Released: February 22, 2019
Runtime: Program A (67 minutes); Program B (67 minutes)
Program: Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts for 2018
(Parental Discretion strongly advised; some content not suitable for children)
During every Oscar ceremony, there’s a stretch of categories with nominees that virtually no one has ever even heard of, let alone seen: the shorts.
Divided into three competitive groups – Animated, Live Action, and Documentary – the Academy Award nominated shorts can make-or-break a person’s Oscar pool ballot.
Thankfully, for several years now, the slate of nominated shorts have been made available through separate feature-length programs to movie theaters nationwide. This year, many theaters (like Circle Cinema in my city of Tulsa, OK) have debuted one program per week leading up to the Oscars.
Below is a look at the five films nominated for Best Documentary Short Subject of 2018, ending with my prediction of Who Will Win.
(To read my review of the 2018 Live Action Short nominees, click here; for the 2018 Animated Short nominees, click here.)
Given the length of the Doc shorts, the five nominees have been divided into two different feature-length programs, A & B.
PROGRAM A (run time 67 minutes)
Black Sheep (U.K., 27 minutes)
dirs. Ed Perkins & Jonathan Chinn
Relevant with unexpected immediacy, this account of racist bullying against Cornelius Walker, a black London teenager, is exactly the kind of hate crime that’s betrayed by the recent hoax perpetrated by actor Jussie Smollett, especially as we see what lengths (and self-betrayal) that Walker goes to in order to stop it.
But I have one problem with Black Sheep: it’s barely a documentary.
Other than the to-camera testimony of the now-adult Walker, everything we see here is a dramatized re-creation. Honestly, it’s more akin to a live action short than a doc. As such, not only does the film feel like it’s in the wrong category, but the approach ends up straining the credulity of the shocking turn halfway through, one we’re supposed to accept as true. I’m not saying it isn’t; it just feels false, given how it’s staged.
End Game (U.S.A., 40 minutes)
dirs. Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman
A thematic twin to Extremis, an ICU docu-short nominee from 2016, the Netflix documentary End Game tracks the stories of a few terminally ill patients (and their families) as they grapple with end-of-life decisions…and, among other things, the denial that can understandably be involved.
It features a few different approaches to hospice – like Palliative Care (which could be dubbed “pre-hospice Hospice) or Zen Hospice – that are enlightening, especially as it highlights the multi-amputee Buddhist who serves as the Zen Hospice counselor.
A lot of tough, hard tears are shed in this one, and you may shed a few, too, but it helps us to contemplate these inevitable life passages that we all must face.
PROGRAM B (run time 67 minutes)
Lifeboat (U.S.A., 35 minutes)
dirs. Skye Fitzgerald & Bryn Mooser
Like End Game, Lifeboat is a topical twin to another 2016 docu-short nominee, 4.1 Meters (about Greek sailing crews that rescue Middle East refugees adrift in the Mediterranean sea). Lifeboat follows equally brave Germans who head straight into torrential waters to rescue Libyan migrants (and deal with the occasional dead).
It’s a journey so harrowing, and life-threatening, that one wonders why anyone would actually risk it. But when you hear the refugee stories of kidnapping, abuse, and rape, you understand clearly, and tragically.
A Night at the Garden (U.S.A., 7 minutes)
dir. Marshall Curry
A banner of George Washington, flanked by swastikas. That is the stark image from an event in America 80 years ago…but not from the Deep South. On February 20, 1939, 20,000 Nazi sympathizers packed Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The archival footage itself leaves one aghast, but then that becomes even more heartbreaking and infuriating as you begin to understand that these racist facists aren’t trying to transform American ideals; they believe that Nazism is embodied in the founders’ ideals.
Then, when one moment of an anti-Nazi protestor is featured as he storms the stage, and he is then escorted out, it’s clear what parallels the filmmakers of A Night at the Garden are intending to draw: a comparison to a very specific person’s political rallies held today.
PERIOD. END OF SENTENCE (India, 25 minutes)
dirs. Rayka Zahtabchi & MelissaBerton
At first mind-boggling, then maddening, and then absolutely inspiring, the Netflix doc PERIOD. END OF SENTENCE is the big dose of hope and change we could all use right now.
As if from a bygone era centuries past but actually happening today in India, women’s menstruation is culturally taboo, embarrassing to mention, and completely verboten – and that’s insane.
It’s also a huge problem, because the result is that hygienic pads are unavailable. Along with the sanitary issues that creates and crisis of self-worth it fosters, the lack of menstrual hygiene also solidifies patriarchy, keeping women from being able to attend school or commit to jobs.
Well, this is the story of one Indian man on a mission to provide women with sanitary pads, and the women he mobilizes to profit off of that effort. The result is nothing short of true emancipation.
And once that kind of freedom starts to flow, no “pad of patriarchy” can stop it.
Aside from Black Sheep, which I find problematic as an actual documentary, this is a solid collection of doc shorts…even if most of them cover issues that we seemingly are inundated with, in some form or fashion, through our various news cycles.
Well, except for one.
And finally, my prediction for Who Will Win the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject:
PERIOD. END OF SENTENCE
In a world (and collection of nominees) where so many problems seem insurmountable, PERIOD actually shows a solution, one that’s succeeding, one that is actually affecting change right now on transformative level. That inspiring uplift – which PERIOD provides with crescendoing joy – should put it over the top with Oscar voters.