Most nominees in this year’s live-action short category involve familial relationships. Only one is in English — two were shot in Tunisia — but they all tell stories that transcend cultures. Three women were nominated in this category.
Meryam Joobeur and Maria Gracia Turgeon
Traveling through northern Tunisia, Tunisian-Canadian filmmaker Joobeur encountered two freckle-faced, red-headed shepherds who refused to let her take their photo. “There was something spectacular about the place, the men and their faces,” she says. Knowing men from the area have been recruited to fight with ISIS in Syria, she decided to write a script. “I wanted to do a film about the homecoming and what happens to the family when the son returns, how it destroys the family.” Adds producer Turgeon, “We’re seeing the subject through the intimate lens of family.” Persuading the camera-shy Mechergui brothers — Malek, Chaker and Rayene — to act in “Brotherhood” wasn’t easy but writer-director Joobeur says they break the stereotype of what Arab Muslims look like. This is Joobeur’s first Oscar nomination and Turgeon’s second.
Nefta Football Club
Yves Piat and Damian Megherbi
A visual comedy with dramatic moments, “Nefta Football Club” opens on two boys finding a drug-smuggling, headphone-wearing donkey at the border between Tunisia and Algeria. “It’s inspired by a personal experience when I was 14,” says director Piat. “The film is about the fluidity of our world when it’s seen through the innocence and creativity of children,” adds producer Megherbi. While the story is universal, it required a specific type of geography. Their first choice, southern Morocco, proved too complicated and costly, but southern Tunisia was perfect. “We tried to create storytelling that was surprising for the audience, not expected from the beginning to the end.” It’s the first Oscar nomination for both.
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The Neighbors’ Window
Years ago, American documentary filmmaker Curry heard a podcast that became the seed for his first nonfiction, narrative film, “The Neighbors’ Window.” He calls it “fiction inspired by a true story,” that ends with a twist. On the surface, the English-language film is about a voyeuristic couple who become a bit obsessed with their neighbors’ lives. “It’s also in some ways an allegory for social media and the ways we get these incomplete glimpses into other people’s lives,” Curry says. “We always imagine that their lives are better than our own, but the truth is that life is more complicated than it seems from the outside.”
“The Neighbors’ Window” marks Curry’s fourth Oscar nomination, his first in nonfiction.
Bryan Buckley and Matt Lefebvre
Buckley’s film “Saria” — produced by Lefebvre — is based on a 2017 Guatemalan orphanage fire that killed 41 children. They cast it with girls from a Mexican orphanage. “My gut told me that if we got the right kids, their survival instincts and toughness would be things
no young actress would be able to duplicate,” Buckley says. “That survival instinct and spirit is what I wanted to capture.” The filmmakers made a strategic decision to skip the fest circuit to get the story out as quickly as possible. With the surviving Guatemalan orphans currently facing murder charges, “The timing of this film is so critical. It’s an amazing opportunity to help these kids and push their story out with the Oscars.”
This is Lefebvre’s first Oscar nomination and Buckley’s second.
A Sister (Une soeur)
A seemingly innocent phone call turns
out to be a daring act in “A Sister,” a Belgian film by writer-director Girard. The stakes are high, with the action happening simultaneously in a moving car and an emergency dispatch center. Girard didn’t expect the film to be so tense and dark. “I didn’t think of it as a thriller as I was focusing so much on the relationship between the characters,” Girard says. About leads Veerle Baetens and Selma Alaoui, she says: “I knew they would bring more layers to the story and that’s fantastic. We talked a lot about their characters and about how their lines, the words should contain more than what they say.” This is Girard’s first nom.