The 90th Oscars’ live action shorts category is truly international, with nominees presenting stories from Africa, North America, Australia and the U.K. A record 165 films originally qualified in the category that includes two gold medal Student Academy Award winners.

DeKalb Elementary

UCLA Master of Fine Arts’ film directing grad Reed Van Dyk’s “DeKalb Elementary” won the top prize at the Clermont-Ferrand Intl. Short Film Festival, qualifying his drama for Oscar contention. Based on a true story, the film tensely recounts events recorded during a 911 call; the searing 12 minutes tells the story of what transpired between an Atlanta school’s receptionist and a gunman intent on harm. Although the film was shot in Burbank, Calif., Van Dyk contends it accurately portrays the infamous incident. He credits his leads, Tarra Riggs and Bo Mitchell, for their extraordinary work.

The Eleven O’Clock
Sydney-based director Derin Seale, who works with commercial production firm Finch, says he and writer-producer Josh Lawson took an unusual approach to their comedic short “The Eleven O’Clock.” “We wanted to engage the audience as much as we could, to not just watch the film, but become involved in it,” he says. Without giving too much away, he explains that the comedy — set during a psychiatric appointment — is about a perception change. “It’s a puzzle and Rubik’s Cube and totally airtight,” he says of the narrative.

My Nephew Emmett
NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts’ Kevin Wilson Jr. won a gold medal Student Academy Award for his short “My Nephew Emmett.” Spike Lee, a professor and Tisch’s artistic director, is one his mentors. Wilson credits Lee with aiding him in adhering to his vision in capturing the story of Chicago teenager Emmett Till, who journeyed to Mississippi to visit relatives. Till’s brutal murder and its aftermath raised awareness and sparked another phase in the American Civil Rights movement. The film was shot on location, a mile from where Till’s abduction took place. “We felt the spirits of those involved in the case,” Wilson says. “I did feel a responsibility to do it the right way and honor the folks who were involved.”

The Silent Child
London-based director Chris Overton began his career as an actor at age 8. And although he’s been making videos and films for decades, “The Silent Child” is his first “proper film.” He was immediately entranced with writer and producer Rachel Shenton’s story of a profoundly deaf child, who is given the gift of communication by a social worker. “We really want to get this strong and important message out there,” says Overton. The short world-premiered at the Rhode Island Film Festival and won the top prize along with the film’s star and centerpiece Maisie Sly, who won the actress trophy.

Watu Wote/All of Us
The festival run of “Watu Wote/All of Us,” from Hamburg Media School’s Tobias Rosen and Katja Benrath, has taken the short to 100 festivals, where it has won 60 awards. The short also garnered a gold medal at the Student Academy Awards.
Shot in Kenya, and based on real events, the film’s theme is empathy, as a terrorist attack unfolds. “It’s really important to recognize that everybody is a human being and not categories like race or religion,” said the filmmaker when reached in Nairobi, where she journeyed to share the Academy Award announcement with her local team.