Now that we have the levity of the animated short films out of the way, it’s time for a bunch of serious films about serious issues. Seriously, four of these five films are exactly that, just as it is every year. In fact, it seems like the shorts themselves are self aware of this fact and purposefully angling for an Oscar nomination. Once again I’ll be breaking them down individually, but as a whole, it’s a solid bunch and the program moved along steadily. Also, I have no clue why they showed the reactions of the people behind these works reacting to their nominations, but considering the reactions of the old ladies in the row with me, I guess it is to elicit reactions of “Aww, isn’t that adorable?” but to my cynical self it was just painful.
DeKalb Elementary – Well this was timely (though I guess we are the point where this is never not timely). Telling of a man who shows up at a school with an assault rifle, the film is far more compelling that its bleak premise would set up. It doesn’t offer any answers (nor does it really try to) and it feels impossible to talk about without spoiling, but it thrives off some surprisingly quiet acting and it a really nice insight into such a situation. It’s also the first, though far from last film based on a true story.
The Silent Child – If DeKalb Elementary offers no answers, than The Silent Child is all about those answers. It’s a shame too, because up until the Oscar baiting end, it was a really compelling short too. Telling of a teacher who tutors deaf children, specifically one girl who is mostly uncommunicative. It’s a serious film about the serious issue of improper parental and school treatment of the deaf and is incredibly unsubtle in the way that it portrays the mother (who they throw in a random line about her being the child of an affair for no fucking reason) and school as not encouraging sign language despite it being what is best for the child. Unlike the last short which shows, this one tells, with end title cards driving in that point even more. It’s not a short film, it’s a PSA and that’s a shame because the relationship between the deaf girl and the woman trying to bring her out of her shell is a compelling one and for a good part of her film, handles the mother’s unease around her daughter well.
My Nephew Emmett – For our second based on a true story, we upgrade from merely inspired. While the Emmett of the title isn’t given away until the end, my brain pretty quickly thought, “This is going to be about Emmett Till isn’t it?” and lo it was so. The short focuses on his uncle who famously got on camera to speak about the incident, and it’s a fine film. L.B. Williams is fantastic as Mose White and the film is wonderfully shot and gives us an interesting look at what went on behind the events. It’s just that it feels rather disconnected from any historical importance and oddly enough, this importance is probably the weakest part of the film. The parts about Mose being a loving father figure, the quick hints to the relationship with his wife, and his internal conflict over resorting to violence are all more compelling and leaving this to be another one which falls down a bit in the ending.
The Eleven O’Clock – The token comedic entry is a welcome respite. It’s an amusing enough though incredibly predictable look at two men who both believe they are psychiatrists and try to psychoanalyze the other. It’s also inspired by a sketch from A Bit of Fry and Laurie which is a quick way to my heart, but the comparison just highlights how much better and funnier the sketch is than this short. The two men are played by Dewey Crowe (the always great Damon Herriman) and the dweeby guy from House of Pies (Josh Lawson who also wrote the short). It’s minor but doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Watu Wote: All of Us – The film most openly angling for an Oscar is this again based on a true story tale of a group of Muslims and Christians traveling on a bus together in Africa. It hits all the obvious beats of hostility at the beginning over a past tragedy, growing acceptance, moment where one has to stand up for the other and prove that “Not all [insert group here] are evil”, simultaneously tragic and sentimental conclusion. There’s nothing special here and the film hits those beats well, if a bit too obviously at times. The nature of it being a short leads to some of the same telling us when showing was working just fine that hurt The Silent Child but it’s not nearly as bad here. It’s just a predictable Oscar bait title that fills the spot that at least one short every year fills.
Since unlike the animated shorts, the nominees naturally add up to a decent length, there’s no add on titles here. I’d love to follow this up with the documentary shorts, but since I have found no listings for it even at the theaters the ShortsTV site tells me it is at, this seems unlikely. Thankfully, these (as well as the animation and live action shorts) will all be available to purchase from home on 2/27/2018 for those who are unable to make it to the theater so expect reviews of those films then.