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Small Oscar-nominated films tackle big topics; Rick Steves introduces Minnesota Orchestra’s musical journey

ALSO: The SPCO presents Bach’s Saint John Passion; “Hemingway” on TPT 2; and more.

A scene from “Feeling Through.”
A scene from “Feeling Through.”

Catch them while you can. The Oscar-nominated shorts are always worth seeing, but they aren’t widely shown or around for long. This year, because COVID, we have two ways to see them: in person at the Lagoon Cinema and Riverview Theater or virtually from MSP Film.

Starting Friday, April 2, the Lagoon will screen the Live Action Shorts and Animated Shorts. The Riverview will screen the Documentary Shorts. MSP Film will stream all three: Live Action, Animated and Documentary.

We previewed Live Action and Animated.

Maybe because we live in serious times, the live action shorts are serious, with moments of grace.

Doug Roland’s “Feeling Through” is the first film to star an actor who is both blind and deaf. A teen with nowhere to crash for the night ends up helping him, first grudgingly, then because it’s the right thing to do. The teen’s life is changed by the encounter. Empathy with a capital E.

In Elvira Lind’s “The Letter Room,” Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron in three “Star Wars” films) plays a corrections officer who works in the prison’s letter room, screening mail sent to inmates including those on death row. He’s too compassionate for the job and gets tangled up in their personal lives.

In Farah Nabulsi’s “The Present,” a Palestinian father crosses into Israel to shop for groceries and buy a present for his wife. Accompanied by his young daughter, he suffers dehumanizing treatment at a West Bank checkpoint. Set in Tel Aviv, Ayn Levana’s “White Eye” portrays a man who tries to recover his stolen bicycle and inadvertently exposes illegal immigrants to the police.

Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe’s “Two Distant Strangers” is a “Groundhog Day” of police brutality. It’s especially disturbing to watch during the Derek Chauvin trial, so keep that in mind.

A scene from “Burrow.”
A scene from “Burrow.”
The animated shorts are brilliant. In Madeline Sharafian’s “Burrow,” made at Pixar, a bunny tries to dig himself a home, then blunders into a community of well-appointed condos occupied by hedgehogs, mice, moles, salamanders and a badger in a smoking jacket. The soundtrack is Mozart’s Oboe Concerto.

Exquisitely drawn and colored, fluidly shifting among styles of art, Adrien Mérigeau’s “Genius Loci” is more dream than story, and the dream verges on disturbed. A young poet explores the city, follows a shape through the chaos, and at one point turns into a dog. Don’t worry about a narrative. Just enjoy the visual ride.

Michael Govier and Will McCormack’s “If Anything Happens I Love You” will rip your heart out. A child has died, and the parents can’t take it, and when you learn why and how, you feel the same. So much grief and sadness, captured in what look like pencil sketches.

Korean filmmaker (and former Pixar animator) Erick Oh’s “Opera” should be viewed on a big screen. Inspired by fresco murals, originally designed as an installation piece, it’s the story of human history and society, good and bad, told by countless tiny creatures in different sections of a giant pyramid. It has a Hieronymous Bosch-like quality. You can’t see it all, no matter how hard you try.

Iceland’s Gisli Darri Halldórsson’s “Yes-People” is a day in the life of an eclectic mix of neighbors, with all their eccentricities. It’s sweet, funny and fun to watch, more a gentle commentary on human existence than a defining statement. (Leave that to “Opera.”)

Because animated shorts can be very short, the Oscars reel usually throws in a few “highly commended” (but not finalist) films. There are three this year. “Kapaemahu,” told in an ancient Hawaiian language, is being hailed as a “transgender breakthrough.”  Narrated by Dame Diana Rigg, “The Snail and the Whale” is based on a children’s book. In “To Gerard,” a mail clerk passes on his love of magic – and a gleaming gold coin – to a young girl.

The picks

V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.

