My Country, My Country
New York-based director-producer Laura Poitras (Flag Wars) spent eight months working alone in Iraq on her film, produced with Jocelyn Glatzer, about the months leading up to Iraq's first post-Saddam election in 2005. Poitras focuses on a Sunni doctor running for office as difficulties mount in an Iraqi society long used to other methods of resolving issues. The project was motivated, says Poitras, "by a sense of despair about the contradictions of the US occupation of Iraq and its project to implement democracy in the Middle East through the use of military force".
The Praxis Films/Independent Television Service co-production has screened at numerous festivals around the world, taking awards at events including the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and the Durban International Film Festival. It was released in North American cinemas last August by Zeitgeist Films and grossed $33,620. Besides the documentary feature Oscar, it is also nominated for an Independent Spirit Award.
Iraq In Fragments
One of the two nominated films about the consequences of the war in Iraq, this Typecast Pictures/Daylight Factory production from director-producer James Longley and producer John Sinno profiles a young Sunni boy, a Shiite leader and a family of Kurdish farmers, and examines the divisive forces that are tearing the country apart. US-born Longley says his aim was "to introduce the viewer to the breadth and complexity of the country, showing not only the divisions, but the unifying forces that tie it together".
Winner of major awards from the Sundance Festival, the Chicago International Film Festival and the International Documentary Association, the film was released theatrically in North America last November by Typecast Releasing in association with HBO Documentary Films. Domestic gross to date is $76,151. ICA Projects recently gave the film a UK theatrical launch.
In this look at a rarely seen aspect of America's born-again Christian movement, directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (The Boys Of Baraka) follow three children to a summer camp where kids as young as six years old are taught to become dedicated soldiers in 'God's army'. The directors say they hope audiences "leave the theatre discussing where we are as a nation - or whether in fact we are living in two separate nations, presently at war". Produced by Ewing and Grady's Loki Films for A&E IndieFilms, Jesus Camp got a North American theatrical release through Magnolia Pictures last September, and has so far grossed $887,149. It won awards at last year's AFI/Discovery Silver Docs and Tribeca Film festivals.
Deliver Us From Evil
One of two nominated documentaries with a religious theme, writer-director-producer Amy Berg and producer Frank Donner's film is an examination, through interviews with ex-priest Oliver O'Grady and several of his victims, of paedophilia among priests and the church's high-level attempts to suppress it.
"The film is a forum for (the victims) to express themselves and move on," says Berg, who makes her feature directing debut after several years working in television. Winner of the New York Film Critics Circle documentary award and an International Satellite Award, the Disarming Films production was released theatrically in North America last October by Lionsgate, grossing $201,275. It gets its international premiere at this month's Dublin International Film Festival.
An Inconvenient Truth
Producers Lawrence Bender and Laurie David recruited TV and documentary director Davis Guggenheim to shoot this screen version of former vice-president Al Gore's exploration of the consequences of global warming.
"The thing you dream about as a film-maker is finding a subject that hooks you in the gut," says Guggenheim, "and this movie had that for me." By far the most commercially successful of the nominated titles, the Participant Productions project was released in North America last May by Paramount Classics and grossed $24.1m.
Also nominated in the best original song category, the film has already won documentary awards from the National Board of Review, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the National Society of Film Critics.
Hungarian artist, animator and academic Geza M Toth says the idea for his short - about a singing bird who sits in front of a dressing room mirror as a mechanical arm prepares him for his grand performance - came from his work at the Hungarian University of Art and Design.
"I was trying to explain dramaturgic method to one of my students," Toth explains, "and I gave an example that was very similar to this film." The computer-animated film, which consists of a single five-minute scene, was produced by Hungary's Kedd Kft and has scooped awards at festivals in Bucharest, Patras and Leeds.
UK company Shorts International is handling international sales and giving the film (together with other animated and live-action short nominees) a US theatrical release through Magnolia Pictures.
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
The Blood Of Yingzhou District
Hong Kong-born director Ruby Yang and award-winning US producer Thomas Lennon made this look at a year in the life of a group of poor Chinese children who have lost their parents to Aids. The film was produced by the China Aids Media Project, which Yang and Lennon lead. New Zealand's Smiley Film Distribution is handling world sales.
Produced and directed by Leslie Iwerks and Mike Glad, Recycled Life was shot at Guatemala City's vast garbage dump, where families eke out a living by searching for items to recycle. Tragically, one of the subjects of the film, local school founder Hanley Denning, died in a car accident just before Oscar nominations were announced. Narrated by Edward James Olmos, the film has won best documentary short awards at five festivals over the past year.
Rehearsing A Dream
Screened at this year's Palm Springs International Film Festival, the film follows a group of exceptionally talented high-school students who are given the chance to spend one week working with leading figures from the world of the performing arts. Producer-directors Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon, who made the film through their New York-based Simon & Goodman Picture Company, are both three-time Oscar nominees.
