The films competing in the best live-action short category at the Oscars this year include two directing debuts from UK filmmakers.

The After

'The After

Source: Netflix

’The After

Oscar nominees: Misan Harriman (director), Nicky Bentham, David Oyelowo (producers)

Photographer and activist Harriman, who is the first Black person in the 104-year history of British Vogue to shoot its prestigious September cover and was a prominent figure in capturing images of 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests, marks his directing debut with The After. Nicky Bentham’s Neon Films and David Oyelowo’s Yoruba Saxon Productions produce the short drama, which screened at BFI London Film Festival last October and has been released on Netflix. It stars Oyelowo (Selma) as a rideshare driver devastated by personal loss.

The idea originated in 2020, a year in which the pandemic raged and George Floyd was murdered by police officers in Minneapolis. Harriman describes it as “an act of God of a year” and noted that many people, including himself, were facing mental-health challenges. “I wanted to make my first piece of moving image to be the bedfellow of that, to recognise we can all be a little bit broken, we can all have invisible scars and we can find a way to build ourselves back up brick by brick,” says Harriman.

When it came to casting Oyelowo, Harriman got the actor on board by initially messaging him an Instagram. The two bonded over their shared British-Nigerian heritage. “He [Oyelowo] decided before there was a readable script to go on this journey with us,” Harriman recalls. “It was extraordinary for someone at his level to give us that sense of trust and belief.”

Filming took place in London over five summer days in 2022, with director of photography Si Bell (Peaky Blinders, A Very British Scandal) using the roof of London’s National Theatre for the opening sequence, shooting most of the remainder within the confines of the protagonist’s car.

Harriman also intertwined his own experiences of parenthood into the project. “There are other parts of the story that are linked to me being a father and recognising the celestial nature of children,” he reflects.

Red, White And Blue

'Red White And Blue'

Source: McFarlane

‘Red White And Blue’

Oscar nominees: Nazrin Choudhury (director, producer), Sara McFarlane (producer)

London-born screenwriter Choudhury began her career writing for UK soap operas such as Coronation Streetand EastEnders, before making her way across the Atlantic and landing writing and producing credits on TV series such as Fear The Walking Dead and Wayward Pines. Now, she hopes her directing debut Red, White And Blue will help to broaden the discourse on abortion rights.

The short film — produced by Choudhury and E/S Collab’s New York-based McFarlane — stars Brittany Snow as an Arkansas waitress who crosses state lines to get an urgent abortion. Her struggles play out during the journey to Illinois, as a twisted secret reveals itself.

For some time, Red, White And Blue was just “a script in the drawer” for Choudhury. However, the US Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade — the 1973 landmark case that ruled abortion to be a protected right — in June 2022, providing what she describes as the “impetus for telling this story”.

She looks at abortion as a lifesaving measure. “We intended to tell a very human and characterful story that ultimately details the human cost of the Supreme Court’s decision,” says Choudhury, who is of Bangladeshi heritage.

The director hopes her film will resonate with people across the political divide and “start honest conversations around our own dinner tables in such a way that it allows for abortion to be seen as healthcare — and for people who need that healthcare to be seen and treated with compassion and dignity, instead of judgment.”