Nestled in the corner behind A.J. Hastings and Amherst Coffee, Amherst Cinema is a local gem that can easily be overlooked. With the motto, “See Something Different!”, the independent nonprofit gives students and townies alike the unique opportunity to watch, in an intimate theater setting, carefully selected films, cartoons, documentaries and, right now, both the animated and live action 2015 Oscar-nominated shorts.
Because I had never watched shorts as a collection before, and because they typically lack exposure compared to films that normally win best picture or Best Actress at the Academy Awards (coming up on Feb. 22), I decided to indulge myself and attend a showing for the nominated animated shorts. With little knowledge prior to entering the theatre about the short films awaiting me, I had few expectations.
I left the theater with a newfound, overwhelming appreciation for these short works of art. Ranging from two to 18 minutes, originating in four different countries, varying across forms of animation and mixed media and differing in modes of narration, each short somehow grasps and succinctly exposes a reality, a lesson, of the human experience. They’re relatable, telling, whimsical and comical, sometimes in a slightly cynical way.
I observed that the creativity and freedom that comes with animation allows artists to express emotions in ways that transcend, in effectiveness, that of everyday, perceived reality — complete control of colors, motions and setting allows this. The nominated shorts are as follows: “Me and My Moulton,” “Feast,” “The Bigger Picture,” “A Single Life” and “The Dam Keeper,” however, Amherst Cinema also includes “Sweet Cocoon,” “Footprints,” “Duet” and “Bus Story.”
“Me and My Moulton,” made in Canada, depicts the struggles of a middle child growing up in an abnormal Norwegian family in the 1960s, stuck between the anxieties of not being “normal” compared to her friends and wanting to impress by her modern-architect parents. Playfully comical, the plot centers around the child and her sisters asking for a bike, showing the protagonist coming to terms with her family’s quirkiness.
Clearly an American film, “Feast” explains through a dog’s perspective, focusing on his relationship with food, his owner’s love story. Sans dialogue, the viewer follows the dog as he helps his owner pursue happiness and a good life.
“The Bigger Picture,” produced in the United Kingdom, provided extraordinary relief from the typical animation; through an incredible mixed media, modernist-like representation, it expressively depicted the tribulations of brothers caring for a parent in old age and coming to terms with death. If not for the content, the visual effects alone make this a must-see.
From the Netherlands, the two-minute film “A Single Life” shows the reaction of a woman who discovers she can fast forward and rewind her life by moving the needle on a record. The film explores the human obsession of the past and the future and our tendency to be dissatisfied with whatever is happening in the current moment. Finally, she accidentally bumps the needle too far, shrinking into an urn. This scene immediately, and slightly (and quite shockingly) induced laughter throughout the theater.
Finally, “The Dam Keeper,” another American short, depicts a once-lonely young pig’s journey to self-acceptance and assurance through new friendship in a town of animals that shun him. He grapples with the weight of great responsibility (keeping his town healthy) as the dam keeper and the plight of a letdown that only turns out to be a bad miscommunication.
I could easily distinguish, in quality and content, when the nominated films ended and the extras began. The extras are entertaining, but if you are short on time, you honestly won’t miss much by leaving after “The Dam Keeper.” “Sweet Cocoon,” “Duet” and “Footprints” are aesthetically pleasing, yet lack the thought-provoking content of the others. And “Bus Story,” though awkwardly funny (it shows a bus driver failing miserably at her job) essentially did nothing more than reinforced my impression that bus driving is an unappealing job.
The animated shorts thoughtfully explore themes that affect people every day —fear of death or time, the dynamics of familial relations, friendship and love. Though the shorts are available to watch individually online, I feel that smoothly moving from one short to the next, one idea to the next, is key — watching one after another has a compounding effect that enhances the experience of appreciating the short films. The quick turnover of stories and artistic nature of each short make the experience far from boring, and the way emotions are enhanced through art make these short films relevant. I would highly recommend seeing the 2015 Oscar-nominated animated shorts, along with appreciating and taking advantage of our very own Amherst Cinema.