Friday, February 7, 2020

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Documentary Short

The nominees:
In the Absence (A-)
This is documentary filmmaking at its most stirring and authentically disturbing, chronicling the sinking of the Sewol ferry in 2014 in South Korea. It’s upsetting and deeply unnerving to see footage of the passenger boat tilting into the ocean as timestamped recordings of conversations between government officials and coast guard personnel reveal their primary concern of a positive photo op over actually saving lives. It’s devastating and utterly captivating. Watch it on YouTube as part of Field of Vision.

Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl) (B+)
Liken this one to the 2010 winner in this category, “Strangers No More,” an unexpectedly positive look at a program called Skateistan that teaches young girls in Afghanistan how to skateboard. Not all is rosy, of course, since the eager athletes explain how they won’t be allowed to leave home once they turn thirteen and bombs land far too close to where they gather for school and practice. This is still a stirring and optimistic look at a forward-thinking initiative that exists within an environment that is rarely encouraging of free thinking. Watch it on A and E.

Life Overtakes Me (B)
Portraits of refugees have been commonplace in past nominees from this category, though this film tackles it from a different vantage point: that of children in Sweden who have become afflicted with resignation syndrome, where they exist in a mostly catatonic state as a result of past sustained trauma. There aren’t many answers in this film and rare opportunities for hope, but it’s definitely an epidemic that is highly peculiar and worthy of being investigated in projects like this one. Watch it on Netflix.

St. Louis Superman (B+)
This is the entry in this category that deals most with American culture through its affecting portrait of Bruce Franks Jr., a 34-year-old activist in Ferguson, Missouri who used his position as state representative to lobby for gun reform. He’s a formidable hero, and this film focuses in on his tireless efforts to change his community – and the country as a whole – for the better. This one isn’t available to stream, but check out this trailer on Vimeo.

Walk Run Cha-Cha (B)
Easily the lightest and happiest of all of these films, this is a picture of late-term love in a very sweet way, spotlighting a couple who fled Vietnam together at a young age and now spend every free moment they have ballroom dancing together. It may not have the dramatic impact of some of the other films in this race, but this one is a sincere crowd-pleaser that feels almost necessary after the depressing nature of the rest of this field. Watch and read about it via the New York Times.

Previous winners: Period. End of Sentence., 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
For your information: “Life Overtakes Me” co-director Kristine Samuelson was nominated in this category for “Arthur and Lillie” in 1975. “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)” won prizes from BAFTA and the International Documentary Association.

Who should win: “In the Absence” is the strongest of the bunch.
Who will win: This seems like a safe bet for Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl).

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