Despite the challenges of a worldwide pandemic, creators of short films continue doing remarkable work.
The Peace Center is once again offering Upstate film goers the opportunity to see the short films nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of animation, live action and documentaries.
The screenings on April 17 will be a little different this year. To allow for social distancing, the screenings are moving from the more intimate Gunther Theatre into the Concert Hall.
The lineup of short films is as strong as ever. Several are deeply moving works, masterpieces in miniature. The longest of the lot is 40 minutes, the shortest a mere six. Five nominees are offered in each category, but the animated group features three additional Highly Commended films. Film goers should note that many of the films are not suitable for young audiences.
Here are some highlights:
Animated: Among the breeziest films this year, as in years past, are a few in the animated category. In Pixar’s “Burrow,” clocking in at six minutes, a rabbit hopes to build the home of her dreams but digs herself into a host of troubles. There’s a nice little message about community: She gets by with a little help from her friends. The lively score is by Mozart. (Look in the credits under Special Thanks for “Wolfie A. Mozart.”)
Most of the animated films say a lot with little or no dialogue. “Yes-People,” from Iceland, is a whimsical slice-of-life story about several people living in an apartment complex. “Opera” is a surreal depiction of a functioning community undermined by hatred and war. “If Anything Happens I Love You,” perhaps the best in the animated category, is a poignant story of a couple coping with the grief of losing a child.
Live Action: The five live action films have the concentrated force of finely crafted short stories. In the heartfelt “Feeling Through,” a young man in New York meets a DeafBlind man needing assistance. The film is the first to feature a DeafBlind man, Robert Tarango, in a leading role.
A Palestinian man and his daughter set out in the West Bank to buy his wife an anniversary gift in “The Present.” The film traces the indignities and dangers the two face in an occupied state just to go shopping.
In “The White Eye,” from Israel, a man’s attempt to recover his stolen bicycle will lead to a crisis of conscience involving migrants.
Documentaries: The documentary group features some particularly heartwarming and heartbreaking films.
“A Concerto is a Conversation” is an engaging chat between the young Black composer Kris Bowers and his grandfather who became a successful business owner, despite growing up in the Jim Crow South. The younger Bowers wrote the music for the film and is co-director.
Two other documentaries are probably the most powerful films you’ll see this year.
“Colette” is about a 90-year-old woman who is one of the last surviving members of the World War II French resistance. Lucie, a young historian, persuades Colette to travel to Germany for the first time since the war to visit the concentration camp where her brother died in 1945.
Colette is both feisty and modest.
“He was three years older than I, and a genius,” she says of her brother. “I was a bit of an idiot.”
For Colette and Lucie, it’s a tearful, heartbreaking journey. How could it be otherwise?
“If these hills could talk,” she says, surrounded by the ruins of the concentration camp, “I think we’d hear screams.”
The strongest of the documentaries is “Hunger Ward,” a harrowing look at what the United Nations calls the “world’s greatest humanitarian disaster.”
The film explores the famine in war-torn Yemen that has claimed more than 85,000 children since 2016.
The filmmakers focus on two health care workers and their colleagues trying to save starving children. Some survive, others don’t make it.
“Hunger Ward” is a nightmarish documentary, almost unbearable at times. But that’s the point. It seeks to wake up an indifferent world.
“The foundations of our society are gone,” says one nurse. “It’s all been destroyed, all the basic pillars: education, water, health. We have gone back a hundred years. We are living now like primates.”
During a bombing raid, a man grabs his smart phone to record the devastation.
“The world needs to know the depths of the Yemeni people’s suffering,” he says.
Back in the hospital ward, a weary doctor says, “If only our voices could be heard.”
Thanks in part to this compelling documentary, they may be.
Paul Hyde, a longtime Upstate journalist, writes about the arts for the Greenville Journal. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.
See the show
What: The Oscar-nominated short films
When: April 17: 12 p.m. (Animated); 3:30 p.m. (Documentaries); 8 p.m. (Live Action)
Where: Peace Center
Tickets: $12 for each group of films