THE OSCAR NOMINATED SHORT FILMS 2014: DOCUMENTARY Review

8

Film Pulse Score

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Release Date: February 14, 2014
Directors: Various
MPAA Rating: NR
Film Pulse Score: 8/10

For the last several years before the Oscar telecast the short films that have been nominated for an Academy Award are given a rare theatrical release.   Presented as separate programs for each short category Animation, Live Action and Documentary, moviegoers have the opportunity to see the shorts that in the past they would seldom ever get to see.   For some it’ll give them a leg up in their office Oscar pools.  Outside of knowing that these films are nominated it can be kind of exciting for a filmgoer because you never know what’s in store and this year’s selections were no different.    Like last year, the Documentary shorts have been split up into two programs.  This year’s nominees are a diverse bunch that features stories about revolution, dignity, longevity, the creative impulse and forgiveness. 

Cavedigger (Director: Jeffrey Karoff) is a fascinating look at the creative impulse.  The film takes a look at artist Ra Paulette, the creative genius behind a number of caves that he has sculpted by hand using nothing but basic hand tools.  These majestic and awe inspiring works of art are a sight to behold and one may very well be inclined to want to go see them for themselves.   Paulette’s obsession becomes evident as he discusses previous caves and the cave he is working on that he sees as his magnum opus.  It’s a solid examination of what one could almost call inspired madness but boy are these caves beautiful.

Facing Fear (Director: Jason Cohen) looks at forgiveness.  25 years ago on the streets of Los Angeles, a homeless gay teen was the victim of a brutal hate crime where he was left for dead.  In the present a chance encounter occurs between the victim and one of the men behind that senseless act of violence which changed both of their lives forever.  Director Cohen covers the circumstances of the two men’s youth and how they came to meet that fateful night.  In the present he focuses upon how the two have come together in an unexpected friendship.    It’s an eye-opening and hopeful documentary that truly shows redemption and forgiveness is possible even in the most unforgivable circumstances.

Karama Has No Walls (Director: Sara Ishaq) can serve as a side story to the Oscar nominated feature documentary The Square.  The Square chronicled the revolution that saw the fall of Egyptian President Mubarak.   Sara Ishaq’s documentary looks at the Yemeni Revolution that sought to end the reign of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.  The film focuses on Friday March 18, 2011 when a series of atrocities occurred that incited a nation to stand up and fight back.   The film’s “you are there” approach can be unsettling at times but is very effective in showing just what these people were being subjected to that dark day in Yemen history.

The Lady in Number 6  (Director: Malcolm Clark) is an uplifting, fascinating and enlightening look at the life of Alice Herz Sommer.  At 109 years young, she is one of oldest pianists and Holocaust survivors.  She discusses her life and how one can achieve a fulfilling life through music, laughter and happiness.  The film may bring up memories of Polanski’s The Pianist as she recounts how music saved her life while in the concentration camps and like Polanski’s film her story is just as affecting.   Her playing saved her life then and at 110 her playing brings joy to her London neighbors now and to the viewers of this documentary as well.

Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall (Director: Edgar Barens) takes a hard and poignant look at hospice care.  However in this case the hospice care provided is in one of the oldest maximum security prisons in the country, the Iowa State Penitentiary.

The film chronicles the final days of a terminal ill inmate and the hospice care volunteers who work tireless to make sure his final days are comfortable and dignified.   This is easily the most affecting film amongst the nominees and will likely have an impact on anyone who has dealt with hospice care.  It’s a moving look at how even the most reprehensible may change behind bars and that in the end deserve to be treated humanely

The programs feature nominated and winning directors behind recent documentary shorts.  In between shorts they share insights on what the Oscars can do to bring awareness, how the films can help not only their subject but a community and the impact the medium has on the whole.  This is an outstanding series of shorts that are better than last year’s selection.  I have seen these programs for the last several years now and I have to say this was the best one so far.    This one is incredibly hard to call but I’m guessing it’ll be between Prison Terminal and The Lady in Number 6.  The films are currently playing in limited engagements as a two part program.  Each short averages about 30-40 minutes.  Whichever program you see be sure to check out this year’s nominees.  The Oscars will be handed out on Sunday March 2nd.