An International Batch of Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts
ShortsTV is bringing this year’s batch of Oscar nominated Live Action, Documentary and Animated Short Films to a global audience. In the United States, check your local Landmark theater for availability. Here’s our rundown of the Documentary selections.
Contributing reviewers are Erik Yates, Krystal Lyon, Sharon Autenrieth, Madeline Brophy, and Jim Tudor. Get an edge in your Oscar pool, and more importantly, be informed about some solid, if short, cinema that is being celebrated:
A Night At The Garden
Marshall Curry, USA, 7 minutes
February 20, 1939: 20,000 American citizens gather at Madison Square Garden for what might’ve been the original “Make America Great Again” rally. In actuality it was the largest pro-Nazi rally in U.S. history, replete with the same rhetoric of “taking the country back to better times” not uncommon at political rallies of today. In the long stretch of decades following World War II and just a couple of years ago, the unearthed reality of such a massive gathering of Seig Heil-ing U.S. citizens, adorned in swastikas while waving the American flag, would’ve been unthinkable. Even now, in a post “Unite the Right”/Charlottesville world, it’s still surreal to see. Filmmaker Marshall Curry leans into the nightmarishness of it all, presenting the rarely-seen black-and-white archival footage as a kind of warped fever dream. At merely seven minutes in total length, only a few spare graphic cards give us the bare minimum of historical context. Don’t look to A Night at the Garden to be a defining educational experience, nor an objective one. Curry routinely leans into unintentionally hammy slow-motion and musical power chords to play up the oneiric madness of it all. Though the organization hosting this event, the German American Bund, and their leader, featured speaker Fritz Kuhn, are never identified on screen, quick online research offers all the additional information one may require. Though this was one of their largest and, unbeknownst to them, one of their final gatherings, the actualization of a document such as this, realized in this preaching-to-the-choir manner, is sadly not as nearly shocking as it ought to be.
– Jim Tudor
Ed Perkins and Jonathan Chinn, UK, 27 minutes
The United Kingdom’s entry for Documentary Short is Black Sheep. Cornelius Walker narrates his story, citing that it all began after the high-profile killing of 10-year old Damilola Taylor in London. Damilola was of Nigerian decent, the same country that Cornelius’ parents hailed from. Cornelius details how in an effort to keep his family safe, his father moved them to Essex. It was a move made out of fear, but one that brought a young Cornelius (re-enacted by Kai Francis Lewis) face to face with racism and hatred unlike anything he had witnessed in the more multi-cultured London. After a vicious, race-based beating of Cornelius, at the hands of the city’s two most prominent family’s teen children, it creates a spiral of guilt, blame, anger, and abuse for Cornelius’ parents. For Cornelius’, however, it causes him to take drastic measures to do anything to fit in. This means taking the most unlikely of steps by changing his physical appearance to be more “white”, and unbelievably to become friends with the same racist hoodlums that beat him to a pulp. The interview with Cornelius is a powerful look at the issue of conformity and the role it plays in helping to perpetrate racism, and silencing those who long to speak up against injustice but who are too scared to do anything in response.
– Erik Yates
Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, USA, 40 minutes
“There’s nothing medical about dying, it’s completely human.” This sums up the beautiful documentary short End Game that focuses on Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco and the palliative care that is given to five people as they near death. We witness as these terminally ill patients face fears alongside their families and with the doctor’s, chaplain’s, social worker’s and nurse’s help, they transition and try to look at death differently. Doctor B.J. Miller explains that, “We are wired to run away from death, but dying is a very real part of life.” We all avoid these conversations about death and the words hospice and palliative care strike fear in our hearts. But these caregivers want to relieve suffering and help you have a different relationship with death. Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffery Friedman give you a glimpse of five different stories, five individuals that are dying. We are privileged to witness these intimate moments, this is not acting, it’s real fear and shock and heartbreak. End Game focuses on a middle aged woman named Mitra whose husband wants to continue to fight for every extra moment he can have with his wife. They have an adolescent son together, she’s only 45 and this has all happened too quickly. Mitra’s mother struggles seeing the once vibrant and colorful daughter in this state and she wonders what is best in these last days. End Game is a tender film that examines what life is all about, love, gratitude, family and honoring the beautiful souls that we share time with.
– Krystal Lyon
Skye Fitzgerald and Bryn Mooser, USA, 40 minutes
The numbers connected with the global refugee crisis are so huge, so staggering, that’s it difficult to rationally perceive the masses as human beings. In Skye Fitzgerald’s Lifeboat, the voice of Captain Jon Castle insists that we think not just with our minds, but with our hearts – that we recognize that there are individual faces behind every jarring statistic. Castle, who passed away in January of 2018 was the captain of a Sea Watch vessel: Sea Watch is a German non-profit devoted to rescuing immigrants crossing the Mediterranean, typically in overcrowded and unfit rafts and fishing boats. 1 in 18 of the refugees who attempt to cross the Mediterranean drown, and people like Castle try, day after day, to save as many as they can. Fitzgerald’s documentary is subdued in tone, occasionally jarring and confusing since the footage was shot under intense circumstances. But his interviews with individual refugees helps make sense of why they would risk their lives on such a terrible journey. The world may well be going to hell, as Castle suggests, and the work of rescuers may seem an irrational drop in the bucket. But saving lives is a work of the heart, and as Castle says, “Your heart will tell you the truth if you listen to it.”
– Sharon Autenrieth
Period. End of Sentence
Rayka Zahtabchi and Melissa Berton, India, 26 minutes
In this 27 minute academy award nominated short film, viewers are privy to an inner community of women living just outside of New Delhi, India as they cope with, well, being female. Female periods in their culture are a taboo subject, so much so that women are not welcome to enter to worship while menstruating, taught it is a punishment from God. It’s obvious from the beginning of the film that female bodies are something most don’t feel comfortable talking about, even amongst other females. Within the first minutes a few men are asked about periods and one responds, “Like a class period?”. Another shares that he’s heard of menstruation as some sort of female illness. The film goes onto become a sort of therapeutic session for the community as young and older women share their experiences about how having a period has impacted their lives under this culture of shame. One shares that she couldn’t continue schooling after beginning menstruation due to having no safe place to change her clothes. Another dreams of becoming a police officer, worried if she doesn’t she’ll have to get married within a society that deems it a loss of all independence. What could be quite a bummer movie transcends into a momentous act of strength, courage, and determination once they learn to use a machine sponsored by a college in California that creates cheap but supportive pads, enabling and empowering the women in the community to continue school, work, gain further independence, and maintain their dignity and livelihoods.
– Madeline Brophy