Ranked: 2017 Oscar Nominated Documentary Short Films

Feb 22, 2017
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The 89th Annual Academy Awards ceremony will happen on Sunday, February 26th. As in years past, we've taken 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 looks at this year's documentary category.  

Want to judge for yourself? Click here to find a list of theaters and showtimes for this year's Oscar-nominated shorts.

1

Directed by Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara

The White Helmets

The strongest film in the strongest shorts category focuses a group of volunteers in Aleppo who dig through bombed-out neighborhoods for survivors. As the situation grows increasingly dire, these White Helmets are buoyed by their incredibly success, having saved literally thousands of people. The most remarkable story involves a 2-week-old baby buried under rubble for several hours. As they themselves have lost family, friends, and dozens of fellow White Helmets, the “Miracle Child” symbolizes the necessity of their impossible work.

2

Directed by Kahane Cooperman and Raphaela Neihausen

Joe’s Violin

Joe lived in Poland in the onset of WWII. Many family members died in the Holocaust. He was spared by the Soviets, who instead sent him to a Stalin work camp where he kept up his spirits by playing a violin. Decades later, an old Manhattanite, he donates his violin to a young student at a school made up of survivors of child abuse. The gratitude she extends the old man and their shared love of music make this one of the most moving and life-affirming films of the year.

3

Directed by Daphne Matziaraki

4.1 Miles

The New York Times’ entry is a tense, experiential account of the Greek boat crews tasked with dragging Syrian refugees out of the water. The refugees attempt to reach Greece via makeshift boats constructed by thieving opportunists, the weight of the subtext is palpable: if a simple attempt to escape is this horrific, how horrific is the situation they are trying to escape?

4

Directed by Dan Krauss

Extremis

Assisted suicide is a touchy issue, and Extremis throws another wrench into the debate: what if a patient’s mind can’t be trusted to make such a decision? The analogue for the debate is an old woman who suffered intense brain trauma and who can barely see through the wires and tubes of machines keeping her alive. Because her family, like many, must consider the financial burden versus the improbability of her physical improvement, the cruelty seems less in the ultimate decision than in reducing a human to an equation.

5

Directed by Marcel Mettelsiefen and Stephen Ellis

Watani: My Homeland

The film charts the journey of a family who flees their disintegrating Syria for Germany and explores the pain and guilt in leaving something behind. The filmmakers have such an impressive amount of access over so many years that it feels like a teaser that never quite reaches the depths or explores the broader implications of its subjects’ choices and their ever-changing sense of “home”.

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March 25th 2017
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