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Be prepared to gasp, cringe and cry while watching this year’s Oscar-nominated live-action short subjects. One of the strongest lineups in recent memory, the films deal with a variety of hot-button topics in powerful and moving fashion. It all makes the sole comic entry, The Eleven O’Clock, feel like a much-needed tension reliever.
Three of the short films are based on real-life events. Reed Van Dyk’s DeKalb Elementary revolves around a subject that, horrifically, seems to be in the news every few days: school shootings. This taut effort begins with a distraught-looking young man (Bo Mitchell) brandishing an automatic weapon and entering the office of an elementary school. “We’re all gonna die today!” he bellows. A receptionist (a superb Tara Riggs) desperately attempts to calm the intruder who is firing random shots at the police outside while simultaneously relaying his messages to the authorities by phone. The film is a nail-biter, but it also delivers a moving portrait of a brave woman who instinctively realizes that compassion is the best road to survival.
RELEASE DATE Feb 09, 2018
So stylistically assured is Kevin Wilson Jr.’s My Nephew Emmett that it’s hard to believe it’s the work of a NYU student filmmaker. The film is inspired by the story of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old African-American boy brutally murdered in 1955 for the crime of supposedly whistling at a white woman while visiting relatives in Mississippi. The story is told from the perspective of Emmett’s great-uncle Mose Wright (L.B. Williams), who is forced to hand over the young boy to the gun-toting men who show up at his house late one night. The coda, featuring a startling segue to archival footage of the real-life, elderly Wright speaking directly to a journalist’s movie camera, is shattering.
Another real-life incident provides the basis for Katja Benrath’s Watu Wote (All of Us), about a fateful 31-hour Kenyan bus journey undertaken by Ju (Adelyne Wairimu), a Christian woman. Ju is understandably nervous about the trip’s safety, asking if there will be a police escort for the bus. The promised protection doesn’t materialize, and her fears prove prescient when the bus is attacked by gun-toting Muslim terrorists. Removing everyone from the bus, they demand to know which of the passengers are Christian. But the mostly Muslim group refuses to cooperate. Ju’s seatmate surreptitiously provides her with a head scarf, and a Muslim man stands up to the attackers, only to be shot for his trouble. The film emerges as a deeply moving rebuttal to religious intolerance and violence.
Equally harrowing, though with less carnage, is Chris Overton’s The Silent Child. Rachel Shenton, who wrote the screenplay, plays Joanne, a social worker assigned to the case of Libby (Maisy Sly), a deaf 4-year-old girl about to enter school for the first time. Although Libby is able to read lips, she doesn’t know sign language, and Joanne is determined to teach her so that she will be able to keep up with her fellow students. Libby proves a fast learner, but Joanne encounters unexpected resistance from the little girl’s mother (Rachel Fielding), who insists that the family doesn’t have time to learn signing and that Libby will be just fine without it. The final scene of the film, which displays sobering statistics about the importance of learning sign language during the end credits, will break your heart.
Thankfully, there’s The Eleven O’Clock to provide some comic relief. This Australian effort directed by Derin Seale depicts an increasingly volatile encounter between a psychiatrist (Josh Lawson, who also scripted) and a new patient (Damon Herriman) who claims that he is the shrink and the other man is in fact the patient. The two men’s hilarious back-and-forth accusations resemble an extended vaudeville sketch of the Abbott and Costello variety, and though the twist ending can be seen from a mile away, it doesn’t make getting there any less enjoyable. Running a brisk 13 minutes, the film is also smart enough not to wear out its welcome.
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