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Oscar-nominated shorts come to theaters

February 06, 2009|Mark Olsen

They can be the scourge of office Oscar pools everywhere.

Even to those who have brushed up on costume design, visual effects and the distinction between sound editing and sound mixing, the short-film categories can be the spoilers in guessing the winners of the Academy Awards.

That may change for some, as a program of the 10 short films nominated in the live-action and animation categories opens today in theaters. (The vagaries of the documentary short subject nominees will still have to be illuminated elsewhere.) This is the fourth year that Shorts International, in conjunction with Magnolia Pictures, has distributed the nominees theatrically, and this year's program eventually will reach 90 theaters in the U.S., about 20 theaters in the UK and 10 in Mexico. The shorts also will be available online as paid individual downloads on iTunes beginning Jan. 17. "It is not a simple project," said Carter Pilcher, chief executive of Shorts International, about the complications of pulling the program together quickly. "Nobody knows who the nominees are going to be until [Jan. 22] and we are putting them into theaters on [Feb. 6]. It is a scramble to get them all to agree, and it's a big effort."

Among the animation nominees is an entry from powerhouse production company Pixar called "Presto," about a troublesome magician's rabbit, from director Doug Sweetland. The UK production "This Way Up," by the team of Adam Foulkes and Alan Smith, is a phantasmagoric journey in which two undertakers attempt to lay a soul to rest. "Oktapodi," a lighthearted look at two octopuses who are struggling not to become someone else's dinner, was created by a team of six directors from the French Gobelins animation school: Julien Bocabeille, Francois-Xavier Chanioux, Olivier Delabarre, Thierry Marchand, Quentin Marmier and Emud Mokhberi. The Russian production "Lavatory -- Love- story," directed by Konstantin Bronzit, uses lovely line drawings to tell the story of a lonely bathroom attendant. "La Maison En Petits Cubes (House of Small Cubes)" is a painterly examination of an old man and his house, created by Japanese filmmaker Kunio Kato.

On the live-action side, there is "Auf Der Strecke (On the Line)" a German/Swiss production directed by Reto Caffi, in which a security guard must face the consequences of his own inaction. Denmark's "Grisen (The Pig)" is a whimsical tale of a hospital patient's connection to a painting, directed by Dorte Hogh. "Manon Sur le Bitume (Manon on the Asphalt)" spins a hauntingly impressionistic telling of a traffic accident, created by the French team of Elizabeth Marre and Olivier Pont. "New Boy," directed by Steph Green, is an adaptation of Irish writer Roddy Doyle's story of a young African immigrant adjusting to a new school. "Spielzeugland (Toyland)" is a German production, directed by Jochen Alexander Freydank, set during WWII.

Whether the filmmakers go on to work on feature films -- 2005 live-action short winner Martin McDonagh is a nominee this year for original screenplay ("In Bruges") -- or continue to work in shorts, the theatrical release and online availability of the nominated films is a boost for their careers and visibility.

"We made the film for people to see it," said Mokhberi. "The more theaters, the more screenings it gets, the more places that people can go to see it, the happier we are."

"It's an incredible idea," said "New Boy" producer Tamara Anghie, "to allow the general public the opportunity to see all of the films and provide a life for short filmmaking in a way that doesn't happen otherwise. I think there is an audience with an appetite for short films."

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