The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences is favoring riskier animation techniques in this year’s Oscar races, and its snub of Disney’s Frozen 2 in the feature film category is just one example of this shift. From student films to a studio’s first animated project and of course, Pixar, taking a chance with a different style, in the best animated short film category the Academy is highlighting nominees who are experimenting to tell their stories Kidscreen chatted with the talent behind all five of the Oscar-nominated short animated films to learn more about what these projects mean for their business, and their future as creators.
Disney has traditionally dominated the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (aka the Oscar’s) best animated short film category, and its Pixar’s CG films, including Bao and Piper have taken the trophy in 2019 and 2017, respectively.
Czech student Daria Kashcheeva hopes to break the streak with her stop-motion animated puppet film Dcera (Daughter).
The odds are stacked against her, though. A stop-motion animated puppet film has never won the Academy Award in this category. The award has also typically gone to American filmmakers and prodcos, and the last film from the Czech Republic to win this award was Munro in 1960 (back when the country was Czechoslovakia). On top of this, the last time the country took home any Oscar was 1996 when Jan Svěrák’s Kolya won best international feature film.
But Kashcheeva shouldn’t be underestimated. Her 15-minute, dark, quasi-documentary-style, has crushed the global awards circuit, winning the junior jury prize for a graduation film, and the Crystal for the best graduation film at Annecy last year. Produced in association with the animated film program at the Film and TV School of Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, Dcera snagged the short film jury award for animation at the Sundance Film Festival this year, and to top it off, the adult-skewing film won the Student Academy Award for best animation from an international film school, which qualified it for the Academy Award nomination.
Dcera is set in a hospital room where a daughter struggles to communicate with her father about a moment in her childhood when she needed love and support, and never got it. Written and directed by Kashcheeva, the non-dialogue short is co-produced by Czech prodco Maur Film, and has an animation style that sets it apart from many other animated short films, says Kashcheeva.
“I can manipulate shadow and light in very specific ways to create darker atmospheres,” she says. “I also used a lot of handheld camera movements and closeups to give some scenes a shaky and documentary look, which is difficult to get with other styles. Plus, I can draw eyes and faces on the puppets that give them very intense expressions.”
Whether Dcera wins or not, the nomination reflects that the Academy cares more about good storytelling and unique animation than the project’s budget, says Maur Film’s co-producer Martin Vandas.
“We didn’t have a big excellent marketing campaign,” says Vandas, who was also one of Kashcheeva’s teachers at FAMU. “We didn’t have a huge budget and we didn’t pay for the film’s success. Daria submitted Dcera to festivals, and it’s a nice surprise to see that a small student film from the Czech Republic can compete against Pixar, and against the biggest studios in the world.”
The Oscar nomination has helped Kashcheeva grow her confidence, build her network and draw eyes to her final animated graduation film, including Maur Film which will produce the feature, she says. She’s preparing the script and casting, and she envisions the film as a mixed-media project, which blends live-action with stop-motion. The adult-skewing film will follow a woman’s struggle to accept herself and her sexuality.
“I used to be a very shy person,” she says. “But I’ve been able to grow a network and connect with animators, directors and creators around the world who now recognize my film, and the power of puppet-animation. In terms of starting my professional career, this is the best thing that could have happened.”