Oscar nominated directors

The 87th Academy Awards are just around the corner. There are five talented filmmakers currently fighting it out for the coveted Oscar for Best Director, with the winner announced Monday 27 February (NZ time). This month in our Screening Room we invite you to take a look at the early work of three of these Academy Award-nominated directors.

Damien Chazelle (La La Land), Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) and Denis Velleneuve (Arrival) are relative newcomers who have unique and compelling voices. How did they get their start? Short films of course. With few resources and many favours, each member of this trio broke the mould from the beginning as you will see in these absorbing short films that make the kind of calling cards Hollywood answers.


If you’ve got a great project but lack the resources to make a feature, start with a short. It’s a great way to prove your concept as the comparison above shows. Writer/director Damien Chazelle himself writes about the experience here. Whiplash was such a success on the film festival circuit – it won the Short Film Jury Prize at Sundance – he secured funding to create the multi-award-winning feature film of the same name. With a fraction of the resources that went into the feature version, Chazelle’s funny and punchy short film script (based his real-life experiences at a prestigious music school) still sizzles. Even with the low-budget look you can tell Chazelle has an incredible eye for detail and pacing.

Actor J.K. Simmons won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2015 for his powerful performance in the feature film Whiplash. He delivers an equally powerful performance in the short and version.

Chazelle’s second feature film La La Land is a love-letter to Hollywood musicals. It has been nominated for 14 Academy Awards.

My Josephine

MY JOSEPHINE (Dir. Barry Jenkins, 2003, 8min) from Barry Jenkins on Vimeo.

Chazelle’s biggest threat on the big night is from equally young and ferociously talented filmmaker, Barry Jenkins. Like Chazelle, Jenkins has the Midas touch, delivering the absorbing and poetic Moonlight, only his second feature film.

Jenkins’ short My Josephine is a student film he made at Florida State University. It tells the tale of an Arabic laundry operator on the night shift washing American flags. It might sound dull but the film is an artfully shot lyrical take on love with underlying themes of alienation, just like Moonlight. Jenkins has a talent for bringing stories of marginalised people to life in a way that is warm and empathetic. He makes clever use of cinematography like the POV shot of the flags spinning in the dryer, and a hypnotic sound design.

120 Seconds to Get Elected

Talented French-Canadian director Denis Velleneuve (Sicario, Incendies) is up for eight Oscars for his cerebral sci-fi Arrival. This filmmaker has always made time to sharpen his skills with experimental short films. While his features are predominantly taut thrillers, his visual audacity is demonstrated in shorts ranging from the grotesque Terry Gilliam-like Next Floor to the text only Rated R for Nudity. After his breakthrough feature Maelstrom Velleneuve shot 120 Seconds to Get Elected on his cellphone. This simple black and white recording of a dystopian dictator giving a rousing speech shows you don’t need a lot of gear to make something that packs a punch. 120 Seconds to Get Elected was probably thought of as a fascist satire back in 2006, but now could now be called a frighteningly prophetic examination of the rhetoric that enabled Donald J. Trump’s rise to power. The politician’s making-it-up-as-long-as-the-crowd-likes-it and blatant approval seeking are Trump’s modus operandi.