Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Documentary Short

The nominees:
Black Sheep (B)
This intimate and harrowing conversation with Cornelius Walker, a British teenager from a Nigerian family who, at a young age, decided to confront racism from those in the new neighborhood he moved to by trying to fit in with and befriend his tormentors. This is hardly an affirming story of peaceful coexistence, but rather a cautionary tale about the engaging power and infectious nature of hate. Though it runs twenty-six minutes, it feels like there is more to this story that would have been worth including. Watch it for yourself on The Guardian.

End Game (B)
I was already familiar with Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco because my wife works in that field, and it’s certainly affirming to see a representation of a more positive end to life that represents a wide range of options offered to patients without stigmas attached. That said, this film doesn’t have the same emotional power as “Extremis,” a nominee here two years ago, did, presenting its narrative and its highlighted subjects with care but without truly enabling viewers to be with them. Watch it for yourself on Netflix.

Lifeboat (B)
This isn’t the first film to look at the people who try to help migrants hopelessly unprepared for their journeys fleeing persecution via the Mediterranean Sea. “Fire at Sea” and “4.1 Miles” were both nominees two years ago, in the feature and short categories, respectively, and this thirty-four-minute spotlight on the German group Sea-Watch that searches out and rescues North African migrants definitely showcases the dangers of those who attempt to cross the waters and the bravery of those who do everything possible to save them. Though its subject matter is undeniably important, the film doesn’t feel urgent or truly personal. Watch it for yourself on The New Yorker.

A Night at the Garden (B+)
The shortest of all these – clocking in at just seven minutes – is also the most chilling, contained only of archival footage of an American Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden in 1939. It’s evidently meant to evoke images of Trump and nationalism, particularly when a Jewish protester jumps on stage, and it’s effective in that way and in a sheer representation of something that looks and feels distinctly un-American, far too recognizable in today’s society even if the Nazi salute isn’t being proudly flashed in such a public venue in New York City. Watch it for yourself on YouTube.

Period. End of Sentence. (B+)
This film’s clever title is just one indicator of its value. This buoyant trip to India shows how a community that formerly had no access to pads is transformed by the installation of a sanitary pad machine, which also leads to an entirely new workforce and general changing attitude towards and empowerment of women. It’s an energetic and heartfelt look at an unexpected influencer with an enormous impact on a rural village halfway around the world which any viewer, male or female, should be able to find endearing. Watch it for yourself on Netflix.

Previous winners: Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405, The White Helmets, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, The Lady in Number 6, Inocente, Saving Face
For your information: “End Game” co-director Rob Epstein has won the feature documentary Oscar twice, for “The Times of Harvey Milk” in 1984 and “Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt” in 1989. “Lifeboat” co-producer Bryn Mooser was previously nominated in this category in 2015 for “Body Team 12.” “A Night at the Garden” director Marshall Curry has two previous nominations in the feature documentary Oscar category, for “Street Fight” in 2005 and “If a Tree Falls” in 2011.

Who should win: These all have worthwhile focuses. While “A Night at the Garden” makes tremendous use of film shot decades ago, “Period. End of Sentence.” is the most well-rounded and strongly-made of the five.
Who will win: While I’ve done terribly in the other short races, I’ve correctly predicted this category for the past five years. Therefore, I’m inclined to endorse Period. End of Sentence. even though all these films are sure to garner votes and could easily win.

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