Elena Yu


Children in the Spotlight of the 2013 Academy Award Nominated Live-Action Short Films

I always feel a strong sense of guilt and helplessness when watching the Academy Awards’ presentations of the nominated short films. Mostly because the only excerpts I recognize are the Pixar shorts played before feature-length blockbusters. The widely publicized feature-film nominees, like Pixar’s Brave and Disney’s Frankenweenie and ParaNorman, are subject to endless speculations based on incessant predictions and analyses; comparatively, the short film contenders rarely seem to register on my Oscar radar. Perhaps these are the complaints of an unsophisticated viewer — regardless, I rejoiced in the discovery that the Nuart Theater in Los Angeles annually screens the short film nominees for the award season. A few weeks before Oscar Sunday I set out to the Nuart to see the live action short films and in my favorites I found a beautiful combination of clever humor and a dark honesty about the difficulties of some of life’s choices.

“Asad,” is set in a seaside village of war-torn Somalia, and follows a preadolescent boy named Nadif. Throughout the film we are confronted by the tight squeeze of violent pirates, and exposed to the pressures and dangers of living in a state ravaged by war, and the tireless struggles of everyday Somalis. Amidst the ostensible chaos, Nadif faces a rather finite choice: the choice between joining his friends in a criminal life of piracy or to follow an honest life as a fisherman. Though Nadif has never successfully caught a fish, he decides to try again, only to be tested by unexpected tragedy and daunting obstacles. Despite the dire turn of events, somehow Nadif returns home safely with a fluffy white cat in tow.

Another young boy struggles over his the path of his future in “Buzkashi Boys.” This coming of age story is set in present-day Afghanistan, where Rafi, the son of the town blacksmith, faces the choice between fulfilling the expectations of his father to continue his blacksmith trade, or to pursue the dream of becoming a professional player alongside his best friend in Afghanistan’s national sport: buzkashi, a raucous game of horse polo played with a dead goat. As in “Asad,” Rafi faces a crucial life-altering decision over the course of the film, and both Nadif and Rafi bravely face their choices and subsequent consequences alone.

“Curfew” follows New Yorker Richard, on a come back from attempted suicide. After receiving a call for help from his battered sister, he reluctantly agrees to babysit. His nine-year old niece, Sophia, proves to be a precocious interrogator; asking him questions about his drug abuse, snubbing usual familial propriety, and accusing him of irresponsibility. Her candor and uninhibited honesty leads to an epiphany for Richie, who after bonding with Sophia (and enduring a particularly cheesy and out of place musical number) forms a relationship that ultimately changes his outlook on life forever.

This year’s short film nominees expose a thread alternating between hope and despair, which observe the struggles of young and old alike. Ultimately, each film illustrates that life must be a balance of the two. In these three emotionally riveting short films, children face unimaginable circumstances, and their reactions at times surpass the maturity and fortitude of some adults. Nadif, Rafi, and Sophia, each reveal a courageous innocence that can inspire viewers – regardless of age – to do the same.

The 2013 Oscar Nominated Short Films, live action and animated, are currently showing at the Landmark Regent Theater in Westwood until February 28.