Review: The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2013 – Documentary

The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2013: DocumentaryAnd the nominees are…

“Kings Point” (Sari Gilman, USA) – It’s been a strong year for movies about what happens to us when we grow old, between “Amour,” the live-action short “Henry,” and this documentary short in which director Sari Gilman follows five residents of the eponymous Florida retirement community where her grandmother lived. It’s by far the least depressing of the three, although a certain sadness hovers over the subjects, who have lost so much over the years. They reflect on what it’s like to be an old person, from the need (or lack thereof) for a romantic relationship in one’s latter years to rarely seeing their families anymore. These are universal stories that we don’t often want to face, but need to for the sake of our loved ones who are aging and for ourselves, as we’ll eventually get there, too. Gilman doesn’t do anything remarkable behind the camera, but she’s able to show us these people with enough empathy and detail that it doesn’t much matter. B

“Mondays at Racine” (Cynthia Wade, USA) – One Monday a month, two Long Island sisters open their salon, free of charge, to women diagnosed with cancer. The incredible loss of self that many female cancer patients feel when their hair falls out may not have ever occurred to those of us who are healthy (particularly males), but you’ll certainly understand it after watching the first head-shaving, which is heartbreaking. From there, director Cynthia Wade follows two of the salon’s patrons, 19-year breast cancer survivor Linda Hart and recently diagnosed young mother Cambria Russell, in detail as they live with their disease. Outside of the film’s microcosmic examination of the connection between hair and personhood, it’s a pretty routine cancer doc. But Wade’s unflinching portrait of one of the most common killers is powerful despite its familiarity. B

“Inocente” (Sean Fine, Andrea Nix; USA) – Undoubtedly the most technically sophisticated of the nominees, this look into the life of a homeless, illegal, 15-year-old San Diego girl masterfully fuses voiceover, traditional documentary footage, and images of artwork. Despite her horrible circumstances, young Inocente, true to her name, retains immense hope about life, as she conveys through the colorful, vibrant paintings that she works on nonstop. Directors Sean Fine and Andrea Nix resist the temptation to turn the film into a polemic about poverty/immigration or an overdramatized sob-story—traps that lesser directors would have almost certainly fallen into—and instead focus mostly on Inocente’s inspiring perseverance. They don’t skirt around the harsh details, like Inocente’s abusive father or the instance that her mother nearly murdered she and her brothers, but they don’t gratuitously dwell on them, either. The short culminates in Inocente’s first art show, put on by the nonprofit ARTS, which should make most viewers well up. One of the most empathic films of the year, of any length. A

“Redemption” (Jon Alpert, Matthew O’Neil; USA) – If you live in a big city, you’ve probably seen them roaming the streets: “canners,” people who make a full-time “job” out of collecting recyclables from public trash to redeem them for five cents apiece. In “Redemption,” filmmakers Jon Alpert and Matthew O’Neil turn their cameras on many of the men and women who participate in this growing moneymaking activity in New York City. As you would expect, most are poor—either homeless or living in squalid conditions—and “can” in order to eat. Only one woman is clearly above the poverty line, canning to supplement her social security check. Thus, using canning as a focal point is simply the filmmakers’ way of showing us a cross-section of people who are thoroughly willing to work—this is intense physical labor—but can’t find jobs, for whatever reason. But what for? To prove that not all unemployed people want to be unemployed, contrary to the assertions of select political conservatives? That seems like a “duh” point, not that the movie proves it with such a small sample-size. Some of the canners are reasonably interesting characters, but a purposeful film they do not make. C

“Open Heart” (Kief Davidson, USA) – In America, rheumatic heart disease—damage to the heart valve due to untreated rheumatic fever—has become nonexistent because doctors are able to cure the underlying cause before it damages the body. In Africa, a large portion of the population still suffers from the ailment, and worse, there is only one hospital that performs corrective surgeries free of charge: Sudan’s Salam Center. “Open Heart” follows eight Rwandan children who travel to the hospital for the life-saving procedure. It’s your average feel-good documentary, existing only illuminate a third-world issue in a way that’s upbeat enough to be palatable to Westerners, but the footage that director Kief Davidson gets is riveting nonetheless. From the children’s poor village to the state-of-the-art medical facility, where we watch one of the intricate valve replacements take place, these are sights that improve one’s understanding of the world and, more specifically, access to medicine in impoverished regions. The film doesn’t have much of its own to say, but you’ll be glad you were exposed to the material in spite of the ultra-digestible presentation. B-

And the Oscar goes to…
My Prediction: “Inocente”
My Personal Pick: “Inocente”

“The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2013: Documentary” program is now playing in select theaters. “Inocente” may be rented or purchased on iTunes.