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article imageReview: Hard-hitting documentary shorts make Oscar’s nominee list Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Feb 6, 2015 in Entertainment
The Academy Awards nominees for Best Documentary Short are a little glum, while simultaneously relating stories of compassion and endurance.
Documentaries are filmmakers’ opportunity to share a piece of history or personal journey with the world in a compelling and tangible manner. Some stories don’t require an hour or more to convey its significance, which is where the documentary short serves its purpose. It’s unfortunate this type of filmmaking is so often utilized to tell such grave stories, but all of this year’s Oscar nominees for the category skilfully deal with death, illness or hardship.
The story in Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 is conveyed via three distinct elements: statistics shown on the screen; recordings of live conversations with American veterans in crisis; and candid, on-camera interviews with the responders. The figures alone are shocking, but the patience and professionalism of the responders is even more amazing. Filmmakers capture several calls in which the veteran on the other end of line is in preparatory stages or actually in the midst of taking his life. Even with only listening to one side, the exchanges can be difficult to overhear. The film underlines the critical nature of the service and emphasizes the need for more resources without ever explicitly declaring either.
A scene from Oscar-nominated Documentary Short   Joanna
A scene from Oscar-nominated Documentary Short, 'Joanna'
Joanna chronicles the final days of a mother with a terminal illness as she plans for her death while making the most of the time she has left with her young son. She uses a blog to record her experiences and hopes for her son’s future. Even as she tries to maintain a sense of normalcy with her son, most of the moments captured with her husband are melancholy conversations about her health. Even so, the couple tries to make light of it sometimes as Joanna jokes about advertising for her husband’s new wife on her website. Stretched to 40 minutes the audience often watches in silence as their lives simply play out in front of the camera, which is a beautiful, stylish sentiment but is used so often it becomes a bit of annoyance.
In Our Curse, Polish parents’ worst fears are realized when they’re newborn is diagnosed with a life-threatening congenital breathing disorder known as Ondine's curse. In candid recordings from their couch, the couple confess their concerns, frustrations and reservations about raising a child that will face a lifetime of difficulties. When baby Leo finally comes home, they document the various aspects of managing his condition, including the generally soothing but in their case worrying moment he falls asleep while feeding; the process of cleaning his tracheostomy tube; and chasing administrators for medical supplies. They appear to use the movie as a way to confront their feelings and in turn, the audience watches as they come to terms with all of it.
The Reaper (La Parka) is shot in a Mexican slaughterhouse. The documentary’s subject is Efrain, a man who has worked at the facility for 25 years and is responsible for killing the animals. Animal lovers may find this film difficult to watch. Even though the death blow is never clearly shown, it does show the beast collapse and twitch as it dies as well as the butchering of the carcass. Nonetheless, filmmakers effectively build a detachment into the picture that mimics the position of the workers. Efrain discusses how he obtained his current position, his relationship to the animal’s he kills and death in general, the nightmares he had in the beginning, and the necessity of his job to his life and family.
A scene from Oscar-nominated Documentary Short   White Earth
A scene from Oscar-nominated Documentary Short, 'White Earth'
While the Oscars did not recognize the feature-length documentary, The Overnighters, it did select White Earth, which is also set near the oil fields of North Dakota. The film explores the difficulties the families of the workers face and the effects it has on their lives. One boy whose father is away a lot talks about his dreams of never working in the fields, although he doesn’t go to school and spends his days playing video games. An immigrant mother explains why she relocated her family to an RV nearer the fields, where she cooks and cleans for other people for extra income. Still, her daughter is probably the most well-adjusted person in the movie. This portrait is quite limited in its focus, which fits the format but doesn’t provide a complete perspective of current circumstances in the area.
Audiences have the rare opportunity to see the nominees before the ceremony via the 10th annual Oscar Nominated Short Films showcase organized by ShortsHD, the world’s only short movie channel. The live action, animation and documentary short film nominees are all released as three separate theatrical events in more than 450 theatres on three continents.
More about Oscar nominees, short films, Documentary, Joanna, Our Curse
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