Ranked: 2019 Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Ranked: 2019 Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts

Feb 24, 2019
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Best Documentary Short is routinely one of the strongest categories, perhaps because the natural, open-ended approach to documentary filmmaking sees incredibly ambitious projects peter out. Certainly the reverse happens, as with Hoop Dreams. Unfortunately, this year includes two entries that might technically fall within the parameters of documentary filmmaking, but are too calculated and told from the benefit of hindsight to have the typical effect of nonfiction storytelling. No, not every documentary needs to be vérité, but every documentary should create a sense of the present tense. The two that do not heavily dilute the category.

By Shawn Hazelett


Directed by Rayka Zehtabchi and Melissa Berton

Period. End of Sentence

This crowdfunded doc observes how the women in a small village outside of Dehli, India work to provide adequate hygiene products and how the biggest hurdle seems to be the overall stigmatization of menstruation. The women feel too ashamed to discuss their periods but reveal the unsanitary and potentially dangerous forms of hygiene. The documentary succeeds in linking this specific and undeserved shame about a woman’s body with self esteem and probable marginalization. As the town adopts pads, there’s a palpable sense of self-reclamation from the subjects, and using this small town a test lab shows how candor and access can empower an individual.


Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman

End Game

A Bay Area hospice works to provide not only the physical support over a patient’s final days but also the psychological acceptance of death. In telling this story, the filmmakers achieved impressive access to some incredibly candid moments between three patients and their close family. The facility’s employees are honest and warm when talking about death, and allows patients and family members to understand things at their own pace. They don’t shame a family for hesitating in an organ donation, and they endeavor to create a sense of normalcy with another patient at the end of her life. The man running the hospice suffered a freak accident in college that resulted in several amputated limbs. His personal experiences inform his beliefs about death, which is that its a warm next chapter. He also understands that he might not be right, but for his patients, it makes the ending much less scary.


Directed by Skye Fitzgerald and Bryn Mooser


A German nonprofit sails the Mediterranean Sea in hopes of saving the thousands of refugees who drown while attempting to reach Europe. The documentary crew aboard the German ship captures some harrowing rescue moments and stories from refugees whose lives in the Middle East and North Africa are so dire that their best survival is to cross a punishing sea on makeshift rafts.


Directed by Ed Perkins and Jonathan Chinn

Black Sheep

A black kid moves away from London to a very white neighborhood, where he experiences incredible racism at his new school. A particular group of hooligans seems hellbent on tormenting him. Desperately wanting to fit in, he changes his accent, bleaches his skin, and wears blue contact lenses -- a clear banner of shame that endears him to the group of racists, who become his crew. This documentary is narrated via an interview with the subject as an adult, with his childhood reenacted. The subject matter has the potential to be powerful, but it feels pretty flat, the result of a lack of dissonance between filmmaker and subject and also the result of storytelling too clean and stylized for a nonfiction format.


Directed by Marshall Curry

A Night at the Garden

In 1939, 20,000 people gathered at Madison Square Garden for a Nazi rally. With images of George Washington hung beside flags with swastikas, a German stands at a podium pontificating about the corrupt Jewish media. When a detractor disrupts the proceedings, he’s restrained by a large crowd, collecting cheap shots as he’s escorted away. If this sounds like a certain rally from 2016, that’s the point. If you’ve never heard of this unfortunate event in American history, this film will tell you that, hey, this was a thing. Beyond that, really, where’s the achievement in stringing together 7 coherent minutes from something filmed eighty years ago?


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