The Oscars, which had never before recognized an animated short from the Middle East, nominated two Middle Eastern animated shorts today. The films are from Iran and Israel.
The first Iranian animated short to score an Oscar nomination is Yegane Moghaddam’s Our Uniform. In the film, an Iranian girl recalls school-age memories through the wrinkles and fabrics of her old uniform, quite literally. Rather than using paper, canvas, or a digital medium, Moghaddam painted directly on the cloth used for making school uniforms, offering a personal perspective on a piece of clothing that is widely misunderstood by the West.
The Israeli counterpart is Tal Kantor’s Letter to a Pig, which could become the first-ever Israeli production to win the Oscar in any film category. (Multiple Iranian films have previously won Oscars in other categories.) The film blends animation techniques and live-action footage to tell different versions of the same story. In the short, a Holocaust survivor reads a letter he wrote to a pig that saved his life to a group of schoolchildren. Different styles emphasize how human memory is fallible and how recalled images and imagination are often abstract.
Moghaddam and Kantor made history for another reason too: they are among four women directors nominated in the category this year, which marks the most women ever nominated for animated short – and offers a stark contrast to the animated feature category, which has nominated just one woman filmmaker in the last six years.
The French film Pachyderme, directed by Stéphanie Clément, has a subtle and oddly calm narration, given the film’s dark subject matter, which tells the story of a young girl’s survival in the face of abuse. Impressive cg animation creates a visual metaphor for the dissociative nature of trauma suffered by the protagonist.
The American film Ninety-Five Senses is directed by the husband-and-wife team of Jared and Jerusha Hess, whose previous works include comedy classics like Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre. Don’t confuse this for a comedy film though; the film looks at life through the reflections of a long-time death row inmate finishing his last meal. The film is divided into parts, each dedicated to a sense and animated by different artists.
War Is Over!: Inspired by the Music of John & Yoko is from former Pixar animator and director Dave Mullins (Lou) and was made between Electroleague in Los Angeles and Wētā FX in New Zealand. The visually slickest film of the bunch, it incorporates real-time production techniques to tell the story of two soldiers on opposite sides of the battlefield who are engaged in a game of chess.
Pictured at top, l-to-r: Our Uniform, Letter to a Pig