Nathaniel Kahn, who made 2003 documentary feature nominee My Architect, directed this film about pianist Leon Fleischer, who lost the use of his right hand in 1965 and began a decades-long struggle to find a cure for his mysterious ailment. Kahn and Susan Rose Behr produced the film for Crazy Boat Pictures.
BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM
Binta And The Great Idea (Binta Y La Gran Idea)
Shot in Senegal by Spanish director Javier Fesser and producer Luis Manso, this well-travelled short (with 69 festival awards) focuses on a seven-year-old African girl who tells the stories of her cousin, who longs to go to school, and her father, who has an idea that he hopes will change the world. Made - in collaboration with Unicef - by Tus Ojos and Fesser and Manso's Peliculas Pendelton, which also produced Fesser's 2003 feature Mortadelo & Filemon's Great Adventure.
One Too Many (Eramos Pocos)
The live-short category's second Spanish entry comes from director Borja Cobeaga (whose previous shorts include the award-winning La Primera Vez) and production company Altube Filmeak. Cobeaga's comedy is about Joaquin and his son, who, when Joaquin's wife leaves him, turn to her mother for help with the cooking and cleaning. The film has won awards at festivals including Aspen Shortfest and Aubagne, and its screenplay, written with Sergio Barrejon, won the project competition at the 2004 Medina del Campo Film Festival.
Helmer & Son
Danish actor Soren Pilmark (Lotto) makes his debut as a short film director with this tale of a man whose father disappears from the nursing home where he has been admitted against his will. Made by Danish major Nordisk Film as part of a strategy to develop new talent. Its managing director of movie production, Kim Magnusson (who has two previous Oscar nominations and one win in the live-short category), is nominated along with Pilmark.
Australian writer-director Peter Templeman and producer Stuart Parkyn made their short while they were MA students at the Australian Film Television and Radio School, whose graduates and students have had work represented at the past six Academy Awards. Central character Malcolm is a gentle door-to-door evangelist in love with a married woman. He decides his Bible is the weapon he needs to destroy the marriage. The short has won 12 festival awards, including five for best film.
West Bank Story
California-raised film-maker Ari Sandel directed and co-wrote this musical comedy about an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian fast-food cashier who fall in love in spite of the animosity caused by their families' duelling falafel stands. The film, produced by Pascal Vaguelsy, Amy Kim, Ravi Malhotra and Ashley Jordan, has screened at more than 100 festivals in 21 countries - including Sundance and the HBO/US Comedy Arts Film Festival - and won awards at 23 of them.
BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
The Danish Poet
Directed by Norway-born but Canada-based Torill Kove (who was nominated in the same category in 1999 for My Grandmother Ironed The King's Shirts), this drawn animation short, narrated by Liv Ullman, is the story of a young poet in search of inspiration who travels to Norway to meet a celebrated writer and discovers, in Kove's words, that "life is like a meandering journey and a lot is really up to chance". The film, one of only two non-studio nominees in the category this year, has won prizes at festivals including Aspen ShortsFest and the Worldwide Short Film Festival in Toronto. National Film Board of Canada (NFB) and Mikrofilm of Norway co-produced. The Norwegian Film Institute is handling European sales and NFB the rest of the world.
Gary Rydstrom, a seven-time Oscar winner for his work in sound and sound editing on features including Finding Nemo, turns his hand to directing computer animation with this Pixar short about a bumbling young alien student who tests the patience of a weary instructor as he attempts a first-time abduction of a slumbering farmer. The short - one of three nominated films in this year's category from a major Hollywood studio - will be released theatrically in the US in June, on the same bill as Disney-Pixar's animated summer feature Ratatouille.
The Little Matchgirl
Hans Christian Andersen's story about a poor young girl who finds visions of happiness in the flames of the matches she lights to keep warm gets a new hand-drawn animated treatment in this Walt Disney Pictures short directed by Roger Allers (The Lion King) and produced by Don Hahn (a 1991 Oscar nominee in the best picture category for Beauty And The Beast). With no spoken dialogue and a string-quartet soundtrack, the film uses a watercolour look and a stylised palette to meet what Allers says was one of the project's challenges - "to make the shifts from dream to reality".
No Time For Nuts
Scrat, the comical character from 20th Century Fox's Ice Age features, is at the centre of this 3D short directed for Blue Sky Studios by storyboard artist Chris Renaud and animator Michael Thurmeier, both of whom worked on Ice Age: The Meltdown. In his second short (the first was 2002's Gone Nutty) Scrat uncovers a frozen time machine and ends up chasing his precious nut through time. The short was released as an extra on the DVD of Ice Age: The Meltdown.