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How Oscar Short Film Contenders Told Stories of Human Psyche, History and Secret Police (Video)

TheWrap Screening Series: “Inside every beast lives a victim,” says Hugo Covarrubias of “Bestia,” about the mental state of a secret police agent in Chile

“Bestia” director Hugo Covarrubias and producer Tevo Diaz joined “Coded: The Hidden Love of J.C. Leyendecker” director Ryan White; “Lynching Postcards: Token of a Great Day” director Christine Turner; “The Criminals” director Serhat Karaaslan; and “The Musician” director Reza Riahi and producer Eleanor Coleman for TheWrap’s awards season discussion on some of the short films that made this year’s Oscars shortlist.

Turner’s “Lynching Postcards: Token of a Great Day” looks back at the history of lynching in America through the ways they’ve been documented on souvenir postcards from 1880 to 1968.

Turner described how photographers would take pictures of the lynchings and create postcards of the imagery that people would then send to their friends and family. She says that while the imagery was “graphic,” she tried to focus viewers’ eyes on the amount of people attending the lynchings and the fact that families were there, rather than the lynching itself, to properly contextualize the point in time.

“We’re going beyond the brutality of the body itself, but that is also part of what I want viewers to confront,” she said. “The imagery, in some ways, really speaks for itself, and I wanted viewers to have to reckon and with that, and therefore reckon with our history and hopefully, come to a better understanding about our present as well.”

“Coded: The Hidden Love of J.C. Leyendecker” is another documentary short that reveals the hidden messaging in the advertising work of J.C. Leyendecker, a queer illustrator who was one of the most prominent American artists of the 20th century, but has frequently been left out of history.

Director Ryan White talked about how Leyendecker subtly inserted homoerotic imagery into his advertisements that engaged the LGBTQ+ community. However, White said that, at its core, the film is a “love story.”

“It’s somewhat of a tragic love story, in the sense that, just as J.C. Leyendecker was coding his imagery in his advertisements in the sort of secret language speaking to the gay community, his relationship as well, was coded and hidden in a way,” he said. Because there wasn’t much of a visual record of Leyedecker’s life, the short film was partially animated to tell a complete story.

“Bestia” is a stop motion short that follows the life of Ingrid, a secret police agent in the military dictatorship in Chile, exploring her relationship with everything from her dog to her personal fears.

Inside every beast lives a victim,” Covarrubias said. I believe that in this case, Ingrid… is also a kind of victim of the totalitarian machine that reigned in Chile in the ’70s during the military dictatorship, so we think so much about the banality of evil.”

“The Musician” is also a stop-motion short made of paper cut-outs that follows a couple in ancient Persia who, after being separated during an attack earlier in their lives, reunite in old age, when the musician is brought to perform at the Mongol castle where the woman he loves has been held.

“I think that the thing that really resonates is the resilience of people,” said Coleman. “The resilience of artists, the resilience of musicians, the resilience of regular citizens who undergo unbelievable trauma and continue to make their art. That’s exactly what happens to this main character. In that way, ‘The Musician’ is a link to people today.”

“The Criminals” is a story that takes place late at night in a Turkish town, when a young couple tries to book a hotel room to spend the night together. However, after being rejected from all hotels for not having a marriage certificate, they try to find a way around the restriction. In doing so, the film descends into a commentary about surveillance, hypocrisy and freedom. Director Serhat Karaaslan says that the title of the film was a “gift” from their translator, as the original title was different, but renaming the film “The Criminals” puts the people judging the young couple up for a moral check as well.

“We liked [the title] because it’s questioning who are the criminals,” Karaaslan explained. “It makes it ironic and it makes it more meaningful when there’s no crime. And in the film, there’s no crime.”

Watch an excerpt from the panel above and for the complete video panel, click here.