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Oscars: Somber Themes Run Through Live Action Shorts

Each of the multi-award winning narrative shorts (40 minutes and under running time) explores a somber theme. Directors hail from Canada, Europe and Israel with one U.S.-made entry (“Skin”). Members of the Academy’s Short Films and Feature Animation Branch determined the shortlist and nominees, culled from 140 qualifying entries. Academy rules dictate that only voters who’ve seen all five films are eligible to vote in this category.

Detainment
Childhood’s darkest possibilities are explored in three of the films. “Detainment,” directed, written and produced by Dublin-based Vincent Lambe, along with producer Darren Mahon, is rooted in a true story and utilizes verbatim police transcripts, as two 10-year-old murder and kidnapping suspects are questioned in the notorious 1993 U.K. crime. The subject remains sensitive and controversial 25 years on. “I wanted to make sense of what happened in order to prevent it in the future,” says Lambe, who also works as a casting director and agent for child actors. The film was shot on location where the tragic killing of the toddler occurred, with few embellishments, he says. “It’s not meant to be sympathetic, but rather humanizes them as two 10-year-old boys rather than as monsters.”

Fauve
Canadian director Jeremy Comte and producer Maria Gracia Turgeon’s “Fauve” earned 65 festival awards since premiering, including a 2018 Sundance special jury award. Set in the countryside at an abandoned and isolated surface mine that resembles a denuded moonscape, “Fauve” follows two rowdy boys as their coarse mind game goes too far and beyond their control. The director’s intent was to explore the psychology of kids, rivalry and the need for boys to prove themselves. “I wanted non-actors,” says Comte, who auditioned 70 boys in a search for “a rough-around-the-edges energy.” He says the two actors hired [Félix Grenier and Alexandre Perreault] “were so great from the start, confident and transparent.” He fed them lines before each scene and rehearsed on location.

Marguerite
Marguerite” is the story of a lonely octogenarian woman suffering from diabetes whose only human contact is Rachel (portrayed by Sandrine Bisson) her caregiver. When she discovers her nurse is gay, Marguerite (played by Beatrice Picard) is shocked at first, but then comes to a realization. “It opens her up to her own regret, the life she was not able to live,” says Montreal-based director and screenwriter Marianne Farley. She describes the film — sparked by her own relationship with her grandmother — as hopeful. “It is about human connection, compassion, empathy and regret.” Marie-Hélène Panisset produced the 19½- minute French-language film, which recently completed a yearlong festival run. Funding came from Canada’s Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec.

Mother
Mother” [“Madre”] is a taut minimalistic thriller, per Madrid-based director Rodrigo Sorogoyen. María del Puy Alvarado produced the Spanish-language film, which follows a mother as she talks on the phone to her son, who is away on vacation with his father. She soon realizes something is terribly wrong and has minutes to solve the problem. “In 15 minutes you can feel a lot of tension without realizing it,” Sorogoyen says. The idea for the short originated when one of the director’s friends went through a similar situation in real time. “It seemed to me to be very powerful material for a thriller, which begins in a very everyday situation and ends in a huge emotional rollercoaster ride for the protagonist.” Much of the action occurs off-screen. “The spectator has to use his imagination and the imagination is very powerful,” he says.

Skin
The Studio City, Calif.-based husband-and-wife team of Israeli-born Guy Nattiv (director) and Jaime Ray Newman (producer) are behind “Skin,” the story of a racist white father and young son and the explosive consequences following the father’s confrontation with a black man at a supermarket. “I wanted to talk about racism and gun control,” Nattiv says. “I feel we are more violent, there’s more racism in evidence, and I feel insecure as a non-American.” He hopes the film will serve as a platform for change. “Artists more than anyone need to step up to the plate,” says Newman, who is also an actress. She notes they called in every favor to produce the short and have since produced a feature-length film on the same topic that will be released this summer.

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