[UPDATED with Award Winners:] That Oscar Buzz You're Hearing May Be Coming From the Irvine International Film Festival

Categories: Film
See Update No. 2 on page 2 with the IIFF award winners.

See Update No. 1 on the next page identifying the nine IIFF selections among the Oscar nominees.

ORIGINAL POST, JAN. 4, 5:18 P.M.: The lineup for the second annual Irvine International Film Festival running Jan. 17-21 at Edwards Westpark 8 includes 11 films that are apparent Oscar contenders in polling that closes today. Among them is a documentary on an American basketball player joining a team in Iran and an animated short about a couple that has literally grown apart trying to rekindle the magic.

The Iran Job
The Hollywood Reporter's Scott Feinberg singled out The Iran Job as a possibility for an Academy Awards best documentary feature nominee in late November, although to be honest his list is a very long one and Till Shauder's indie doc is not among those the film reporter has in the front-runner positions. Steve Pond also gives The Iran Job a sliver of a chance of an Oscar nod in a report for The Wrap that notes one Kickstarter campaign was launched to make the documentary, and a second was later mounted to get it into LA and New York theaters in time for voter consideration.

THE IRAN JOB_11.14.1 from sara nodjoumi on Vimeo.

The 90-minute movie, which will be making its Orange County debut when it opens the Irvine fest on Thursday, Jan. 17, does sound worthy of catching. Kevin Sheppard expected the worst when he signed to play in one of the world's most-feared countries, but he would encounter a much different Iran than what's depicted in the U.S. media. It may be that his charismatic personality drew generosity from everyday Iranians, including three strong-willed women he befriended. They are seen finding refuge in Sheppard's apartment, where strong opinions on politics, religion and gender roles were freely aired. Timing is everything here: Shauder's camera rolled on this very personal story as Iran's reformist Green Movement rose, fell and went on to serve as a catalyst for the Arab Spring.

Head Over Heels
In a stronger Oscar consideration power position is U.K. director Timothy Reckart's 10-minute animated short Head Over Heels, which advanced to the round of 10 such films the Academy Award nominees will be plucked from--the short list if you will. The story is about a husband and wife who have grown so far apart that he lives on the floor and she lives on the ceiling. So coming back together could be dangerous. Head Over Heels joins The Iran Job in opening the festival at 8 p.m. Jan. 17. Tickets are $9-$12.

HEAD OVER HEELS - Trailer from Timothy Reckart on Vimeo.

According to IIFF executive director Jack Kaprielian, three other films making their Orange County premieres at his festival are getting Oscar looks: Open Heart, Dood van een shaduw (Death of a Shadow) and Pesaran-e-Buzkashi (Buzkashi Boys). The remainder he singled out are: Mondays at Racine, Inocente, Kings Point, Asad, Paraiso and Fresh Guacamole.

Polling among Oscar voters were to end today, and nominees are scheduled to be announced Thursday morning.

Academy Award hopefuls are, of course, only a handful of the several short and feature-length films that will roll at the IIFF. We'll clue you into more entries in the days ahead, but you can get a sneak peak at other trailers of festival films via IIFF's YouTube channel.

You can also snag tickets at IrvineFilmFest.com, which in addition to the opening night rates quoted above offers day passes ranging from $30-$60, five-day passes for $175 and all-access passes for $200 that get you into all the films, parties and events.

This year includes a Lifetime Achievement Award being bestowed to veteran actor Martin Landau, and "An Evening With Mark Rydell," the director of The Rose, On Golden Pond and John Wayne's The Cowboys. The IIFF has also partnered with the International Cinematographers Guild to screen the Emerging Cinematographers Awards films followed by a panel discussion, according to Kaprielian.

UPDATE, JAN. 10, 9:17 A.M.: Nine of the 11 films playing at the upcoming Irvine International Film Festival and previously mentioned as possible Academy Award nominees received Oscar bids announced this morning.

Nearly the entire Best Documentary Short category is composed of films rolling at IIFF: Mondays at Racine, which is about two sisters who once a month open their Long Island hair salon to women diagnosed with cancer; Open Heart, which follows eight Rwandan children who leave their families behind to embark on a life-or-death journey seeking high-risk heart surgery in Sudan; Kings Point, which examines self-reliance vs. community living through the stories of five seniors in a retirement village; and Inocente, which profiles young artist Inocente Izucar, who emerged from San Diego's homeless immigrant community. The doc rolled at last August's OC Film Fiesta in Santa Ana.

The Best Live Action Short category includes three films coming to the IIFF: Asad, which is about a boy in Somalia having to choose between a life of piracy or honest fishing; Pesaran-e-Buzkashi (Buzkashi Boys), a coming-of-age story about two best friends in war-torn Afghanistan that's set against a brutal national sport that involves polo players on horseback and dead goats; and Dood van een shaduw (Death of a Shadow), a Belgian entry about a deceased soldier who collects shadows of dying men and women to buy back his own second chance at life and pursue a girl he met the moment before he died.  

Fresh Guacamole, which has director PES going table side as a follow up to Western Spaghetti, and Head Over Heels, which is described in the original post, received Best Animated Short Oscar nominations.

Best Documentary Feature nominee 5 Broken Cameras is not playing at the IIFF, but it did make its Orange County premiere at the Newport Beach Film Festival last April. Among the most-haunting films I saw last year, the doc is composed of footage a Palestinian farmer shot of his village's nonviolent resistance to the Israeli army and illegal settlements, footage that is presented chronologically, in the order each camera was destroyed by soldiers or settlers.

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