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Live Action Short: Conflict, heartache recurring themes

Eye on the Oscars 2013: Best Picture Preview

Two of the five Academy Award nominees for live-action short film, “Asad” and “Buzkashi Boys,” are set in countries that are in the midst of years-long conflict.

“Asad,” about a boy from a fishing village in Somalia who is confronted with the decision between becoming a pirate or an honest fisherman, features an all-Somali refugee cast. The two lead actors, 13-year-old Harun Mohammed and his 10-year-old brother, Ali, were unable to read or write when they were picked for their roles, yet they memorized 19 pages of dialogue. Director Bryan Buckley’s credits include more than 40 Super Bowl commercials, and he has won a DGA Award for his ad work.

The title “Buzkashi Boys” refers to Afghanistan’s national sport, buzkashi, a brutal form of polo played on horseback with a headless goat carcass, and two friends who play it with dreams of becoming champion horsemen. Director Sam French and producer Ariel Nasr filmed entirely in Kabul, and despite having the support of the Afghan government, the cast and crew overcame a number of challenges working in the chaotic city, including a rocket attack on one of the locations.

Another nominee, “Death of a Shadow,” also has an element of war. The fantasy centers on a World War I soldier — stuck in limbo between life and death — who collects the shadows of dying men and women with the hope that they will earn him a return to life and the girl he loves. Matthias Schoenaerts (“Rust and Bone”) stars in the Dutch-language release, directed by Tom Van Avermaet.

Shawn Christensen wrote and directed “Curfew” and also starred in the pic as a troubled man who is about to commit suicide when he receives a call from his estranged sister who asks him to look after his 9-year-old niece. Christensen says he had the flu during the entire shoot, and sometimes got sick in between takes.

Yan England turned to his grandfather, who had a sharp memory until he developed Alzheimer’s in his early 90s, for inspiration to write his sophomore effort, “Henry.” The film, also directed and produced by England, is about an elderly concert pianist, and how his life is thrown into turmoil after his wife disappears.

The filmmakers behind all five shorts are first-time Oscar nominees.

Returns to the Best Picture Preview 2013