Local actor stars in Oscar Award-nominated film

BY CATE MARQUIS, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

When the Oscars award ceremony rolls around on Feb. 25, you are likely to have had an opportunity see many of the nominated movies. But while the major nominated films have played local theaters and we got to the chance to see most of the foreign film and documentary nominees, almost no one here has seen the films in one award category: short films.

This year is different. A program of Oscar-nominated short films, live-action and animated, plus a few more shorts, is now playing at the Tivoli Theatre, for a one-week run before the Oscars. “Academy Award Nominated Short Films” includes all the nominees in two of the three categories, documentary, live-action and animated, for Oscars for short films.

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Among the nominees this year is a live-action short film with a local link. West Bank Story, the all-singing, all-dancing musical parody of West Side Story, stars a St. Louis native, actor Ben Newmark, as David, an Israeli soldier who falls for the beautiful Fatima (Noureen DeWulf). But Fatima is the sister of the owner of the Hummus Hut, the fierce restaurant rival of neighboring Kosher King, David’s family’s restaurant. It is Israelis versus Palestinians for fast food business in this gentle parody. Ari Sandel directed this farcical comic look at conflict, reduced to a rivalry between fast-food restaurants and the love of a soldier and a cashier. The film is cute, clever, silly and a bit wise, and Newmark and DeWulf are appealing as the couple brings the families to cooperation.

West Bank Story premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and went on to screen in more than 100 film festivals, winning several awards.

Actor Ben Newmark has been an award-winning actor since high school. He won Best Performance for Fiddler on the Roof at Interlochen Arts Academy. He also won Best Actor and Best One-Act in a Missouri State competition. The actor’s TV credits include Days of Our Lives and The Division, on Lifetime.

Director Ari Sandel hails from California but studied media in Arizona, where he also received a certificate in Middle Eastern studies. He has a long resume of works in TV but also has traveled extensively, particularly in the Middle East, where he is involved with various political organizations working towards peace in the region.

As good as West Bank Story is, it faces some fierce competition for the Oscar for live-action short, with plot twists and surprises everywhere. West Bank Story is the lone musical but Binta and the Great Idea has a lot of music, in an African story about an irrepressible little girl who wants to help her cousin. Australian short The Saviour has a young door-to-door evangelist falling for a housewife. Helmer and Son has a son called to the retirement home, where he recently has placed his reluctant-to-go father, to try to coax him from a closet. In One Too Many (Eramos Pocos), a slovenly father whose wife has left him, and his equally sloppy teen son, find themselves unable to cope with cooking and cleaning and hit on the idea of going to get his mother-in-law from the nursing home as the solution.

This week is your chance to see these very entertaining little treats. When you watch the Oscars on Sunday, you can pull for your favorite, since you have seen what most others have not.