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Shorts in the Oscar frame

The film-makers behind this year’s live action and animated short film Oscar contenders range from new talents to experienced studio hands. Screen profiles the nominees.

Animated short film nominees

Adam And Dog (US)

Dir Minkyu Lee

Set in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Dog explores how man and canine came to be best friends. Working by day as a visual developmental artist for Disney, South Korea-born director Minkyu Lee enlisted friends and colleagues to work on this film during weekends and the result is a remarkable digital 2D animation reminiscent of Disney films from the 1980s and 1990s. Part of the film’s look was achieved thanks to the creative involvement of Glen Keane, the legendary animator who worked on The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. With the film already beating studio-produced fare at the 2012 Annie Awards to win best animated short, Lee is becoming one of the most talked about young directors on the animation circuit.

Contact The PR Kitchen, fumi@theprkitchen.com

Fresh Guacamole (US)

Dir PES

First commissioned by cable network Showtime for its online Short Stories series, Fresh Guacamole is perhaps one of the most widely seen films among the nominees. A gloriously surreal work in which the ingredients of a guacamole are replaced by grenades, dice and poker chips, the film amassed more than 3.5m hits over four days when it was first posted online. The work of commercial and animation director PES (the alias of New York-based Adam Pesapane) has garnered a cult following over the past decade and numerous industry plaudits. PES is currently at work on his first feature, a movie based on the Garbage Pail Kids franchise financed and produced by Michael Eisner’s The Tornante Company.

Contact Sarah Phelps, PES Productions, sphelps@eatpes.com

Head Over Heels (UK)

Dir Timothy Reckart

This tender stop-motion animation sees an old couple who have literally grown apart, as one lives on the floor and the other on the ceiling. A product of the UK’s National Film and Television School (NFTS), it is an inventive and painstakingly constructed film that utilises the talents of numerous students from NFTS courses. Directed by Arizona-born Timothy Reckart, Head Over Heels is perhaps the most low key and sedate of the Academy Award nominees but it is also quite unique, and its exquisite technical achievements make it stand out from the crowd.

Contact Hemant Sharda, National Film & Television School, festivals@nfts.co.uk

Maggie Simpson In ‘The Longest Daycare’ (US)

Dir David Silverman

Screened in front of Ice Age: Continental Drift, the second theatrical outing for the most enduring animated family on television was directed by long-time Simpsons animator David Silverman, who also directed Monsters, Inc (with Lee Unkrich) and The Simpsons Movie. A 3D effort with no dialogue - it follows the youngest and least verbal of the Simpson clan - the film garnered reviews that were often more positive than ones for the feature it accompanied. The short is something of a throwback to the early days of the TV show, with plenty of classic film references mixed in with genuine pathos and heart.

Contact 20th Century Fox, www.foxmovies.com

Paperman (US) [pictured]

Dir John Kahrs

This black-and-white Disney effort premiered at Annecy International Animation Film Festival in 2012 - perhaps the industry’s biggest showcase - and went on to screen theatrically as the accompanying short for Wreck-It Ralph. Produced by Walt Disney Animation/Pixar supremo John Lasseter, this debut directorial effort from animator John Kahrs - whose credits include The Incredibles and Tangled - harks back to the early days of animation with a hand-drawn aesthetic and a 1940s setting. An elegant and simple affair that certainly stands out stylistically from the Walt Disney/Pixar shorts audiences expect to see, the film bodes well for the future career of Kahrs as an animation director.

Contact Walt Disney Animation Studios, www.disneyanimation.com

Live action short film nominees

Asad (US-Somalia)

Dir Bryan Buckley

A heartfelt tale of a young Somali boy who must choose between a life of piracy or honesty, Asad - shot with a cast of Somali refugees - has already proved popular on the festival circuit, winning the best narrative short at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival. Director Bryan Buckley is one of the leading lights in commercials - he has won more than 40 Cannes Lions awards - but this film avoids over-stylisation and is an intriguing blend of harsh reality and gentle fable. Buckley is currently working on his debut feature, an adaptation of the classic relationship tome Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus slated to star Reese Witherspoon.

Contact Hungry Man, Matt Lefebvre, mlefebvre@hungryman.com

Buzkashi Boys (US-Afg)

Dir Sam French

This coming-of-age story is about a young Afghan boy, the game of buzkashi (the Afghan national game of horse polo that utilises a dead goat) and the attempt to realise dreams in one of the most war-torn countries on Earth. Directed by Sam French, an American who moved to Afghanistan in 2008, the film certainly has the worthiness factor but it avoids painful earnestness thanks to strong cinematography and acting from a non-professional cast. The film is the first from the Afghan Film Project, a non-profit NGO founded by French to train Afghan film-makers.

Contact Afghan Film Project, sam@afghanfilmproject.com

Curfew (US)

Dir Shawn Christensen

A skilful combination of deadpan comedy and tough drama, Curfew follows a man at the lowest point of his life who is pulled from the depths of depression when he is forced to look after his niece. Racking up an impressive number of accolades, including an audience award at Clermont-Ferrand, the film is notable for its New York locations and a strong performance from rising child actor Fatima Ptacek. Director Shawn Christensen - who plays the lead in the film - has also written the screenplays for Abduction starring Taylor Lautner, and the forthcoming Sidney Hall (Scott Free Productions) and Karma Coalition (Warner Bros).

Contact Brad Horvath, Ouat Media, brad.horvath@ouatmedia.com

Death Of A Shadow (Bel)

Dir Tom Van Avermaet

Featuring rising Belgian star Matthias Schoenaerts (the male lead in Rust and Bone and the Oscar-nominated Bullhead) Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw) is a rich fantasy short about a soldier, who died in the First World War. In the afterlife, he must collect 1,000 shadows of the deceased. Director Tom Van Avermaet’s short films have been a popular staple on the festival circuit, especially among those dedicated to the fantasy genre. A move to features looks certain down the line.

Contact Premium Films, kasia.karwan@premium-films.com

Henry (Can)

Dir Yan England

Inspired by his grandfather, who developed Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 92, Yan England’s ode to a great concert pianist who is perturbed when his wife disappears is a measured and intensely personal piece of work.The film is buoyed by an impressive central performance from the stalwart French-Canadian actor Gérard Poirier and some assured direction from England, who has appeared in numerous TV shows as an actor. Perhaps the most intimate of the nominations, its relative simplicity should find favour as it prepares for a life on the international festival circuit.

Contact Shorts International, salesus@shorts.tv

The Oscar-nominated short films - animated, live action and documentary - will open theatrically on Feb 1 in the US, Canada and Europe, distributed by ShortsHD.

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