Ranked: 2014 Oscar Nominated Documentary Short Films

Feb 26, 2014
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The 86th Annual Academy Awards ceremony will happen this Sunday, March 2nd. Leading in to Oscar weekend, we'll be taking a look at this year's short film competitions. The Academy defines a short film as an original motion picture running 40 minutes or less, and excludes all advertisments, unaired or unsold television episodes, or credit sequences from feature-length films. Our critic, Shawn Hazelett, watched and ranked all of this year's Oscar-nominated shorts. Today, he'll look at this year's documentary category. 

1

Dir. Jason Cohen

Facing Fear

If reality can be stranger than fiction, it can also be more inspiring. As a gay 13-year-old living on the streets of LA, Matthew Boger was beaten within an inch of his life by neo-Nazis. Twenty-five years later, while working at the Museum of Tolerance, Boger unwittingly wound up face to face with one of his attackers, Tim Zaal, a former skinhead haunted by his actions. The encounter surfaced years of pain for both, but the two braved through their hesitations to turn an evil into a lesson for museumgoers. Unexpectedly, it also formed an unlikely friendship. Facing Fear does a terrific job showing how hate and bitterness are distant cousins that are equal in corrosion, and how each can be combatted by understanding and forgiveness.

2

Dir. Jeffrey Karoff

The Cavedigger

To what extend should a person commissioning an artist influence the art? To what extent is an artist obligated to listen? This conflict is central to The CaveDigger, which presents an unlikely artist in Ra Paulette, who—with nothing but hand tools and an uncanny sense of geology—carves desolate hills into beautiful shrines. There temptation to take pot shots at Paulette’s bourgeoisie clientele, who regard him as little more than a gardener. But the filmmakers avoid clichés and didacticism, all while showing the sacrifice, disappointment, and obsession that comes with being an artist.

3

Dir. Edgar Barens

Prison Terminal: The Final Days of Private Jack Hall

Prison Terminal documents the last days of Jack Hall, an 83-year-old WWII vet serving life for murder. They capture perhaps some of the most tender moments of the old man’s life as he becomes visibly frail and as his community of compassionate cons helps him cope with his passing. The true power of this film is mitigated by the fact that it only barely touches upon the lives that he took. Their deaths can’t be documented.

4

Dirs. Malcolm Clarke and Nicholas Reed

The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life

At 110, Herz Sommer is the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor. She spends most of her time either enjoying classical music or playing the piano with a joie de vivre that proved essential to her survival in World War II. Her story offers unique glimpses into the Holocaust, such as Theresienstadt concentration camp--a puppet camp showcased to the Red Cross--where Sommer was permitted to play her piano. The German guards were so taken with her music, that she was able to form a camp band, saving the lives of other Jewish musicians. Their lives were saved, she explains, because as long as she’s alive she will do what she loves.

5

Dir. Sara Ishaq

Karama Has No Walls

On March 18, 2011, the Yemeni Revolution reached a boiling point as government snipers opened fire on a demonstration in “Change Square”, killing 53 and wounding hundreds more. Two cameramen in the midst of the massacre capture damning footage as bodies fall all around them, as women and children are shot, as they are targeted specifically. Despite the risk, they continue filming. Karama Has No Walls unapologetically supports such a risk. If the pen is mightier than the sword, this is how they fight.

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