Short films usually fly under the average moviegoer’s radar, during awards season and the rest of the year alike. But every year, the Academy Awards offers a reminder of short films’ ability to showcase a stunning variety of filmmaking techniques and themes — and their runtime doesn’t take away from their power.
The Oscars honor three short films each year: one animated, one live action, and one documentary. Here’s a guide to this year’s winners and how to watch them.
Winner: Best Animated Short Film
What it’s about: Basketball star Kobe Bryant narrates the film, which is based on a letter he wrote to the Players’ Tribune in 2015 announcing his retirement from the sport. The film was directed and animated by Glen Keane, who has animated characters at Disney in movies like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Tangled. For years, Keane has been recognized as one of the most important animators in the field, receiving a number of accolades.
Dear Basketball recounts Bryant’s love affair with basketball from his childhood through his 20 years as a professional player; the short plays like a tribute to his own career in the NBA. With Dear Basketball’s win, Bryant became the first NBA player to receive an Oscar. It’s also Keane’s first Oscar.
Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405
Winner: Best Documentary Short Subject
What it’s about: The artist Mindy Alper, whose celebrated body of work includes painting and sculpture that often depicts people in complex relationships to one another, with both humor and dark emotions included in equal measure. Alper’s life includes a history of mental illness that at times has left her without the ability to speak.
For Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405, filmmaker Frank Stiefel spent many hours with Alper, letting her tell her story and explain her work. The result is a look at how mental illness and art-making can interact in often profound ways. For Alper, art-making is a way of working through her experiences, and it fills that function for those who experience her art too.
How to watch it: Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405 is available to stream on YouTube.
The Silent Child
Winner: Best Live Action Short Film
What it’s about: Produced partly to raise awareness about the abilities and needs of deaf children, The Silent Child tells the story of a young deaf girl named Libby (Maisie Sly), whose hearing parents and siblings live a busy life around her from which she feels largely excluded. The family hires a young woman named Joanne (Rachel Shenton) to help Libby get ready for school, but balks when Joanne says that Libby ought to be able to both read lips and communicate in sign language, believing that she must learn only to read lips and speak in order to lead a “normal” life.
The film, directed by Chris Overton, was written by Shenton, who gave her acceptance speech at the Oscars entirely in British Sign Language (BSL). (Shenton learned sign language at the age of 12 to communicate with her father after he went deaf.) The signed speech was the fulfillment of a promise that Shenton made to Sly, who is deaf and was in the audience.