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Fletcher Powell's take on three Oscar-nominated shorts

An image from the animated short film "Ice Merchants"
An image from the animated short film "Ice Merchants"

In recent years, the documentary shorts have moved a bit away from always including a nominee about the Holocaust and another about China, and they’ve begun to tackle a wider range of topics. One of those, understandably, is climate change. And the nominee that just knocked me on my rear this year is called Haulout, and boy, does it take you on a journey. It’s about a biologist in Siberia who holes up alone in a shack to document an enormous annual gathering of walruses, one that’s gotten more perilous for the animals because of how much the warming climate has restricted their territory. But the way it’s shot is stunning—it’s rigorously composed and sometimes incredibly surprising. Not knowing what the movie was about, my jaw dropped when the scientist wakes up one morning, opens the window, and we’re confronted with tens of thousands of walruses. There’s very little said in the film, and so we don’t really even know what we’re watching for some time, and by the time we do, it all carries a huge emotional weight.

The live action nominees are a bit hit or miss, but one that I loved is the Italian film Le Pupille, from the director Alice Rohrwacher, who’s made a few features that are pretty marvelous, but who shows her playful side here with delightful results. It’s about a group of young girls in a boarding school at a convent right around Christmas, and how they interact with each other and their strict Mother Superior. It’s whimsical and downright charming.

But if we’re talking about something that’s going to stay with me, the animated short Ice Merchants does a heck of a lot in about 12 minutes. It’s gorgeous to look at throughout, but what seems like a strange, melancholy, story for much of the time turns out to be a deeply affecting movie about loss, when a part of the film that simply seemed a little quirky turns out to carry so much more with it.

The various shorts programs are playing at various times throughout the week at library branches around town, with all three programs playing again Saturday at the Advanced Learning Library. You can find the full schedule of screenings at wichitalibrary.org.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.