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Film preview: 2017 Oscar-Nominated Shorts Program 

click to enlarge "Ennemis Interieurs"

"Ennemis Interieurs"

In what's now an awards season tradition, ShortsHD and Magnolia Pictures bring all 15 of the year's Oscar-nominated short films in the live-action, animated, and documentary categories to theaters this week. Get a leg up on your office Oscar pool, and catch the nominees before the Academy Awards ceremony takes place on Sunday, February 26.

Live-Action Shorts

Set in France during the time of the Algerian civil war, Sélim Azzazi's "Ennemis Interieurs" (France, 28 minutes) revolves around a tense interview between an Algerian-born man attempting to earn French citizenship and the immigration officer who controls his fate. Tightly scripted and well-directed, the film's real power comes from the marvelous performances of lead actors Hassam Ghancy and Najib Oudghiri.

Not to be confused with the recent blockbuster animated film, "Sing" (Hungary, 25 minutes) is a compelling drama following a young girl who arrives at a new school where she's excited to join the school's highly-esteemed choir. But she soon finds out that there's an unsettling secret behind the choir's success.

In "Silent Nights" (Denmark, 30 minutes), a kindly homeless shelter volunteer (Malene Beltoft) finds herself unexpectedly falling in love with a Ghanaian immigrant (Prince Yaw Appiah) who sometimes stays there. Beltoft and Appiah have a wonderful chemistry, but they can't overcome thinly drawn characters or the story's indulgence in white savior fantasy.

From director Juanjo Giménez Peña, "Timecode" (Spain, 15 minutes) is a charming story about two parking lot security guards. One works the day shift, the other the night, and though their shifts don't overlap, they find a unique way to connect with one another.

Jane Birkin stars in "La Femme et le TGV" (Switzerland, 30 minutes) as a lonely baker who waves to the Swiss high-speed train (the TGV) every day from the window of her house opposite the tracks. One day, the train's conductor tosses her a letter, and a written friendship blossoms. Reportedly inspired by a true story, Timo Von Gunten transforms the tale into a whimsical, "Amélie"-esque fable.

click to enlarge "Piper"
  • "Piper"

Animated Shorts

An aging sheriff revisits the scene of a tragic accident in the mournful "Borrowed Time" (US, 7 minutes), as Pixar animators Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj examine the weight of guilt on a life.

In "Pearl" (US, 6 minutes) Patrick Osborne tells a sweet story about the relationship between a father and his daughter through music. The film is intended to be viewed with Google's 360-degree virtual reality glasses, and seeing it without the benefit of that technology lessens much of the impact.

The short you're most likely to have already seen, "Piper" (US, 6 minutes) screened before "Finding Dory" last summer. But it's still totally adorable, as Alan Barillaro uses stunning photorealistic animation to tell the story of a young sandpiper struggling to overcome her fear of the ocean.

Adapted from a short story by Bulgarian writer Georgi Gospodinov, the melancholy "Blind Vaysha" (Canada, 8 minutes) tells the story of a girl born with a left eye that can see only the past, and a right eye which sees only the future. Director Theodore Ushev's specialty is linocut block printing; here he reproduces the technique digitally, and the result is mesmerizing.

Director Robert Valley narrates "Pear Cider and Cigarettes" (Canada, 35 minutes), about the life of his alcoholic, self-destructive friend, Techno. The film is a bit long, but the kinetic, graphic novel-like animation style is absolutely gorgeous.

The animated shorts program is rounded out with three additional films, which were unfortunately not screened for review: "The Head Vanishes," "Asteria," and "Happy End."

click to enlarge "The White Helmets"
  • "The White Helmets"

Documentary Shorts Program A

The heart-wrenching "Extremis" (US, 24 minutes) follows Dr. Jessica Nutik Zitter as she assists the families of her patients through the difficult end-of-life decisions faced by their loved ones.

In the shocking "4.1 Miles" (US and Greece, 22 minutes) Daphne Matziaraki focuses on members of the Greece coast guard as they're called out to rescue Afghan refugees attempting to make the treacherous journey across the Aegean Sea.

"Joe's Violin" (US, 24 minutes) is the moving story of 91-year-old Holocaust survivor Joe Feingold who donates his prized violin to a school instrument drive, where it reaches the hands of Brianna, a young schoolgirl in the Bronx. Kahane Cooperman attempts to cover all sides of the story, making the film a bit unfocused, but it's undeniably affecting.

Documentary Shorts Program B

The powerful "Watani: My Homeland" (UK, 39 minutes) follows a mother and her four children fleeing the Syrian civil war, hoping to make a new life in Germany after their father is captured by ISIS.

"The White Helmets" (USA, 41 minutes) is an unforgettable look at the courageous members of the Syrian Civil Defense, a civilian task force who act as the first responders providing aid after every bombing or air strike.

Check back on Friday for additional film coverage, including reviews of the Oscar-nominated doc, "I Am Not Your Negro," and "Julieta," the latest from Spanish director Pedro Almodovar.

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