ShortList 2023: Justine Martin Wanted the Focus of ‘Oasis’ to Be Brotherhood, Not Disability

Martin’s short tells the story of two brothers celebrating one last summer together


“Oasis” was selected as a finalist in this year’s ShortList Film Festival, presented by TheWrap. You can watch the films and vote for your favorite here.

Justine Martin’s short film, “Oasis,” is a deeply personal story on multiple levels. On the one hand, it’s an intimate look at the life of two twin brothers, Raphael and Remi Cormier, as they take a trip to the woods; the one place in their life where Raph’s disability isn’t the focus.

But for Martin, specifically, this was an opportunity to showcase the lives of two young men she knew personally. “I was their babysitter when I was young,” Martin told TheWrap. “When they were younger the distance between them was less visible…Meeting them again I saw that a distance was created, because they are 14, so teenage years. It’s not easy to deal with all the external influences you can have at this age.”

The question she wanted to look into was how their relationship changes when they’re isolated from society? As the film showcases, there’s both an increased ability to connect with each other, but Remi grows increasingly aware that this relationship can’t be sustained.

Too often, stories about disability are told through the lens of the non-disabled person (what this author refers to as “the able-bodied buffer”), and Martin actively wanted to make sure Raphael was presented not as a disabled person, but a person. “Since I kn[e]w both of them a long time, it was important for me that Raphael was not characterized by his handicap, because he already [has a] beautiful personality and a fun sense of humor. Even Remi, as his twin, doesn’t see his brother as somebody that as a handicap. So my goal was to do a film about fraternity and brotherhood.”

Martin sought a contemplative approach to filming the short, to create an enhanced sense of intimacy. In sequences like at the skate park, the director had to figure out to show them as separate from their environment and in the forest create “a bubble of being really close to them, but listening to what they can offer to the camera because it’s a documentary,” she said. The crew had to adapt, both to the landscape as well as how the boys at the film’s center wanted to present themselves.

This vulnerability was tough, according to Martin, especially because the leads are teenage boys. Because Raphael and Remi’s parents weren’t on-location with the boys, Martin worked hard to establish trust as their director (having already established the personal connection as their former babysitter). She tried to turn the filming into a mini-vacation for the boys, giving them activities outside of filming. Martin chose everything for the short, including the clothes the boys wear, which didn’t always get their seal of approval. “I chose their clothes with them, of course,” she said. “I chose a bunch of things and some time it worked with the progression of the narrative and sometimes they [the boys] said ‘I don’t like the shirt anymore.’”

In the moments of documentary, wherein the boys are responding to Martin’s off-screen questions, it was also a challenge to get in-depth answers. “They’re boys, 14-years-old, so they don’t talk much,” Martin said. “Even if you have really poetic questions about life and growing up they’re just like, ‘Yes, no, whatever.” That meant the cameras became more focused on capturing the boys’ physical movement as a means of enhancing their personalities and filling in for anything not said verbally on-screen.

Though the Cormier brothers haven’t watched the finished film, they will this summer and Martin is eager to see what they think, especially since they’re 16-years-old. If anything, Martin hopes the movie will connect with everyone who experiences it. “There’s a power of universality in my film,” Martin said. “I hope people can be more human and sensitive about people [who] don’t have the same chance in life.”

The 2023 ShortList Film Festival runs online from June 28 – July 12, honoring the top award-winning short films that have premiered at major festivals in the past year. Watch the finalists and vote for your favorite here.