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The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2013: Live Action

Theatrical Review

ShortsHD / Magnolia Pictures; N/A

Director: Various

Written by on January 30, 2013 

Asad – South Africa/USA – 18 minutes

Young Asad (Harun Mohammed) is an energetic boy with an insane knowledge of the ocean and tides that make him a perfect candidate to become a fisherman like his teacher, old Erasto (Ibrahim Moallim Hussein). Saddled with a streak of bad luck preventing him from catching anything substantial, however, his time spent on the beach drifts from fishing onto his idol Laban (Adiwale Mohamed) and the other men readying to go off with bad attitudes and guns to rob Europeans on the open sea. In a war-torn country like Somalia, many children grow up into the violence and horror because they have no other choice. Only the lucky few like Asad with a guardian angel of sorts can hope to stay on a righteous path.

Writer/director Bryan Buckley of Hungryman is a prolific commercial director with over forty Super Bowl ads, thirty-seven Cannes Lions, five Emmy nominations, and a 2010 Adweek Readers’ poll Commercial Director of the decade victory. With all these accolades in a career that began back in 1994, it’s amazing he’s only just now earning his first Oscar nomination for the short film Asad. More than a modern fable rooted in a dangerous world devoid of rules, this work is a collaboration by those who wish to see their country reborn as an inhabitable society. Every actor involved—save a British woman at the end—is a Somali refugee who still holds onto the hope better days may be coming.

A wonderful parable on humanity’s strength and will to survive, we watch Asad prove himself to be more of a man than any of those quick to pick up a gun and terrorize unsuspecting innocents. When a band of Mogadishu soldiers comes to threaten his friend Ali (Ali Mohammed), only Asad is there to stick up for him. When Erasto is beaten and cut by the same amoral rebels, only Asad is willing to help. The winds of legend say the boy will one day capture the greatest catch his hometown has ever seen, but they’re merely words without the love of his mother and tutelage of Erasto to stir him true. We all make choices holding either salvation or destruction and through Asad we learn the power of singular courage against insurmountable corruption.


Buzkashi Boys – Afghanistan/USA – 28 minutes

From crumbling bombed-out architectural shells, the black soot-covered faces of the public, and a national sport as rough and grotesque as Buzkashi’s horse polo with a dead goat, life in Afghanistan is quite easily one of the hardest, most brutal lives one can imagine. We sit here in America and let the media paint the entire country as our enemy—poverty stricken heathens who should be overjoyed by our intrusion upon them to instill some semblance of Westernization—and as a result never get to see how intrinsically alike we are. Through a fatherless street urchin named Ahmad (Jawanmard Paiz) and his blacksmith’s son best friend Rafi (Fawad Mohammadi), director Sam French and cowriter Martin Desmond Roe attempt to right this wrong with Buzkashi Boys.

Like all youths around the world, Ahmad and Rafi yearn for more than the life given to them. The former dreams big in hopes of one day getting off the streets to become like his athletic heroes on the Buzkashi fields while the latter seems defeated to his lot of an honorable existence he may never truly love. It’s a perfect example of optimism clashing with pessimism as an exuberant nature makes anything possible and a defeatist demeanor nothing. We all look to exit the shadows of our parents to pave our own way, but it’s not that easy outside our land of opportunity. Sometimes one must accept disappointment because certainty and success are both fickle concepts much more readily lost than acquired.

Shot in Murad Khane, a district of the old Kabul, we’re thrust into the wasteland of a war-torn land its citizens are unable to leave behind. Forced by a lack of wealth and ability to rebuild, they must languish in the melancholic city to do right by their families and earn however meager a living they can. Afghani children cannot afford to fantasize about the big lights and adoring fans of a major league sports contract when a career stands before them that can provide sustenance. To forsake such a life would mean to become an Icarus flying high, the confidence and belief in miracles fooling you into believing you’re immortal until only death can prove you wrong.

Tragedy looms around every corner of a beaten down Afghanistan marred by dilapidated temples and castles still beautiful in deserted and crippled majesty. For two boys who should have an infinite resource of possibilities lying before them, dreams have become liabilities. In order to honor those who have fallen on their journey towards greatness, simply surviving in poverty can be a near impossible act of sacrifice to give. Life is no longer a guarantee in Kabul and children inside such a place learn this lesson at way too young an age.


Curfew – USA – 19 minutes

If you look at Shawn Christensen‘s career and see a credit for writing the Taylor Lautner-starring Abduction as its centerpiece, confidence doesn’t necessarily run high. And yet his nineteen-minute short Curfew has earned an Oscar nomination for Best Live Action Short Film. As the saying goes, never judge a book by its cover.

I’m not going to say this film is great or deserves the victory or anything else overly hyperbolic. I will however admit that the feeling I had after watching wasn’t what I expected while it unfolded. Opening on Christensen’s Richie soaking in bloody bathtub water with one wrist cut and another about to be sliced, a distraught phone call from sister Maggie (Kim Allen) gives him pause. A litany of “You’re the last person I want to call but I need you” comes without letting him get a word in edgewise, but for some reason he stares off into the distance and says “Okay”. It’s borderline comical—maybe unintentionally so—and I anticipated it getting worse from there.

But then I started hearing Miles Fisher‘s cover of Talking Heads‘ “This Must Be the Place” and I began smiling at Shawn’s musical tastes. Young Sophia (Fatima Ptacek)—the subject of that call, in need of babysitting—starts spewing humor-filled precociousness and becomes immediately endearing. And then a catchy tune I’d love to discover the name of—the credits don’t contain a song list—begins playing as Ptacek and an entire bowling alley dances to the beat. I started to understand that while the whole may have its problems, Christensen definitely possesses some talent on the dramatic and comedic spectrums. Well, if nothing else, he at least knows how to pick a great cinematographer (Daniel Katz).

I know this review is kind of all over the place and doesn’t shine a pristine light upon the work, but while the subject matter seemed trite at the time it is resonating with me now. Clichéd family values trump drug addiction, spousal abuse, and depression to show things can always be fixed and the darkest days will lead us back into the light, but it works. There is a lot to like before Alexander‘s “Truth” ushers in the end credits—hopefully my love for the music didn’t clouded my overall judgment.


Check out the remaining shorts on the next page >>

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