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Movie Review – 2012 Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts

While I would have also liked to have seen the Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts and Live Action Shorts, I decided instead to focus on the Documentary Shorts.  I’m a huge documentary fan (any suggestions on your favorites?) and seem to gravitate toward these first if my Oscar viewing gets down to the wire.

Showing 4 of the 5 nominees (one wasn’t available due to licensing issues), this was 130 minutes of good viewing entertainment.  Some will be shown on HBO in March and April or you can see them all now OnDemand or via iTunes.

Here are my capsule reviews…in the order they were shown.

Incident in New Baghdad

I must admit, I’ve about had all I can with movies/documentaries/news reports on the war in Iraq.  Yes, there are important stories to tell and we must never forget those that fought and are fighting for our country.  I just am finding the constant retelling of the same variation of story to be exhausting to watch.  Last year three of the five nominees were on the topic of the war and this year we only have one entry.

This is a story of a returning war vet with PTSD that is thrust back into his memories when a video is released via WikiLeaks that exposed an incident the army would have liked to keep under wraps.  Were the rules of engagement followed?  The film isn’t long enough to really dig deep into these issues and it wisely focuses on the man and not on uncovering new truths.  The shortest of the nominees, it was also the least memorable when all was said and done.

Saving Face

Soon to be broadcast on HBO, Saving Face tunes its lens on Pakistan and the women who have been horribly disfigured when acid has been thrown in their faces.  We follow two women as they recount how they came to be the victims of these deplorable crimes, the doctor who has come back to his hometown to help them, and the politicians that are fighting to pass a law ensuring that the persons responsible for these crimes are punished to the full extent of the law.

Far less gruesome than it sounds (the previous film, Incident in New Baghdad has some nearly gag inducing photos of carnage in war), the film is ultimately uplifting when focused on the courage and pride of these women.  The plastic surgeon storyline drops off for a bit but comes back in a big way by the end to cap off an inspiring journey.

The Tsunami and The Cherry Blossom

No big budgeted special effects summer blockbuster could ever duplicate the opening shot that stretches on in this nominee.  Helpless residents watch in horror as their town is literally washed away in front of their eyes by the massive waters raised by the 2011 hurricane and subsequent Tsunami that ravaged Japan’s coast. It’s a gut-wrenching few minutes watching houses, debris, and people being taken away in an instant.

The focus soon moves from destruction to rebirth of the town and rebirth of the cherry blossoms that play such an important role in Japanese culture.  Attempts to link the mythology of the popular blossom to the lives of the people affected by the disaster never feel forced or false. Told through the faces and voices of the Japanese people and fully subtitled, this doc felt the most well produced and complete.  A narrative is established that I responded to making the longest of the docs feel the shortest to me, there were great interviews and it was well made.

The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement

The most light-hearted of the group of documentary shorts, though I’d bet that God Is the Bigger Elvis would have been equally as genial (the fifth nominee wasn’t shown due to licensing issues…it too is coming to HBO in April).  I enjoyed this short and sweet look at the life of Mr. Armstrong, a Birmingham barber that was a ‘foot soldier’ in the civil rights movement.  With the inauguration of our country’s first black president, Mr. Armstrong mediates on the changes he’s seen over the years.  His two boys were the first to be integrated in the Birmingham school district and he was a part of the Bloody Sunday march.

Through historical footage we get a brief history lesson of the times the town has seen.  While it could have been a bit more in depth with a goldmine topic and central character, it’s easy to see why this was a selection that made the short list of the Academy.

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