See the 2017 Oscar-nominated short films in Aspen
February 16, 2017
If You Go …
What: 2017 Academy Award Nominated Shorts
Where: Dunaway Community Meeting Room, Pitkin County Library
When: Friday, Feb. 17 through Sunday, Feb. 19, 7:30 p.m.
How much: $8
Tickets: Wheeler Opera House box office; http://www.aspenshowtix.com; and at the door
More info: Friday’s program will feature the five Live Action Short nominees, Saturday’s the Animated Shorts and Sunday the Documentary Shorts
And the Nominees Are…
La Femme et la TGV
Pear Cider and Cigarettes
Watani: My Homeland
The White Helmets
One surefire way to win your Oscar picks pool is to know something about the nominees in the short categories — better yet, to have seen them. The Pitkin County Library's Cinema Series is making it easier to watch these accomplished but often overlooked films this weekend, with a three-night mini-festival that includes all of the nominated shorts.
Screenings run tonight through Sunday in the Dunaway Meeting Room.
The animated category includes a history-making nomination: "Pearl" is the first virtual reality film to be nominated for an Oscar (though, no doubt, not the last, if current trends hold). It takes place entirely in a car on a family road trip, following a father and daughter on a fantastic journey.
Library Cinema Series curator Jon Busch said he plans to show it on the big screen in conventional format. But it's also available online as a 360-degree film experience that puts you inside the hatchback and gives you the power to look around or out at the roadside. On a desktop, you can navigate your experience with a mouse. But the ultimate — and intended — way to experience "Pearl" is through the Google Spotlight Stories app, which allows you to navigate the film by moving with a smartphone.
It's an extraordinary, novel experience (and it's caught on, garnering more than 1.2 million YouTube views) and it's a glimpse of what's to come as technology transforms the art of filmmaking.
However, that doesn't necessarily mean it's going to win the Oscar.
Animation giant Pixar has a likely frontrunner in the astoundingly realistic "Piper," which follows a young bird on a beach as it battles waves and picks for food, and Pixar animators Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj have made "Borrowed Time," a somber Western tale that was a viral hit on Vimeo last year.
The live action shorts this year — all of them foreign titles — have a topical, ripped-from-the-headlines theme.
French director Selim Azzazi's "Enemies Within" is a tense, 28-minute showdown in an immigration office. The Hungarian "Sing" offers a cute, funny, kid-friendly story about a competitive children's choir that doubles as an allegory about political leadership. "Silent Nights," from Denmark, is a tale of a Ghanaian immigrant's relationship with a homeless shelter worker. The Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or-winning "Timecode," from Spain, is an uplifting two-hander about two parking garage workers. And Switzerland's "La Femme et la TGV," which has drawn comparisons to Wes Anderson's films, is a sweet story about a baker in the French countryside striking up a relationship with a train conductor who passes through her town daily.
In the documentary category, most of the Oscar buzz has gone to the searing and inspiring "The White Helmets," which profiles the real-life superheroes risking their lives to save others amid the bloody wreckage and rubble in the ongoing Syrian civil war. The film was distributed by Netflix and screened in December at Aspen Film's Academy Screenings.
It made headlines last month when President Donald Trump's travel ban appeared likely to keep the acclaimed film's subjects from attending the Academy Awards.
Producer-director team Joanna Natasegara and Orlando von Einsiedel — previously nominated for an Oscar for 2014's "Virunga" — wanted to bring this often-incomprehensible conflict down to a relatable level, transcending the debate over the refugee crisis or the Islamic State or geopolitics.
"The story of the White Helmets is a human story that cuts through the politics," von Einsiedel told The Aspen Times before the local screening. "It's a story about heroes. And you can't argue with men and women who risk their lives every day, who have decided not to pick up a gun, and instead to risk their life to save strangers. We found that very inspiring."
"The White Helmets" is one of three films nominated in the category that focus on the Syrian war and refugee crisis: "4.1 Miles" follows a Greek coast guard crew attempting to save refugees making the treacherous journey from Turkey to the island of Lesbos; "Watini: My Homeland" follows one Syrian family over the course of three years, from the horror of Aleppo to an attempt at a new life in Germany.
Rounding out the nominees are two more topical, tear-jerking films: "Extremis" is a portrait of a doctor and patients grappling with end-of-life care and assisted suicide; "Joe's Violin" is a portrait of an elderly Holocaust survivor and a young girl who bond through music.