Fresno Filmworks shows Oscar-nominated short films

The Fresno BeeFebruary 7, 2013 

For the eighth year, Fresno Filmworks will bring Oscar-nominated short films to the Tower Theatre, just in time for you to agonize over your picks in the office pool.

Remember those days when a presenter would rattle off a list of films you'd never heard of -- and likely would never have the chance to see -- when announcing the winners of such categories as Best Live Action Short? You don't have to claim such ignorance anymore.

Filmworks will present five full programs of short films Friday and Saturday. On the agenda:

Live-action shorts: 5:30 p.m. Friday, repeated at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

Animation shorts: 8:30 p.m. Friday, repeated at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

Documentary shorts: 1 p.m. Saturday.

John Moses, president of Filmworks, notes in a news release announcing the screenings that "this year's Live Action and Animation programs are absolutely stellar -- the best since the programs started being offered for theatrical runs eight years ago."

Two special events are planned during the two-day run. Audience members are encouraged to get dressed up for a "night at the Oscars," complete with red carpet and photo booth with Hollywood-style props.

And a post-screening Discussion Circle with local animator and artist Adriana Castillo will be held after each animation program.

I previewed several of this year's documentary short offerings, and my favorite is the subtle but compelling "Redemption." The title of this 35-minute film by Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill refers to the activity it chronicles: down-on-their-luck New Yorkers who hustle each day to pick up cans and bottles from streets and garbage cans, for five cents each.

In this shadow economy, those cans and bottles become their own currency, so to speak. Want to buy a coffee at Starbucks? That will cost 250 cans. How about this townhouse? Try 100 million.

The word "canning," then, takes on a meaning different from the traditional definition of someone preserving big batches of yummy fruits and vegetables.

The directors use the time-honored device of following very different people engaged in a common activity, and in doing so, using that thread to stitch together their lives.

Some of those people fit the stereotype of down-on-their luck individuals as they battle alcohol addiction and chronic joblessness. But others break that stereotype: A Honduras farmer who travels between New York and his home country, augmenting his back-breaking harvest with cans. A senior-citizen software saleswoman who lost her job and, presumably, her retirement. A mother who drops her school-age daughter off each morning and then takes her little boy, not yet old enough for kindergarten, on her rounds as she seeks out cans.

Adding to the film's appeal is the undramatic, contemplative portrayal of a New York divided between rich and poor. There's no edginess in depicting the grit of the city, and neither is there any attempt to put extravagant wealth to shame. Instead, there's just a measured view acknowledging the complexities of a very complex city.

In one of the documentary's most poignant exchanges, we watch a Chinese woman who has formed an unlikely friendship with a Japanese man. He helps her out at the redemption center with her cans and bottles. She cuts his hair because no one else will -- because he smells so badly.

She doesn't speak English. He doesn't speak Chinese. "He's all alone," she says. "We don't really talk much."

Sad, yes, as are many of the stories in the film. But as the title suggests, there is something tender and moving about the connections that humans manage to find, even in less-than-stellar situations.

I know that when the award for Best Documentary Short is being announced, I'll be rooting for "Redemption."


Movie preview

Oscar-nominated short films, various times Friday and Saturday, Tower Theatre, 815 E. Olive Ave., fresnofilmworks.org, (559) 960-7032. Single programs: $10, $8 students and seniors. Double-feature ticket: $15.

The reporter can be reached at dmunro@fresnobee.com, (559) 441-6373 or @donaldbeearts on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.

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