McGinnis: Detroit Film Theatre presents nominated short subjectsWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | email@example.com
The first dog ever created meets the first man ever created. A man thinking of suicide is asked to babysit his niece. An aging concert pianist searches for his wife. Maggie Simpson — yes, that Maggie Simpson — is forced to survive a stay at the Ayn Rand School for Tots.
It’s safe to say that the nominees for Best Animated and Live Action Short Film at this year’s Academy Awards are somewhat eclectic in subject matter. And area film fans will have the chance to experience them all at the Detroit Film Theatre (DFT) before the Feb. 24 Oscar ceremony.
Continuing a tradition that began in 2006, the DFT — part of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) — will present all 10 films nominated in both categories in a one-night program every weekend, through Feb. 17. Elliot Wilhelm, the film curator of the DIA, said in an interview with Toledo Free Press Star, said that the event is consistently one of the theater’s most popular, regularly selling out.
“The program does well all around the country. But one of the things that seems to be most appealing to Detroiters is that we present it all in one big program, rather than dividing the live action and animation into two separate performances. In most cities, you have to buy a ticket to go to either one or the other, and two tickets if you want to see both. But we feel that people want to make an evening of it, or day of it,” Wilhelm said.
But for true Oscar completists, at least one more trip will be required. This year, for the first time, the DFT will be showing all five nominees in the Best Documentary Short category, as well, in a one-time performance on Thursday, Feb. 21 at 8 p.m.
“One of the reasons we have to do that is, at a certain point, it simply becomes too long. The program with the live action shorts and the animated shorts, just this year with the 10 nominees, comes to about three hours. Which is eminently doable for an audience, particularly with a break in the middle. The documentary program this year, all by itself, runs close to four hours,” Wilhelm said.
“The thing is, you never really know what those running times are gonna be when you book the program, because we don’t know what’s gonna be nominated. But this year, the nominees in the documentary category just ended up being exceptionally long, whereas the nominees in the animation category are as short as two minutes this year.”
Another unknown is how popular the documentaries will be in comparison to their fictional counterparts. While the showing of the traditional shorts has consistently been one of the institute’s most popular events, Wilhelm noted how the performance of the docs is a bit of a gamble, though a measured one.
“Documentaries have been taken much more seriously and have been much more successful in terms of getting theatrical releases and doing well in the box office department than they have in decades past. So I absolutely have high hopes for that program.”
Wilhelm, who gets to screen all the nominees in advance, was ecstatic at the quality of the films being presented, though he declined to name any personal favorites. But one thing he will endorse without reservation is the experience of seeing the films again with a full house in his theater.
“Watching them again with the audience, they’re very different what it was than what I experienced when I was watching them alone. I may have a personal reaction to them, but then you realize how they work on an audience, and how each audience has a different personality — every night, every performance, of all the films we show, there’s a different response. It may be similar, but it’s always slightly different. And audiences are like a living thing, they do have personality.”
Indeed, in an era where more distribution options are open to filmmakers than ever before, one thing people often miss out on is the chance to see films with a crowd — which, naturally, is the movies’ natural habitat.
“If you’re watching films like this that do tend to get a real response from an audience — some of them are really funny, some of them are very poignant — but if you’re seeing these movies with a thousand other people, it’s a totally transformative thing, because the audience has personality. And it’s not like sitting there watching them on TV in your living room, and you may react one way and it’s all something you keep to yourself.
“It reminds you of the great days of moviegoing, and that there’s real joy in audiences coming together to see a movie,” Wilhelm said.
For more information on the Detroit Film theatre, visit www.dia.org.
Email Toledo Free Press Star Pop Culture Editor Jeff McGinnis at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.