Oscar Nominated Shorts — Documentary

Don’t you love that theaters are now releasing programs of Oscar nominated shorts before the big awards night? I have had a chance to check out some of the films.

Ra Paulette digs huge and elaborate caves, and director Jeffrey Karoff is there to document the glory. Paulette digs the caves, many of which look like cathedrals, to become closer to God and to fulfill his aesthetic impulses. This would be enough to sustain a shorter film, a character study devoted to process and purpose, but there is much more here. By also including sequences with his past girlfriend and her partner, with former clients who have commissioned caves, and with Paulette’s wife, Karoff develops a rich and fulfilling narrative about an unusual man who is devoting his life to finding meaning through a singular approach. The film is also beautifully photographed.

Facing Fear
I think the most important thing we can do for others is to be kind. But, I believe the most important thing we can do for ourselves is to embrace forgiveness. Usually slick aesthetic choices put me off in documentaries, but Jason Cohen’s polished production seems to complement this story, one that seems almost too “Hollywood” to be true. A former neo-Nazi and the gay victim of his hate crime meet again years after the attack under extraordinary circumstances and have an opportunity to move past shame, denial, and fear to forge a supportive friendship once one forgives the other and the other forgives himself. Did I mention that this story really does take place in Hollywood? What a lovely film about redemption.

Karama Has No Walls
Watching the Oscar nominated short documentary Karama Has No Walls is difficult not because the film is not worthy – it most certainly is – but because there are no easy answers to age-old problems of abuse of power. The film examines a pivotal point in Yemen’s 2011 uprising, the “Day of Dignity.” Two videographers, survivors of the onslaught, and families of the dead present narratives that are skillfully woven together by director Sara Ishaq to tell the story of that day, a story that deserves to be told. As the film concludes, we learn that the videographers are still shooting, and I am no closer to understanding why horrors like this continue to happen. But, in the meantime, bearing witness is something that needs to be done.

The Lady in Number 6
Alice Herz Sommer, the oldest living Holocaust survivor at 109-years-old, has an inspiring personal story and a personal philosophy that may be profound. When she declares that music is God, her lived experience bears this out, and when she talks about the value of each day, it is hard not to listen more carefully to her testimony than to others. The aesthetic choices made by director Malcolm Clarke feel overwrought, intrusive, and sometimes formulaic to me and undermine rather than reinforce the power of Sommer’s personality and insights.

Coming soon: notes on Oscar nominated animated and narrative shorts!


Image from CaveDigger.

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