Several major Indian publications such as The Indian Express and The Hindu, among others, recently reported that Savita Singh’s short film Sonsi is India’s entry to the live action short film category at Oscars 2022. However, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, curator of the Oscars, does not accept individual entries from countries for short films.
While Singh’s directorial debut is definitely in the run for the 94th Academy Awards, it is not India’s entry. This is because the Academy has a set of eligibility rules that identify whether or not a short film qualifies for the Oscars, ruling out the concept of an entry submitted by a country for the category.
One of these rules states that the short film “must have won a qualifying award at a competitive film festival, as specified in the Short Film Qualifying Festival List, regardless of any prior public exhibition or distribution by nontheatrical means.”
Filmmaker Tushar Tyagi, who serves as a jury member at the Bengaluru International Short Film Festival (BISFF), the only Indian film festival to feature on the Academy’s Short Film Qualifying Festival List, confirms the same to Silverscreen India.
“A feature film represents the country. But in case of shorts, they only get recognition if they make it to the top 10 films shortlisted for the Oscars,” says Tyagi, whose short film Saving Chintu was in the run for the 93rd Academy Awards.
Unlike feature films, wherein a country can enter only one film for the International Feature Film category, multiple short films from the same country, or in the same language, can get a nod at the Oscars.
Apart from Tyagi’s Saving Chintu, the 93rd Academy Awards also saw the Indian short films Bittu, Natkhat and Shameless qualify for the Oscars. Karishma Dev Dube’s Bittu eventually made it to the top 10 films shortlist, but was not among the final five nominees in the live action short category.
Tyagi, who is also the founder of the Yellowstone International Film Festival in India, says the selection process would become tedious if short films were to represent countries since more of them are made annually as compared to full-length features.
“It’s the festival which is actually nominating [a short film]. And because BISFF is the sole Indian festival on the Oscars’ qualifying list, we can say that Sonsi is the only Indian film to qualify. But you can’t call it India’s entry,” says Anand Varadaraj, founder and Artistic Director of the BISFF.
Singh’s Sonsi won in the Indian Competition category at BISFF, while the Polish short film Mother’s Day, by Patryk Kaflowski, won in the International Competition category. The respective wins make them both eligible for Oscars, Varadaraj tells Silverscreen India. “Even if Mother’s Day does not win in their own country, we are still nominating it from our festival.”
The BISFF was accredited by the Academy in 2019 after Carter Pilcher, CEO and founder of Shorts TV, visited the festival and asked Varadaraj and the other organisers to apply. BISFF is now trying to get accreditation for the short film animation category as well.
“A lot of festivals don’t run a complete short film festival,” explains Varadaraj. “Typically, short films are a part of a feature film festival. It’s only a section in a bigger festival. The Academy, however, is looking for festivals which run only shorts. That way, the focus will be clear.”
The Academy’s qualifying list comprises over a hundred film festivals from across the globe and includes big names such as the Cannes Film Festival, Berlin Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, Locarno International Film Festival, and Venice Film Festival, among others.
Varadaraj notes that some of these have been included despite being primarily feature focused because they “probably were able to show that there’s a focus on short films as well, or they have been running a short film section for a long time.”
Tyagi further describes the process by which a festival can get accredited. “First of all, your festival needs to be at least six years old. Secondly, you have to show consistency, that your festival has grown over the years through quality films and the range of submissions, and, lastly, you have to be in line with the kind of submissions the Academy approves of. The Academy has a voice of its own and they like to put through films that highlight a political or social message.”
The list of qualifying festivals gets updated annually and a festival that is present this year, might not make it to the list the next year.
Apart from the festival selection route, short films can also qualify through the one-week theatrical run rule. This rule covers films that have paid runs in cinemas in one of the six qualifying US metro areas.
Since the number of short films qualifying through film festivals is limited, theatrical runs offer a better and easier option, according to Tyagi.
He cites the example of Two Distant Strangers that won the Best Live Short Film Oscar last year. “The film was completed just 20 days before the Academy’s entry cut-off date. But they got in by playing it in theatres in LA county.”
In addition to this, the satellite television network Shorts TV has initiated the Shorts TV Worldwide Film Festival that picks three short films, screens them in LA county and gets them qualified for the Oscars. Shorts TV has also been presenting Oscar-nominated short films in cinemas since 2006.
The 94th Academy Awards is scheduled to take place on March 27, 2022 at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.
The deadline for submission was November 1 and a shortlist of 15 finalists (up from 10 in previous years) is scheduled to be announced on December 21, with the final five nominees revealed on February 8, 2022.