Featured photo: Still from “Bestia” by Hugo Covarrubias and Martín Erazo. All photos courtesy of Shorts.TV.

This year’s Oscar-nominated shorts run the gamut from heart-tugging tearjerkers like “On My Mind” to frighteningly visceral descents into madness such as “Bestia.” Tales of love — love of country, of partnership, of art — dovetail with poignant studies of loss — loss of control, of ability, of home — in these short but impactful narratives. Hailing from 10 different countries, these stories are as diverse as the languages spoken in them, but all seek to relate distinctly human experiences one way or another. Here is a selection of the films nominated for an Oscar in the short film categories this year.

All Oscar-nominated shorts will be shown at a/perture in Winston-Salem starting Friday, Feb. 25. Learn more at aperturecinema.com.


‘Affairs of the Art’

UK/Canada, 16 min., 2021

One of the lighter stories in this category, “Affairs of the Art” tells the complete family history of Beryl, a 59-year-old Welsh woman who’s become obsessed with creating art. As she describes her developing style — which she names “hyper futurist” — Beryl delves into the idiosyncrasies of the various members of her family starting with her death-obsessed sister Beverly, her detail-oriented son Colin and, finally, her own inspiration-seeking self. With her husband as her unfortunate muse, Beryl uncovers the key to unlocking “affairs of the art,” after her sister tells her to, “Just go for it! What are you waiting for?” Funny, charming and drawn in a loose, dynamic, pencil-stroke style, “Affairs” is as much about the nature of the creative process as it is about tackling our own inner skeptics that keep us from just doing the damn thing.


Chile, 16 min., 2021

There’s a reason why this year’s slate of animated shorts was labeled “not safe for children” and this film is it. Created in a stop-motion style using porcelain, felt, clay and a variety of other materials, “Bestia” is a dark, twisted, descent-into-madness portrait of one Ingrid Olderock, a woman whose heinous acts against humanity rival those of Hitler or Mussolini but have largely been forgotten by the world — until now. The title of the film alludes to the nickname given to Olderock, who was a member of the secret police throughout the Chilean dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet. Quiet and moody from the start, the film opens with shots of Ingrid going through the motions of her life — making coffee, preparing breakfast for her and her dog, playing fetch with her pet. But as the 16 minutes drags on, Ingrid’s life becomes more and more nightmarish with terrifying scenes including those of her participating in torture in basements, visceral nightmares and an increasingly unstable knife that appears to move on its own. Haunting despite its length and medium, “Bestia” is an important telling of a person who has largely been lost to history but whose actions should never have been forgotten.

‘The Windshield Wiper’

Spain, 15 min., 2021

If “Affairs of the Art” asked questions about the nature of creativity and inspiration, “The Windshield Wiper” comes out and asks its own question within the first minute of runtime.

“What is love?” asks a lone man who sits in a bustling café, overrun with the vignettes of various conversations. Throughout the film, the notion of love in a traditional sense — just between two humans in a romantic relationship — gets challenged. A girl contemplates ending her life as she peters at the edge of a high apartment building. An explosion ripples through a city, demolishing all of the buildings in its wake. An elderly couple sits in silence and contemplates the scenery in front of them while in the next scene, two young strangers reach for groceries on shelf while they absently swipe left and right on a dating app, nearly touching the same products before rejecting each other on their screens. Through each of its short scenes, the film asks viewers about the very nature of love. Is it quiet? Is it loud? Is it here? Is it there? And in the end, as the man in the café explores those questions, he comes across his own answer and presents it to the viewers, who are then left to accept his conclusion or continue their own explorations.


‘Three Songs for Benazir’

Afghanistan, 22 min., 2021

The best documentaries are the ones that immerse the viewer in a landscape so vastly different yet relatable to their own, so as to expand their worldview. “Three Songs for Benazir” is one such film. Set mostly in a refugee camp in Kabul, Afghanistan, the film follows the life of Shaista, a young, newly married man who dreams of achieving greatness outside of the crooked, dusty walls of the camp by joining the Afghan National Army. Told through scenes where Shaista lovingly sings songs for his wife Benazir, to him going against his family’s wishes to sign up for the army, to four years into the future, “Three Songs” tackles issues of belonging, patriotism and war and ultimately takes a snapshot of a young man fighting to find a place for himself amidst a turbulent and unstable world.


USA, 38 min., 2020

“It’s not what you go through, it’s how you go through it.”

That’s the motto by which the boys on the football team at Maryland’s School of the Deaf live their lives in this impactful documentary. The story of these seemingly disadvantaged kids is told through interviews with many of the students at the school including Amaree, a senior football player and homecoming king, cheerleaders Lera and Jalen, and Coach Ryan. Along the way, viewers follow the four subjects as well as other football players as they compete and train leading up to their homecoming game at the end of the film.

But the story isn’t necessarily about their wins and losses on the field. Instead, the filmmakers focus on the struggles that the kids face due to their lack of hearing, including mental-health issues and coping with a tragic event that ripples through the community. And as the kids move on from the safety of their accepting school, viewers can’t help but root them on, hopeful that they take what they’ve learned from their time there into the real world and carry their motto with them.


‘On My Mind’

Denmark, 18 min., 2021

For being such a short film, “On My Mind” leaves a deep, lasting effect on the heart. Simple and straightforward, this Danish work tells the story of a man who visits a dive bar and asks to sing one song on the karaoke machine. And it has to be today. As the man stumbles through the lyrics of “Always on My Mind,” once, twice, and then a third time, viewers get a glimpse into the man’s desperate reason for why he has to sing now. The answer is deeply emotional, bittersweet and showcases the man’s devotion and desire to communicate to the one he loves most. Best to have a box of tissues nearby for this one.

‘Please Hold’

USA, 19 min., 2020

In a moment where the country is reckoning with its new heightened awareness around issues of police brutality, the industrial prison complex and historic racism, “Please Hold” presents itself at just the right time. Direct and prescient, the film looks to a not-so-far-away future in which much of people’s lives have become dictated by AI and robots, including drones that deliver packages and even make arrests. In the story, one unfortunate young man falls prey to one of these police drones and gets locked up an automated jail cell where he has to knit cutesy gloves and scarves for an Etsy-like company to rack up enough dollars for a phone call to his parents. And while the film is meant to be satirical, too many of its details show a world not so different from our own that viewers should be wary of this live-action short screening like a documentary in the near future.

All Oscar-nominated shorts will be shown at a/perture in Winston-Salem starting Friday, Feb. 25. Learn more at aperturecinema.com.

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