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Film Of The Week: DeKalb Elementary

DeKalb Elementary by Reed Van Dyk (2017) (USA) (21m)

DeKalb Elementary was nominated for an Oscar in 2018, losing out the inferior The Silent Child (proving that if you want to win an Oscar, your chances are significantly higher if you focus on a child). It retells the 2013 incident at McNair Academy in Georgia, USA, when bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff helped persuade a mentally ill gunman to give up rather than go on a suicidal rampage.


Bottle by Kirsten Lepore (2010) (USA) (4m)

Bottle was the first of several of Lepore's short animations to do well on the festival circuit (though she had made the musical A Story from North America before). Bottle is a simple yet well-told story of two sentient lifeforms - one made from sand and one made from snow - who strike up a long distance relationship by sharing objects from their respective habitats in a bottle thrown into their mutual ocean. Dead mouse hat anyone?


Kitbull by Rosana Sullivan (2019) (USA) (9m) *

Kitbull was the best of ten short animations made by Pixar employees who would not normally get a chance to lead on projects. That it went on to be nominated for an Oscar shows there is obvious talent lurking within Pixar's ranks (to get a job at Pixar one has to be pretty talented anyway). Kitbull is a simple tale about a scrawny street cat who comes across an abused pitbull. Initially afraid of the bigger animal, the cat realises that the dog is not necessarily to be feared.


Best Man by Freddie Hall (2016) (UK) (4m)

Best Man won three awards in the 12th FILMSshort competition, including the Grand Prize. It tells the story of the newly engaged Donald, who wants his good friend, Patrick, to be the best man at his wedding. The caveat is that, if Patrick is to be his best man, his first task is to get Donald out of the marriage by getting rid of his fiancée, which, as well as being somewhat contradictory, leads Patrick to believe that Donald has in fact lost his mind. When the bride-to-be turns up, Patrick faces a problem.


Room 8

Room 8 by James W Griffiths (2013) (UK) (6m)

As the quality of newly released shorts is so low, here's a look back at BAFTA winner Room 8. Its central idea seems to have been inspired by the Oscar-nominated animation Delivery but it is still a beautifully made and mind-bending short film in its own right. Room 8 is the Russian prison cell into which an Englishman is dragged. His cellmate warns him not to open the box on the bed. However, curiosity gets the better of him and he must face the consequences.


Yes-People by Gísli Darri Halldórsson (2020) (Iceland) (8m)

Yes-People was nominated for the Best Short Oscar in 2021. It follows an assorted mix of characters from the same apartment block as they struggle through the day. Because they all live in the same building, the short reminds me of the animation Flatlife, which won at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004. The animation is expertly rendered and the characterisation is nice but there is nothing that stands out as demanding an Oscar nomination.

Punch-Drunk by Ketang and Liam White (2022) (UK) (13m)

Punch-Drunk is almost entirely told in one medium close-up shot, which focuses on Colin, a middle-aged Irishman living in Marseilles. A stranger engages him in a cafe, and as the conversation unfolds it becomes clear that it is no coincidence (of course it isn't). It is a courageous film, expertly acted, with a well-crafted script that suffers from just one moment of clunkiness. However, I would have loved the filmmakers to follow through on their courage.


Mis-drop by Ferend Peek (2013) (New Zealand) (14m)

I wanted to look back at the underrated sci-fi short film Mis-drop by Ferend Peek, a finalist in the FILMSshort competition some years ago. Set 300 years in the future, it is mainly told with one shot, which shows a new recruit taking part in his first "drop". His team are dropping from a spaceship onto an alien world they are colonising and mining. It is being watched back by a forensic accountant, who has to decide whether what went wrong was the fault of the rookie or not.


Appendage by Anna Zlokovic (2022) (USA) (6m)

A psychological horror short film, this Sundance film tells the story of a young fashion designer who struggles to stand up to her overbearing boss. Her self-doubt and anxiety manifests into physical form, which will remind viewers of a certain age of the original Total Recall movie. Its lack of subtlety makes me assume it's a black comedy, despite this not being explicit anywhere. Of course, it could all be an earnest exploration of whether one needs to conquer one's fears or use them to one's own benefit.


The Long Goodbye by Aneil Karia (2020) (UK) (12m)

Having won the Oscar, this goes back to the top. Eventually told in the form of a poem, the drama tells the story of an ordinary day in a British Asian family until a far right group comes for them. It displays fine filmmaking - and Ahmed is always great - but its conceit does grate a little with me: that a Brownshirt-like movement is cleansing ethnic families (as the Nazis once did) and these families are taking no precautions, nor receiving any help from the public.

Small Deaths

Granddad Was A Romantic by Maryam Mohajer ('19) (UK) (5m)

This little seen BAFTA winner was created by British-Iranian animator Maryam Mohajer. It seems to be telling a Persian love story until a more earthy (perhaps British) sense of humour reveals itself. It is voiced by Maya Naraghi, who had collaborated with Mohajer on her previous short animation, Red Dress. No Straps, which also tells a Persian story from a child's point of view. I am not qualified to critique animation but I prefer this short to many of the more recent BAFTA winners due to its brevity and funny ending.


The Black Cop by Cherish Oteka (2021) (UK) (18m)

The Black Cop won the BAFTA for Best Short Film. It tells the story of Gamal Turawa, a gay black man who singed up for the for Met Police, which has been dogged by racism and homophobia. Turawa explores his career through the prism of three events: the resistance to racial profiling and the consequently oppressive policing, the push for LGBT rights and the African farming scandal, where white families took care of black children without oversight from local authorities. I haven't really got much to add.

The Neighbors' Window by Marshall Curry (2019) (USA) (20m)

With the Oscars fast approaching, here's another look at The Neighbors' Window - the last available winner. A middle-aged couple with young children see a young, partying couple move into the apartment opposite, and are immediately reminded of their own unexciting lives. So much so, that the stressed-out mother becomes obsessed with them. However, everyone faces personal struggles and, after the passing of several seasons, it becomes clear that the couple opposite are facing a traumatic event.


The Queen of Basketball by Ben Proudfoot (2021) (US) (22m)

Nominated for the Best Short Documentary Oscar. It tells the story of Lusia Harris, a black woman who led a predominantly white school in Mississippi to three successive championships in basketball, for which she had a natural gift (and being 6'3'' didn't hurt). The archive footage is impressive, showing how talented all the women are, with Lusia an icon to the others. She even led the American team at the Olympics, losing to the USSR in the final, before being invited to trial for a men's NBA team.

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