Film

Short films, big statements

Academy Award-nominated short films to be shown at Harwood Museum

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The Academy Awards celebrates its 90th presentation this year. The official Academy Awards site (Oscars.org) is a trip through time. While much has changed, much has also stayed the same.

In 1929, the first Oscar winner for Best Picture was "Wings," a story about World War I. Cut to the year 2018, and two nominated films are about World War II. It seems that the paradox of war, its sense and senselessness, continues to preoccupy moviemaking artists.

A short film is a great entrance to a filmmaker's beginning career, and Oscar-nominated shorts are gems in the treasure trove.

For the 13th consecutive year, Shorts HD and Magnolia Pictures present "Oscar-Nominated Short Films" at the Harwood Museum of Art, 238 Ledoux Street. The screenings take place beginning Saturday (Feb. 24), and continue on succeeding Saturdays, March 3, and March 10 in the museum's Arthur Bell Auditorium. A 2 p.m. matinee and a 7 p.m. showing are scheduled for all three days.

Harwood public programs coordinator Amy Rankin said, "I continue to book the 'Oscar Shorts' because they are really great films and many of them will be very hard to see after the Oscars."

Tempo previewed the film trailers at Oscars.org/videos-photos/shorts-nominees and experienced a selection of films that can only be described as outstanding. The editing, the production quality and the story concepts are whimsically entertaining or downright disturbing.

For example, the animated short "Revolting Rhymes" is a fresh, fun retelling of beloved fairy tales characters coming together in this plot from their own separate stories. The documentary "Traffic Stop" is about an African-American woman who was brutalized by police at a traffic stop. Her retelling of the experience, combined with the actual police dash-cam footage, is eviscerating.

Rankin noted that the Oscar-nominated shorts "incorporate elements of art, ingenuity and topics that are relevant right now."

Each film itself ranges from a mere five minutes to a maximum of 40 minutes. The programs are mapped out with the Feb. 24 screenings featuring the animated category, with a total running time of 88 minutes; March 3 it's all about documentaries and that runs 102 minutes for program A, followed by a brief intermission and then program B for 82 minutes; then on March 10 the subjects are live action shorts totaling 95 minutes.

It's no secret that limited resources often bedevil a filmmaker from getting a film completed, if done at all.

Peter Halter, film series programmer for the Taos Center of the Arts, said he has been working as a projectionist at several film festivals for years, including the Sundance Film Festival. He explained: "There are different ideas about shorts. One being that a lot of short filmmakers end up making feature films. Shorts are where they get started. It's so much cheaper to try and make a short than a feature. For some it's that. There's also the idea that 'if I get it done, then maybe someone will see it and give me money.'"

Kelly Clement is a media arts instructor at University of New Mexico-Taos and has long been a part of the Taos film scene. Among his many professional credentials, one notable achievement stands out: He won an Academy Award for best student documentary in 1990. He was also an integral part of the late and still lamented Taos Talking Picture Festival.

When asked about the importance of short film as an Oscar category, Clement said, "You'll get to see things you never get to see anywhere else: people taking risks, pushing the boundary. People who aren't confined by financial restrictions. I wasn't hired to do films. I just went out and made films and took risks."

Clement sees a lot of shorts as he is the film programmer for three different film festivals: DocLands Documentary Film Festival, Mill Valley Film Festival and the Denver Film Festival.

He said, "Shorts have a lot to do with storytelling. You can tell a more effective story in five minutes rather than stretching it to 90 minutes."

Audiencegoers at the Harwood will experience artistic brevity for themselves. In the animated category, "Dear Basketball" is only five minutes. In the live action category, "The Eleven O'Clock" runs only 13 minutes.

In all showings, the longest short can be found in the documentary category: "Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405," which tops out at 40 minutes. Interstate 405 is a notoriously clogged freeway in Los Angeles. Despite this hilarious title for Los Angelenos, the film tackles the serious subject of mental illness.

"When you see a great short film, it's like: 'Wow, that was only 20 minutes?' Filmmakers do such a great job and to see a lot of these being nominated, they are usually the cream of the crop," said Halter.

This is a sentiment that Clement echoed. "You might be seeing the first work of the next Steven Spielberg. You have to start somewhere and many filmmakers start with shorts."

Tickets to each program are $10, $8 for Harwood Alliance members. For more information, call (575) 758-9826 or visit harwoodmuseum.org.

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