By Jordan Riefe
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Oscar week kicked off Tuesday night at a celebration of this year's nominees for live action and short films, who are among the least-known of the 2012 Academy Award contenders but no less important to the movie industry.
Brad Bird, two-time Oscar winner for "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille," hosted the event in front of a packed house at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The movies were screened and their makers discussed the art form that can launch a filmmaker's career and provide a break for veterans from the commercial grind of making studio-backed feature films.
"Short film is an art form in itself and there are certain topics that I believe can only find their audience if they're done well in short film. A feature film is something totally different, said Stefan Gieren, producer of nominated live action short, "Raju."
Ten films were screened in all, each of the five nominees from the best animated short category followed by the nominees in the best live action group.
Among the animated shorts, "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore," a paean to the healing power of books, was partially inspired by Hurricane Katrina after it devastated the hometown of New Orleans filmmaker William Joyce.
"In the aftermath of Katrina, the whole city of New Orleans was sort of gray," Joyce told a packed house at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater. "It had lost its color and we found drifts of books washed around in the detritus of the storm."
Other animated short film nominees include "Dimanche/Sunday" by Patrick Doyon of Canada, "La Luna" by Pixar Animation's Enrico Casarosa, "A Morning Stroll" by the UK's Grant Orchard, and "Wild Life" by Canada's Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby.
The live action nominees include "Pentecost" by Ireland's Peter McDonald, "Raju" by German Max Zahle, "Time Freak" from New Yorker Andrew Bowler, "Tuba Atlantic" a film school thesis by Norwegian Hallvar Witzo, and "The Shore" by "Hotel Rwanda" director Terry George.
"It was a chance to talk about reconciliation in Northern Ireland in a way that was specific," said George's daughter, Oorlagh who produced the movie about boyhood friends in Belfast reuniting after 25 years. "We shot in our backyard. This is a home movie, my aunt did the costumes, my mom cooked the food."
While short films were once typically shown in movie theaters ahead of the features advertised on movie marquees, currently they mostly play at film festivals.
But as part of an Oscar-themed package, all 10 nominees were released yesterday on iTunes in 56 countries, and they are currently playing in 138 theaters and video on demand, making this selection of Oscar shorts the most watched in history.
"We have grossed through yesterday over a million dollars," proclaimed the Academy's Tom Boone who projected a total tally of $1.7 million, an unprecedented figure spurred by both a digital and Internet resurgence of the short form.
"They can make digital copies in a much easier fashion and get distributed in theatrical venues," Bird told Reuters. "And there's nothing better than being in the dark with a bunch of strangers looking at a giant big screen!"
(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)