Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts 2012

Once again thanks to ShortsHD those filmgoers who live in major cities as well as have access to iTunes can see the majority of the nominations in the short film categories for this year's Academy Awards.   The documentary short films is missing one nominee due to rights issues.  This is how I would rank the nominees if I were a voting member of the Academy.

God Is The Bigger Elvis - This is the wild card for the general public viewing the nominees.   This film was not screened due to rights issues.   It will be shown on HBO in April.   It is the story of Delores Hart. She was a talented actress who is known to film history as the actress who first kissed Elvis Presley on screen.   At the age of 23 she gave up Hollywood to become a Benedictine nun.   Since only Academy members and the few who have seen it at film festivals have seen the film, who knows if it is good enough to garner enough votes for the win.

4.  Incident in New Baghdad - this year's anti-war in Iraq film.   In July 2007 a US Apache helicopter fired on a group of people it believed were a threat.  Instead they killed and wounded two journalists and civilians.  In 2010, film footage of the incident, including audio, was released through Wikileaks.  Ethan McCord, who was among the first Army responders on the scene narrates the tale and discusses how he was discouraged from seeking mental health treatment to help him deal with the horrors he witnessed.   The film highlights that he assisted in the rescue of two children who survived.   Mr. McCord has since left the Army and become an outspoken advocate for PTSD treatment.   This is all well and good, the problem with the film is that it is too short.   It needs to be a full-length documentary with more viewpoints than Mr. McCord's.   There is more to this story than this brief 22 minutes can provide.

3.  The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement - It is easy to forget that there are thousands of common folk who help turn the tide of major events in history.   Here we get the story of James Armstrong, one of the "foot soldiers" of the civil rights movement.  This tale, capturing the excitement surrounding the election in 2008 of Barack Obama as the first African American President of the United States, focuses on the 85-year-old Armstrong, whose modest barber shop is covered in the minutiae of history from newspaper clippings to posters, stickers and, most poignantly, a weather-beaten flag that Mr. Armstrong carried through many an historical event, including the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965.  The film also briefly relates the story of Amelia Boynton, 97, who is captured in the historical footage being roughly handled while attempting to register to vote. This film shows the importance of recording the history of the common man's role in events before they are lost to the dust of history.

2.  Saving Face - here's your activist cause film of the bunch.   Yet it is a terrific film that highlights a horrendous injustice.    This is the story of acid attacks - brutal murder and maiming attempts on the lives of women in Pakistan who are victims of domestic violence.   The film follows the paths of two survivors of such attacks as they try to gain some justice in the world.   One, the older Zakia, has taken the rare step of prosecuting her husband.   The other, the younger Rukshana, has made the difficult decision due to poverty, to return to live with the husband and in-laws who tried to kill her.   The film shows the lawyers and politicians working to change the laws to highlight the seriousness of the problem.  It includes the viewpoints of the abusers.  Hope is shown by the work of Dr. Mohammed Jawad, who has returned to his native Pakistan to use his skills as a plastic surgeon to help these women regain some dignity.   It is a powerful film that seems only to need a bit more fleshing out.   We see Zakia's adult son accompanying her yet never hear his viewpoint on what was done to his mother by his father.   We see Parliament working on increasing the penalty for acid attacks, yet don't see any opposing arguments in this male-dominated society that clearly has a deep rooted culture of women who can be used as the male relatives see fit.   Yet, it is still a powerful film with a sense of hope that the film makers could not have completely foreseen when they began filming the story.

1. The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom - this film starts out as disaster porn as we see actual footage of the Tsunami of March 11, 2011 that devastated Japan consume a small town.   The footage is mesmerizing.  Then the focus turns to the survivors.   Their heartrending stories of the losses on that day bloom into a resilient will to go on, live and rebuild this devastated community.   This is the most artistically filmed movie of the nominees and could be seen as a simple tale of hardship and survival.   Yet, by using the metaphor of the blossoming of the cherry trees as a symbol of the resilence of the Japanese spirit the film gains a deeper resonance.   At first, you also may think that this film is too short and covers too little of the story, especially given that it only covers the first few months after the disaster.   Yet it is a compact little story that gets its message across through the simple words of the people who have survived and you come away from the film with genuine hope for the future.

ShortsHD is screening the Oscar Nominated Shorts: Documentary, Live Action and Animation in selected theaters beginning February 10, 2012.   Please visit their website to find a theater showing the films.   The films will also be available to purchase and download from iTunes on February 21, 2012.

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