TV travel host Rick Steves will introduce “A Musical Passport.”
Rick Steves' Europe
TV travel host Rick Steves will introduce “A Musical Passport.”
V Livestreaming tonight (Friday, April 2), 8 p.m.: Minnesota Orchestra: “A Musical Passport.” Are you itching to travel? Following an introduction by famed travel writer and TV host Rick Steves, Sarah Hicks will lead the orchestra in an evening of music celebrating Cuba, Brazil, Russia, Norway, Italy, Armenia and more, with reflections on travel from musicians. Violinist and associate concertmaster Felicity James will be the featured soloist. COVID dashed the orchestra’s travel plans for 2020; they had to cancel what would have been their first-ever tour to South Korea and Vietnam in June and July. Watch on the Orchestra’s website or TPT-MN; listen on Classical MPR with Melissa Ousley. Free.

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V Streaming tonight (Friday, April 2), 8 p.m.: The SPCO: “Saint John Passion” encore broadcast. Bach premiered his “Saint John Passion” on Good Friday, 1724, at St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig. A gem of the SPCO’s 2018-19 season, this performance is led by SPCO Artistic Partner Jonathan Cohen, with soloists and The Singers, Minnesota choral artists led by Matthew Culloton. View in the SPCO’s online concert library. Free.

V and L Livestreaming tonight (Friday, April 2), 8:30 p.m.: Crooners: Pat Mallinger with Chris Lomheim. Chicago sax master Mallinger has been a favorite among Twin Cities jazz fans for years; he often came through the Artists’ Quarter in St. Paul. He has performed with a long list of jazz greats and leads the Saturday night band at Chicago’s famed Green Mill jazz club. Twin Cities-based Lomheim is an elegant, intelligent pianist. This show will be livestreamed for free as part of the Keep Music Live partnership with the Twin Cities Jazz Festival. View on Crowdcast (registration required) or Facebook. In-person seating is also available in the socially distanced, HVAC-upgraded Dunsmore Jazz Room. FMI and tickets (2-tops or 4-tops, $25/person).

Garrett McQueen
Garrett McQueen
V Streaming Saturday, April 3, 7 p.m.: Lakes Area Music Festival: “Seasons of Change.” Conceived by guest curator Garrett McQueen, bassoonist, co-host with Scott Blankenship of the Trilloquy podcast and former host at Classical MPR, this program of wind quintets includes Jennifer Higdon’s “Autumn Music,” Samuel Barber’s “Summer Music,” Franz Danzi’s Wind Quintet No. 2 in G minor and Valerie Coleman’s “Portraits of Josephine” (about Josephine Baker) The musicians are members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Want some background before you hear the music? Earlier in the day, at 10 a.m., McQueen and LAMF’s artistic director Scott Lykins will talk about the program at an informal Coffee Q&A Zoom. Go here for links to everything. Free.

V Monday (April 5), 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on TPT-2: “Hemingway”: A Film by Ken Burns and Lyn Novick. Have you ever seen a list of Ken Burns’ documentaries? With “Hemingway” (three parts, six hours) the latest, he currently has six more in production, including a four-parter on Muhammad Ali and a five-parter on the American Revolution. In “Hemingway,” Burns and Lynn Novick set aside the myth to examine the life and the work of the man, weaving together his biography with excerpts from his fiction, nonfiction and personal correspondence, plus the usual expert interviews, rarely seen photographs and archival footage. The official website is loaded with extras including hourlong discussions with the filmmakers and a behind-the-scenes video. This is Part 1; parts 2 and 3 will air on Tuesday and Wednesday, April 6 and 7.

Lisa Genova
Lisa Genova
V Tuesday (April 6), 7 p.m.: Friends of the Hennepin County Library: Talk of the Stacks: Lisa Genova. The New York Times best-selling author (“Still Alice”) will talk with the Star Tribune’s Laurie Hertzel about her first nonfiction book, “Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting.” On Zoom, free with registration.