Tag Archives: opera

Oscar Nominated Shorts: Animation

by George Wolf

When I was a kid watching the Oscars, I remember always being perplexed by short film categories. How do people manage to see these shorts?

Good news, kids, it’s gotten much easier. In the last several years, all the nominated shorts have been packaged by category for theatrical showings. This year, of course, virtual screenings are available as well, making it more convenient than ever to find great films in smaller packages.

In these 5 nominated (and three bonus) treats, you’ll find charm, humor, fascination, and devastation – all a tribute to the different ways animation can touch our souls.

Burrow 6 mins. Writer/director: Madeline Sharafian

An excited bunny has big plans for a new home underground (maybe a disco?). But the more the bunny burrows, the more times she accidentally invades a neighbor’s place!

What to do?

Originally intended as the short subject intro to theatrical showings of Soul, Burrow is a completely charming reminder of the need for friends you can count on. And the beautiful 2D, hand-drawn animation gives it a picture book feel that’s refreshingly retro.

Genius Loci 16 mins. Writer/director: Adrien Merigeau

From France, Genius Loci is a surrealistic trip through “urban chaos, ” as a young loner named Reine (voiced by Nadia Moussa) takes off on a dreamlike tour through the heartbeat of her city.

Unfolding like a watercolored stream of consciousness, Loci is wonderfully stylistic, bursting with contrasts and ambiguities about Reine’s headspace that keep it constantly intriguing.

If Anything Happens, I Love You 12 mins. Writers/directors: Michael Govier, Will McCormack

Oh my, this one is heartbreaking, tender and devastatingly lovely.

A middle-aged couple is living in a fog of despair, completely unable to comfort each other or find any joy in life. A charcoal-type animation style reveals shadows depicting a former life of happiness, then leading eventually to the tragic event that broke them.

Keep the tissues handy for a soft-spoken gut punch that reframes the stakes we know only too well.

Opera 9 mins. Director: Erick Oh

9 minutes? I could watch this for 9 hours.

Billed as a “massive 8K size animation installation project which portrays our society and history,” Opera is a single frame in constant, intoxicating motion.

The eye level creeps in, then out, up and down and around a pyramid filled with scores of small figures co-existing in a constantly evolving community. Even as you fixate on one fascinating section, you’re drawn to others that are equally rewarding.

Oh has created a true animated marvel, and one that should be hard to beat in this category.

Yes-People 8 mins. Director: Gisli Darri Halldorsson

Welcome to a tenement building in Iceland, where we follow some 3D Wallace and Grommet-looking Icelanders going about their daily trials and snowy tribulations.

Most of the dialog is a well-placed exclamation of “Yow!” which adds to the goofiness and overall fun factor. With glimpses into work, school and mundane chores around the house, Yes-People becomes a light and breezy take on the small moments that make our lives.

The 2021 animated shorts program will also feature three “highly commended” animated short films

A Star Is Spun

Maria by Callas

by Christie Robb

It’s an ambitious project to document the life of an international celebrity almost entirely in her own words. And that’s the task undertaken, not entirely successfully, by director Tom Volf in Maria by Callas.

The life of the mid-century opera singer is captured primarily through taped interviews, diary entries, letters to friends (read by the opera singer Joyce DiDonato), and, of course, recordings of Callas’s phenomenal performances.

We see the polished surface of a star born to humble beginnings in New York who rose to command stages across Europe and the Americas. It’s almost two hours of sweeping updos, elaborate costumes, chic evening wear, dripping jewels, swaddling furs, impeccable makeup, and pristine manicures.

Volf tracks Callas’s career from the 50s through the 70s, and lingers on close ups of Callas’s arias. She’s a waif—all bouffant hair, expressive eyes, and bird-like bones. You wonder how such a big voice can possibly come from such a tiny frame. She’s magnetic. Passionate. Commanding.

The singing is interspersed with autobiographical tidbits provided by Callas. But these are only sketches. Although she states again and again that she would give up her career to raise a family and it’s clear that at some point around her late 20s or early 30s she got married, the first time she utters her husband’s name in the documentary it’s to discuss their impending separation. We are left to wonder how genuine she is in saying that she’d give up her career for domestic life and how much she felt compelled to say that, given the prevailing gender norms of the years in which she was famous.

Much of the autobiography portion is consumed with Callas’s operatic 10 plus year affair with Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, which occurred both before and after his marriage to Jackie Kennedy. Through interviews and letters you can see Callas’s attempt to put a positive spin on what must have been quite a tumultuous relationship. Even while he is pulling away from her, Callas writes to a friend, asking for agreement on how he has changed for the better.

The final moments of the movie show Maria kicking back in Florida. Her hair is down for the first time. She’s wearing loose lounge wear instead of a corseted bodice. Her hair flows down her back, and she’s sporting thick glasses that magnify her myopic eyes. It’s clear how much effort has gone into the package of the public Callas persona.

The contrast between the woman and the artifice would have been more effective with a bit more exposition. It’s an admirable goal to have Callas in control of her own narrative, but to do so leaves out information that would be helpful to provide context to this life. For example, Maria’s rivalry with an older sister who was considered to be the pretty one in the family. The scandalous headlines. The qualities of her vocal talents. The year Maria decided to lose some weight mid-career and lost nearly 80 pounds. How the weight loss may have contributed to her vocal decline. How her changing voice impacted her attempted late-career comeback. Without the biographical backstory, the documentary seems too surface level.

If you don’t know a lot about Callas, do your research beforehand and come for the music and her arresting performances.