During a pivotal scene in "Gravity," Sandra Bullock's character Ryan Stone, trapped inside a Russian space capsule with little hope of survival, makes contact with a male voice speaking via radio in a foreign language. What unfolds on the other end of that fractured conversation, complete with a barking dog and a crying baby, is the subject of a short film by Jonas Cuaron, son of director Alfonso Cuaron, who co-wrote the screenplay for Warner Bros.' $500 million-grossing awards contender with his father.
That seven-minute companion piece, titled "Aningaaq," was financed by Warner Home Video, which initially envisioned it as a unique extra feature for the Blu-ray edition of "Gravity." But the stark, contemplative "Aningaaq" has developed a life of its own via festival screenings at Venice and Telluride. Now Warners has submitted it for Oscar consideration in the live-action short category. Should it snag a nomination alongside its sure-bet blockbuster companion, they are poised to make Academy Awards history as the first feature and spin-off short drawn from the same material to be nominated together in the same year.
The idea for "Aningaaq," which follows an Inuit fisherman stationed on a remote fjord in Greenland, occurred to the Cuarons as they were working out the beats for the "Gravity" screenplay.
"It's this moment where the audience and the character get this hope that Ryan is finally going to be OK," Jonas, 31, tells THR. "Then you realize that everything gets lost in translation."
Both Cuarons spent time in the glacial region (Alfonso once toyed with setting a movie there) and fell in love with the barren vastness of its frozen wilderness. During one of those visits, Alfonso met a drunken native who would become the basis for the title character, played by Greenland's Orto Ignatiussen. But it wasn't until Jonas, on a two-week trek gathering elements for his film, was inspired by the local inhabitants' profound attachment to their sled dogs that he decided to incorporate that element into the plot.
The short was filmed "guerrilla style" on location on a budget of about $100,000 -- most of which went toward the 10-person crew's travel costs -- and Cuaron completed it in time to meld the dialogue into "Gravity's" final sound mix. The result is a seamless conversation between Aningaaq and Ryan, stranded 200 miles above him, the twin stories of isolated human survival providing thematic cohesion. Still, Jonas says he was careful "to make it a piece that could stand on its own."
Should both get Oscar noms, an interesting dynamic would emerge: Two films potentially could win for representing different sides of one conversation, to say nothing of having come from father and son.
One Academy member who likely will vote for "Aningaaq" if it scores a nomination is Bullock: At a Los Angeles press conference, the star called the short an "absolutely beautiful piece of loneliness. … I get goose bumps thinking about it."