Oscar Shorts 2018: Lost Face

Sean Meehan’s impressive and heartfelt short could work as a full feature, writes

With cinema’s most-hyped awards show creeping up on us, Nouse turns its attention to an oft-ignored Academy Award: Best Live-Action Short Film. With access to several of the 10 films that made the Oscars shortlist, our team have been tackling them in a series of interviews and reviews. From thrillers with timely racial commentary to dance dramas, there has been plenty of wonderful work to see on the shortlist. The eventual winner will be announced on 4th March.

Image: Soma Films

Boasting stunning cinematography and a simple yet suspenseful story, Lost Face is a short film that is hard not to love. Based on a short story by prolific 19th century writer Jack London, the film is set amidst the snowy mountains of 1800s America where a band of Russian fur thieves are being held captive by a tribe of indigenous natives. After seeing his comrade tortured to a long and bloody end, Subienkow (Martin Dubreuil) is called to the tribe leader Makamuk (Gerald Auger) and begins to bargain for his life. He claims to possess the secret to a mystical medicine which, when applied, will make one’s skin resistant to any cut or swing of an axe. Sceptical at first, but curious to see whether this magic is real, the chief allows Subienkow to live as long as he gives him the secret to the potion. The tensions continue to rise until the denouement is unveiled with a flourish, like a magician pulling off an impossible magic trick.

Not only does this film succeed greatly as a psychological thriller, but there is also a lot of heartfelt comedy injected into it. When Subienkow is concocting his potion, he attempts to legitimise his shamanic ritual by singing a spell into the mixture. Little does Makamuk know that the tune he is chanting so vigorously is actually the Marseillaise, the French national anthem.  

Image: Soma Films

It is no surprise that Lost Face has won awards at many prestigious film festivals including Calgary and Edmonton, meaning that it qualified for the 2018 Oscars shortlist. The performances from the whole cast, but especially Auger and Morris Birdyellowhead (who plays the sceptical advisor to the chief who warns Makamuk against believing in the Russian’s promises) are enthralling and fairytale-esque. Even the characters who do not speak, the tribesmen and women, are just as captivating in their hushed solemnity than any dialogue could have been.

Writer and Director Sean Meehan believed that it was important to showcase indigenous talent as these characters are not often portrayed on screen. Not only does Lost Face promote indigenous visibility, it tries to break down the stereotypes that are prevalent in the few indigenous stories that are given a platform. Canadian actress Michelle Thrush became involved in the film after reading the script and seeing that the women were not just sitting in a tepee weaving silently. They were active and interesting, vehemently enacting a gruesome revenge on their Russian foes.

Image: Soma Films

Meehan is used to telling stories in a more corporate setting. As an award winning advertisement director, he normally has 30 seconds to piece together a narrative and meet a specific pitch set by his clients. His cinematographic skills transfer seamlessly into the making of this short film, with his experience in the industry shining through the professional production value.

Lost Face almost has the air of a scene from a feature film. All the characters are fleshed out and seem to exist in an ethereal world of their own. The breathtaking location at the foot of the Canadian Rockies and the innovative design and makeup hints to a world much bigger than the short has time to explore in 15 minutes. It seems that Meehan might be keen to explore the story in a longer format and Lost Face has attracted a management company that may be working to get the feature off the ground. We are very lucky that this is the case.

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