Movie Review ~ The 2015 Oscar Nominated Short Films – Documentary



Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
The first nominee shown sets the bar so high that all of the others are already behind the eight ball before they even begin.  Following the men and women that answer the calls 24 hours a day at the Veterans Crisis Line, Ellen Goosenberg Kent’s documentary is a powerful glimpse into a workplace that is high tension and high stakes.  We only hear the side of the conversations from the workers and it’s incredible how, not ever hearing the voice on the other side of the line, we are brought right along as the staff goes above and beyond to make sure a veteran (or family of a veteran) in crisis knows they aren’t alone.  It’s a film that could easily have been politicized but instead lets the subjects speak for themselves.

At times during Joanna’s 40 minute running length I forgot I was watching a documentary on a dying mother’s long good-bye to family…most especially her son.  The disease is rarely spoken of, instead the focus is on the conversations and experiences mother and son have, not all of them pretty but all resoundingly honest.  The cinematography is unexpectedly gorgeous and the construction is as good as any major motion picture I saw in 2014…though I did have a problem with the parts of the editing which seemed to jump back and forth in time without explanation.  Still, I can imagine when the young boy grows into a man he’ll feel blessed to have this film as a remembrance of his mother.

Our Curse
After Joanna, Our Curse is the second Polish film nominated for the Best Documentary Short and is director Tomasz Sliwinski’s personal account of the struggles he and his wife encountered after the birth of their son.  Diagnosed with Ondine’s Curse, the young baby stops breathing when he’s asleep…meaning that he’ll likely be on a ventilator his entire life.  Filmed by the parents, we bear witness to achingly private musings between the two on their hopes and dreams for their child as well as a harrowing sequence where they have to replace a tube to help him breathe.  That Sliwinski’s film ends on an uplifting note is one of the biggest surprises to come out of this batch of nominees.

The Reaper
Oh boy was I nervous about this one before going in.  Reading that this doc followed the life of a slaughterhouse employee in Mexico I was white knuckling it praying that they didn’t show death in graphic detail.  While the film goes to great lengths to show every grimy nook and cranny of the slaughterhouse, the actual shots of animals being slaughtered is brief and handled with respect.  While the film is made well, overall I was left cold by the subject.  A man of few words, his musings didn’t leave a lasting impression on me…it’s only when we see him at the end of the day that I felt any sort of connection between him and the material.

White Earth
The most puzzling inclusion (after The Reaper) is this documentary following families that relocate to the frozen tundra of North Dakota to work on the oil rigs.  It’s not about the men and women that toil away but the families (especially the children) that have to find their own path in a new environment.  The problem I had with White Earth was that it felt parsed down from a longer piece and I found myself missing the bigger picture details that seemingly were there but removed.  As it is, the stories and profiles offered are glorified nibbles of what could be a larger bite.

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