiewire February 19, 2009 at 6:25AM
In the live action, animation and documentary short film categories of the 81st Annual Academy Awards, only one nominated director has a track record. Documentary filmmaker Steven Okazaki, who helmed "The Conscience of Nhem En," already has two previous nominations and an Oscar on his curriculum vitae. The remaining twenty men and women hoping to take home a golden statue on February 22, 2009 are suiting up in their tuxes and donning their designer gowns to walk the red carpet at the Kodak Theatre for the very first time. No matter who gets to give a televised acceptance speech on Sunday, every single one of the filmmakers' careers has been given a major boost just by having their work recognized by the Academy.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences only selected four films to fill out the short documentary roster this year. Oscar veteran Steven Okazaki's piece, "The Conscience of Nhem En," is a half-hour doc about a man who, as a teenage soldier in 1975 when Cambodia was taken over by the Khmer Rouge, photographed thousands of soon-to-executed citizens. The Bay Area-based Okazaki was previously nominated for a 1985 feature on the topic of Japanese-American World War II internment, "Unfinished Business," and more recently for his 2005 Hiroshima-survivors short, "The Mushroom Club." He won the Oscar for his 1990 short doc "Days of Waiting," a piece about a Caucasian artist interned with her Japanese American spouse.
NYU-alumna Irene Taylor Brodsky and Tom Grant are nominated for "The Final Inch," a 38-minute documentary about the historic global effort to eradicate polio. Rounding out the short doc category are Megan Mylan for "Smile Pinki," which focuses on an Indian girl with a cleft lip, and Adam Pertofsky and Margaret Hyde for "The Witness - From the Balcony of Room 306," which profiles the Reverend Samuel "Billy" Kyles, who was present at Martin Luther King Junior's assassination. . In the animation category, the slickest piece is a five-minute classic cartoon showdown between an over-confident magician and a wily white rabbit. Entitled "Presto," the five-minute Pixar piece helmed by Cal Arts-trained Doug Sweetland is a sure-fire audience pleaser. In fact, "Presto" played before "Wall-E" in theaters.
Another cartoon comedy is "Oktapodi," a romp starring a pair of squid. Hailing from France, the filmmakers are a collective of recent graduates of Gobelins, Ecole de L'Image. Although the credited directors are Julien Bocabeille, Francois-Xavier Chanioux, Olivier Delabarre, Thierry Marchand, Quentin Marmier, and Emud Mokhberi, due to the Academy's rules about the number of nominees, only Mokhberi and Marchand will pick up statues should "Oktapodi" win. From Russia comes the delightful romance, "Lavatory - Lovestory." Writer-director Konstantin Bronzit already has an animated feature under his belt, "Melnitsa's Alosha." The Japanese-produced "La Maison En Petits Cubes (Pieces Of Love, Vol 1)" is an elaborate animation about an elderly man who relives past memories while exploring his flooded home. Writer-director Kunio Kato studied graphic design at Tama Art University and has previously animated ads and TV shows.
Short film fans who downloaded the ten free 2009 Sundance Film Festival shorts on iTunes last month will be familiar with "This Way Up." The comedic adventure of two undertakers foiled by a troublesome coffin was created by the team of Alan Smith and Adam Foulkes. The London-based Smith & Foulkes have an impressive list of credits, including the title sequence for "Thunderbirds," the film-within-a-film' in "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events," and segments of the cult favorite BBC series "Monkey Dust." According to their bio, the duo were the most awarded commercial directors in the US and Europe in 2006.
In the live action category, Reto Caffi contributes the top-notch security guard drama "Auf Der Strecke (On the Line)," which Industry insiders were buzzing about early last year when it played the Aspen Shortsfest. And Jochen Freydank delivered the Holocaust-themed "Toyland."
Noteworthy, there are three shorts directed by women nominated in the live action category. Elizabeth Marre co-directed with Olivier Pont "Manon sur le Bitumen (Manon on the Asphalt)," a captivating look at a young woman's life after she's involved in a bike accident. Marre has a background in French law, has studied acting, and has worked as 1st Assistant Director on feature films.
Irish-American writer/director Steph Green is responsible for the school-set "New Boy," A graduate of Northwestern University and University College Dublin, Ms. Green shoots both short films and commercials. Her work has been featured in the Cannes Lions Young Director's showcase and the Young Guns Advertising Awards.
Dorte Hogh filmed the hospital roommate conflict, "The Pig." Making her directorial debut with "The Pig," Hogh has previously written for television and film, including the feature films "The Inheritance" and "Manslaughter." She is a graduate of the National Film School of Denmark.
On Oscar night, clips from each of the nominated films are sure to be shown. But if you want to check out the filmmakers' full achievements, you have several options. The live action and animated nominated shorts have been screening at cinemas around the country in programs organized by Magnolia and Shorts International. For anyone who wants to watch the films immediately, select shorts are available via iTunes. As for the docs, HBO and PBS have always been keen supporters of the short documentary format; it's highly likely the four Oscar contenders will make their way to your television set very soon.