Last week, the Avon Cinema screened the 92nd Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film nominees in anticipation of the awards show. Out of the 92 short films that qualified for Oscar consideration, “Hair Love,” “Kitbull,” “Daughter,” “Sister” and “Memorable” were selected to compete in this category, with“Hair Love” taking home the prize Sunday night.
Almost all of the nominated films were either stop-motion or 2D animation — both “Hair Love” and Kitbull” were 2D animations, while “Daughter,” “Mémorable” and “Sister” were stop-motions, a filmmaking technique in which animators physically move objects in small increments to capture their movements in playback. With films directed by Chinese and French animators, this year’s Animated Short Film category consisted of a diverse lineup in comparison to some other categories; almost all of the films have their own distinct style to convey stories that felt deeply personal.
“Hair Love” follows the story of a father who helps his daughter style her hair in the absence of his ailing wife. In seven minutes, the film wittily and comedically sheds light on the daily struggles and societal pressures faced by African Americans when it comes to styling their hair. At the same time, the film celebrates the diversity in African American beauty with a heartfelt tone captured by an expressive and nostalgic 2D animation style.
Co-directors Matthew A. Cherry and Bruce W. Smith originally relied on crowdfunding through Kickstarter to animate the film with a Los Angeles-based studio, Six Point Harness. The film was eventually acquired by Sony Picture Animation, which catapulted it to its theatrical release in August 2019.
A former NFL player turned filmmaker, Cherry directed, produced and wrote the film.“Hair Love” was created “because we wanted to see more representation in animation” and “wanted to normalize black hair,” he said during his acceptance speech for the Academy Award.
“Daughter,” a Czech stop-motion drama directed by Daria Kashcheeva, also details themes of familial relations and ailing relatives, exploring the damaged relationship between a father and his daughter in a non-chronological narrative. Through an abundance of effective stylistic choices, such as the use of flashbacks and metaphoric insertions into the narrative, Kashcheeva faithfully delivers the mournful and hopeful sentiments of an aging daughter continuing to be tethered to her absent, but later remorseful father. The film is particularly notable for its exemplary use of hand-held camera movements to convey the daughter’s disorientation and her whirlwind of emotions when she interacts with her family members
Chinese animator Siqi Song directed “Sister” as her graduation film when she was studying in the Animation Program at the California Institute of the Arts. The film employs a boy’s relationship with his imagined sister to engage in a political commentary on China’s one-child policy, which was initiated around the late 1970s. The mostly monochromatic animation poignantly utilizes comedy to increase the audience’s attachment to a familial dynamic and to emphasize the isolation one feels when deprived of a potential sibling. The last stop-motion in this category, “Mémorable,” directed by French filmmaker Bruno Collet, delivers the perspective of an aging artist struggling with Alzheimer’s. Different painterly styles in the animation tragically expose the frustration and isolation experienced during his journey of memory loss, as well as the heartbreak endured by his wife.
Diverging from the theme of familial relations, 2D animation “Kitbull” has more simplistic narrative on an unlikely friendship between a seemingly violent pitbull and an eccentric stray cat. Hand-drawn and painted, “Kitbull” uses a traditional animation technique to remind the audience of the intimately expressive allure of 2D animation in the span of only nine minutes.
In addition to Academy Award nominees for Best Animated Short Film, Avon Cinema also screened films that were “highly commended” by the Academy, including “Henrietta Bulkowki,” a story of discovering self-acceptance and faith when struggling with a disability, “The Bird & The Whale,” a melodious hand-painted animation and “Hors Piste,” a comedic journey of two mountain rescuers. Avon will continue screening “Jojo Rabbit,” winner of Best Adapted Screenplay alongside “Parasite,” winner of Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture.