It’s pretty safe to say we’ve seen some utterly fantastic documentary films this year. But what rarely gets seen are the documentary shorts nominated for Oscar gold. Some play during festivals throughout the year, but quite a few that have been picked up by distributors have yet to be released. That’s why it’s so exciting to see them in advance during awards season. We’ve explored the imaginative films in the categories of animated shorts and live-action shorts, so now it’s only appropriate that we delve into documentary shorts. And just like the previous categories, we are giving you our two cents on what should win and what we think will be the lucky film to take home Oscar gold.
So let’s get started, shall we?
MONDAYS AT RACINE (Directed by Cynthia Wade): Rachel and Cynthia are two sisters who own Racine, a beauty shop located on Long Island. Every third Monday of the month, the ladies open the shop free of charge to cancer patients to “give them back a sense of themselves.” The film primarily follows 36-year old Cambria, a mother of two battling stage 3 breast cancer, and 58-year old Linda, who’s outlived her metastatic breast cancer diagnosis by 17 years. In addition, there are quite a few couples interviewed to give audiences a broader spectrum of how this disease affects every facet of your life. The thirty minute short gets emotional fast as it plunges viewers into the fray. While the film ends on a bittersweet note, you can’t help but weep. The shop is the microscope into the lives of its clients, and provides a sense of community for those who so desperately need support during their frightening ordeal. 4.5/5
KINGS POINT (Directed by Sari Gilman): This doco takes its name from a retirement community in Florida where many of the residents are transplants from New York City. Having moved with their spouses years prior, many have felt displaced after losing their loved ones due to old age. The film follows five colorful elderly residents – Molly, Gert, Jane, Bea, and Frank – as they navigate living out their final days in a place they no longer enjoy. While talking about relationships feels like something people do at any age, the overall feeling this film evokes is kinda depressing. We can’t help but see the sad irony in that this is a community with no sense of one. It might have some resonance for the Oscar Award committee, as this is in their near future. However, at the end of the day, the only residual feeling audiences will take away is one of hopelessness. Now, where’s my colostomy bag?! 3/5
REDEMPTION (Directed by Jon Alpert and Matthew O’Neill): As Bob Dylan sang, “The times they are a changin’!” People who once had high paying careers have since been let go and forced to adapt. For the unemployed masses of New York City, “canning” has become a popular profession – albeit one that doesn’t pay much and leaves many still poverty stricken. This film gives us a window into the lives of those who’ve been marginalized as it follows the incredibly engrossing stories of a handful of “professional canners” as they go about their daily lives. The clever title refers not only to the subject of redeeming cans, but also to the people looking for redemption in the eyes of society. As this captures true life events, viewers are treated to genuine moments of optimism and emotion throughout the brisk run time. I only wish it had a less abrupt ending. 4/5
OPEN HEART (Directed by Kief Davidson): For the eight Rwandan children featured in this pristine documentary, having open-heart surgery is their only hope. With their hearts left ravaged by treatable strep throat, the kids have mere months to live, and seek help at the Salam Center for Cardiac Surgery in the Sudan – Africa’s only free of charge hospital. And just like the patients it chooses to serve, the hospital faces an uphill battle trying to secure funding from Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir’s government to keep the hospital open and free. The film embodies all the hope that the parents, patients and doctors have. It achieves that delicate balance of being heartbreaking and triumphant, but never cloying or false. Tears streamed down my face more than once during this film. An Oscar win for this could mean so much for those in need. 5/5
INOCENTE (Directed by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix): Fifteen-year-old Inocente is like any other high-school teen girl who likes make-up and has problems with her mom. However, what sets her apart from other teen girls her age is that she’s keeping a big secret: she’s homeless (la-da-dee-la-do-da-da). It’s clever to frame the plight of homelessness through the eyes of a teen who’s clearly got the world on her shoulders. She’s got an indomitable spirit that’s infectious. While it’s well shot and interesting for teens to see, the short is about twenty minutes too long thanks to its lengthy cutaways. The sing-songy and ever-present musical score makes it feel like an episode of MY SO-CALLED LIFE (the one where Rickie is homeless) rather than a true life story we get lost in. 3.5/5
Should win: OPEN HEART
Will Win: OPEN HEART
The 2013 Oscar Nominated Shorts Program opens theatrically on February 8 and on iTunes on February 19. For more information on where you can find these shorts playing, go here.