Oscar Nominated Short Films…anyone that has ever done an office Oscar pool is familiar with these categories. These are the nominees with names of films you’ve never heard of and if you’re like me you usually pick the one that sounds the most Oscar-y or the one with the craziest title. For the past few years, the Academy has been packaging these films and presenting them in theaters or for download online to give audiences a chance to see these and maybe make more than a blind guess. In years past I’ve made it to the Documentary Shorts but this year I wanted to make sure I hit the Animated Shorts and Live Action Shorts as well.
Documentaries that take place over several years are always a fascination of mine. There’s one thing about filming a specific event or idea that is interesting but I find myself drawn to documentaries that are involved enough to follow something/someone through the years to show how time plays a factor for the subject(s). Kings Point is one such documentary, following a group of seniors at a retirement community in Florida for nearly a decade. We meet a handful of the residents and get brief glimpses into their world as they talk about relationships (new and old), living on their own, and their plans for the future. Instead of being a maudlin exploration of regret and what could have been, the focus seems to be on what these seniors want for the future. We see that rivalry for attention knows no age and the social games we play as teenagers can come back into fashion for octogenarians as well. The forty minute run time flies by…I was just getting to know these people before the credits were rolling.
Mondays at Racine
As anyone that has been impacted by a cancer diagnosis can attest, there’s a lot of loss of self that occurs when the “C” word is mentioned…especially for women who find a small part of their identity in their hair. Mondays at Racine introduces us to a Long Island beauty salon run by two sisters where one Monday every month they open their doors for free services to women going through chemotherapy. They offer support as the women lose their hair, eyebrows, eyelashes and aim to give back something small on the outside that can have a large impact on the inside. I thought the film would be a Steel Magnolias-esque look at the revolving door in the salon but instead it branches out to follow two women at different stages in their cancer diagnosis. One young mother faces a choice that may affect her future while another woman has battled cancer for 17 years is followed as she comes to terms with the present and problems in her marriage. It’s a five hanky documentary short that serves to inspire and comfort…and succeeds on both accounts.
For me, the best kinds of documentaries are the ones that show success in the face of great struggle. Fifteen year old Inocente is a homeless illegal immigrant with a flair for the artistic and is the subject of this impactful short. Slickly produced and perhaps a bit manipulative as an ad for the arts program that Inocente is involved with, it’s nevertheless an engaging film thanks to its subject and her art. Living in yet another small space with her mom and two young brothers we see Inocente as she treks across her California town everyday to express herself artistically. Using her face as an extension of her canvas, she dresses how she feels. A lack of connecting the dots between school/art/home life keeps the movie from feeling 100% authentic but I’m betting this documentary won’t be the last we’ll hear of this young talent.
Having visited New York City multiple times over the years, I’ve perhaps been blind to the ‘canners’ at the center of this documentary. In NYC, cans and bottles can be redeemed for money (.05/item) and in this economically strapped climate, former high end earners can be found on the streets sifting through garbage bins for their loot. We meet nearly a dozen individuals and hear their story, relayed not so much as “woe-is-me” diatribes but as a “this is what I do now” admissions. I think there are perhaps a bit too many points to focus on and I definitely wanted to see more of certain individuals and less of others. Most enjoyable were the arguments over territory and exploring how two people who don’t speak the same language learn to communicate at a base level.
Rheumatic heart disease has been nearly wiped out in the US thanks to our access to antibiotics like penicillin. Over in Rwanda, however, these drugs are not easy to come by so a simple case of strep throat in young children can leave their hearts damaged beyond repair. Through a partnership between the Italian and Sudanese, a free clinic was opened in Sudan to treat those in need. Open Heart follows eight children (aged 3-19) as they leave their families and travel to Sudan to receive life saving heart operations. The film is at its best when it centers on the children throughout their journey and after their surgery. There’s a lot of joyous moments in the short and don’t be surprised if you’re laughing through some well justified tears. The movie does dip a bit when the film drifts into political/business territory in relation to tension between the Italian medical team and the Sudanese government. Thankfully, it’s a minor detour and it’s not long before everything is back on track.
An interview with the winner of this category last year was interspersed between the shorts but unlike the interviews from the Live Action and Animated programs, this one seemed too fractured to really get involved with. That’s probably because in the other programs the films were so short that you could view the interview segments as more of a commercial between films…with each documentary clocking in around 40 minutes, it took some time to get reacquainted with the winner from last year.