The Oscar-nominated shorts category has become one of my favorite Academy Award categories in recent years for three reasons: First, the format allows audiences to experience what’s new in movie-making as new storytelling techniques and quirkier stories are often first tried out in a shorter format –– it’s new and young talent doing new and interesting things in film in these shorts. (And we may yet see this talent again when they get their chance to make a full-length motion picture.); Second, because nominated short films must have already received a major prize elsewhere, we get to see the best of the crop. Third, the category seems to me to be the most egalitarian.
Each year, the Oscar-nominated shorts represent a mix of veteran filmmakers, independent filmmakers, first-time filmmakers, and a swath of international filmmakers. Neither a big production or marketing budget is a quasi-prerequisite for competing in this category. The background of the filmmakers is often as diverse, given that not all those whose entries are nominated are trained in filmmaking.
Unlike the Features categories, in which the Academy selects the film it considers to be the best from any given country, shorts are submitted by countries themselves. This makes it so that what is put up for consideration reflects the tastes of those from where the short originates, as opposed to the tastes of a U.S.-based viewership.
Here are some titles to look forward to in this year’s lineup: Garden Party, in which a lay-about clan of toads and frogs uncover the whereabouts of a villa’s missing owner; Negative Space, in which an object and skillfulness become important in the bond between a father and son; Heroin(e), in which three women in a town ravaged by opiod addiction seek to save their community through compassion; Traffic Stop, in which a white police officer and the black women he just arrested engage in a conversation about race in America on the way to the police station.
The Oscar-nominated shorts has become a fan-favorite in the past few years. A format that enjoyed greater audience awareness in years past, shorts seem to once again have captured the attention of movie-watchers domestically and abroad. Between 2015 and 2017, revenues brought in by the Oscar-nominated shorts doubled; in 2017 this category alone brought in nearly 3 million in worldwide box office gross. This year’s lineup is sure to maintain this upward trend.
Rubén Casas is an assistant professor of English at Fresno State, and he serves on the Filmworks board as a member of the marketing committee.