Fifteen short films earned Oscar nominations Tuesday in three shorts categories, each with their own trend toward films from particular countries. The contenders hail from a variety of countries and have varying degrees of experience, from first-time directors to three-time Oscar nominees.
The live action shorts category includes only one title from an American filmmaker, "Time Freak" -– it was also the only U.S. film on the shorts list announced in December. In the documentary shorts category, though, all the nominees are from the U.S. One is a doc that is rooted in American history, “The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement.” The film is about an 85-year-old barber who regales his customers with stories about his activism in the Civil Rights era, including marching from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.
“I’m unbelievably excited to be nominated. And it’s amazing timing because we’ve had a lot of screenings around Martin Luther King Jr. Day,” said co-director Robin Fryday. Gail Dolgin, who died in 2010, shares the nomination posthumously with Fryday.
PHOTOS: Oscar nominees react
Fryday said it’s been exciting to get awards attention at the same time as “The Help,” the best picture nominee about African American maids in 1960s Mississippi. The “Barber of Birmingham” director saw “The Help” in Alabama with Civil Rights Activist Committee member Shirley Gavin Floyd as well as a woman whose mother was a maid and had similar experiences to the characters in “The Help."
“It was a really powerful film to see, and it was really powerful to see their reactions,” Fryday said.
In the live action shorts category, two films from the Emerald Isle earned nominations: “Pentecost” by Irish filmmaker-actor Peter McDonald and “The Shore” by Northern Ireland native Terry George.
“Ireland has always had a strong showing in the short category -– maybe something to do with our storytelling tradition,” George told 24 Frames via Skype instant message while on a flight from New York to Los Angeles for the premiere of “Luck.” (The TV series stars Nick Nolte, whom George directed in his Oscar-nominated feature “Hotel Rwanda.” Nolte received a nomination Tuesday in the best supporting actor category for his role in "Warrior.")
The writer-director said that the anticipation leading up to the nomination announcement was “nerve-wracking” for the short that was made with family members and had a storyline about the Troubles that struck close to home, even more nerve-wracking than his Oscar-nominated features. (He was nominated in 1994 for best adapted screenplay for "In the Name of the Father.")
“It felt like my family, the village I live in and grew up in and Northern Ireland were all on the line –- that’s way bigger than a studio pic,” George said.
OSCARS 2012: COMPLETE NOMINEES LIST
The animated shorts nominee list includes two films funded by the National Film Board of Canada: "Wild Life” by Calgary, Alberta-based filmmakers Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby, and “Sunday” by Montreal, Quebec-based filmmaker Patrick Doyon.
“We’re so happy for [Doyon],” Forbis said. “That was especially sweet to see that NFB got two nominations.”
Also nominated in the animation shorts category was Pixar’s “La Luna,” which was some consolation for the studio after its “Cars 2” became the first Pixar feature not to receive an Oscar nod in the animated feature film category. The seven-minute "La Luna" will screen in front of the studio’s 2012 feature, “Brave.”
The short’s director, Enrico Casarosa, said “there was some really good dancing and screaming” in his home when he told his family the news.
“But for my 4-year-old daughter, there was the challenge of trying to explain it to her,” Casarosa said. “I told her, ‘There’s a big party, and if they like Daddy’s movie, they’ll give me a nice prize.’ So then she could participate in the giddiness.”
The winners will be announced Sunday, Feb. 26, at the 84th Academy Awards, which will be held at Kodak Theatre and telecast on ABC.
Oscar nod a tall order for short films
PHOTOS: 84th Academy Awards nominees
Pixar’s awards hopes may lie with its short film, not ‘Cars 2’
– Emily Rome
Photos: Left: Ciarán Hinds stars in Terry George's "The Shore," one of two Irish films nominated in the live action shorts category. Credit: Aidan Monaghan. Right: "Sunday" is one of two Canadian films nominated in the animated shorts category. Credit: National Film Board of Canada