The five films nominated for live-action short at this year’s Oscars were shot and produced in five different countries around the world, and tell stories that have little in common with each other, from a satire to a romantic drama. But all were labors of love from talented directors who had to deal with numerous obstacles to get there, whether it was a limited budget or short-shooting times or harsh shooting conditions. The results are all deeply thought-provoking films, ones that reflect the issues and beliefs important to the storytellers behind them.
Ala Kachuu — Take and Run
Director: Maria Brendle
Zurich-based director Brendle was inspired after learning about the practice of ala kachuu in which thousands of women are kidnapped and forced into marriages in Kyrgyzstan, although it’s officially outlawed by the government. Brendle wanted to give a voice to these victims. Her short, “Ala Kachuu — Take and Run,” is a wrenching drama about a young woman Sezim (Alina Turdumamatova) from a traditional Krygyz family who is kidnapped by a man she doesn’t know and forced by his family and hers to marry him. In order to accurately portray the culture, Brendle spent two years researching and traveling through the country, and shot the film with a crew of largely non-English-speaking actors with the help of a translator. “It was amazing to see people come together,” Brendle says. “From different countries and different cultures, who don’t even speak the same language. But working on this common goal, to give victims of bride kidnapping a voice, it was a gift to me to make this experience.”
Director: Tadeusz Lysiak
While developing his project for his second year at Warsaw Film School, Lysiak was interested in exploring stigmas against people based on appearance. He did research into people with disabilities, and decided to make a film about a woman with dwarfism yearning for love. To make sure his script was as truthful as possible, he consulted with Anna Dzieduszycka, who had previously acted for him. Dzieduszycka ended up portraying the lead character in Lysiak’s film “The Dress.” “I was a bit worried because Anna had some experience as an actress, she’s played in some small projects, but she’s also not a professional actress per se,” Lysiak says. “But then we started rehearsing the movie and actually shooting it, and it turned out that she is not just a good actress. She’s the greatest one, probably one of the greatest living actresses now. So I am really proud as a director that I discovered her.”
The Long Goodbye
Director: Aneil Karia
The film started as a tie-in for actor-rapper Riz Ahmed’s album of the same name that explores his complicated relationship with Britain as a child of Pakistani immigrants. Ahmed reached out to Karia and after extensive discussions about politics and race in Britain, they co-wrote the film. Ahmed stars as the son of a South Asian family whose home is raided by the government. Filming took only two days, but Karia says it was a tough shoot that required a lot of emotional energy. “When you’re from any kind of minority community, you obviously have a complicated relationship with the country that you move to or your parents move to, and if you’re anything like me you become very well practiced in not vocalizing those complicated emotions and keeping your head down. The original idea I sent Riz was a much more restrained version of where we took it. The house was not raided, they were not taken away. But through having that creative allegiance with Riz, we encouraged each other to strip away our creative inhibitions, and what you see on screen is really a distillation of our nightmares.”
On My Mind
A previous Oscar winner for the short “The Charming Man,” Strange-Hansen wrote “On My Mind” based on two events in his life. One was the first time he tried karaoke, and, not understanding how it works, stayed on stage even as others were waiting their turn. The other was a much more serious event: after visiting his daughter in the hospital in 2001, while she was struggling with spinal muscular dystrophia, Strange-Hansen went to a nearby bar. “It struck me at that moment how you can be in the same room with someone and a universe apart from them.” “On My Mind” centers on Henrik (Rasmus Hammerich) who is desperate to record a karaoke rendition of the old standard “Always on My Mind” for his wife, for reasons that remain a mystery to the audience until the end. Strange-Hansen chose the song partially because it’s a favorite of his wife’s, but also because its lyrics perfectly capture the bittersweet experience of parting with someone precious to you.
K.D. Dávila and Levin Meneske
The wife-and-husband team of Dávila and Meneske wrote “Please Hold,” a young working-class Latino (Erick Lopez) arrested on charges nobody will explain, based on their own experiences. Meneske, who produced, is from Turkey and had difficulty navigating the immigration process. A clerical error with his mandatory Turkish military service briefly made him an outlaw. Dávila, who directed, wanted to make a film about the policing and over-incarceration of the Latino community in Los Angeles where she grew up. Their resulting film, which follows the main character as he jumps through legal hoops to find someone to represent his case, is laugh-out-loud funny, but also reflects the indifference of bureaucracies.
“This is a reality for so many people now. We read stories all the time about people, every single day in the American justice system, who because they cannot pay bail or they cannot afford a defender, they get stuck in jail,” Dávila says. “We wanted to emphasize, through really showing it from his perspective, that this system is so indifferent to him that it doesn’t even care to explain itself.”