2012 Oscar Checklist – Part 8: Documentary Shorts

And now the last of the shorts, not the most chipper group of films ever assembled. Here are reviews of all 5 nominees for Best Documentary Short.

The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

Tsunami begins with some truly devastating footage of the recent Japanese disaster. The first half of this documentary focuses on a few of the survivors hit hardest as they recount some tragic tales. The second section explains the importance of the cherry blossom in Japanese culture. The coming of blossom season is juxtaposed against the tragedy and used as a powerful metaphor about perseverance and community.

The film looks great. The blossom footage is lovely and the picture is very well put together. The metaphor is nice, but it takes over way too much of the movie. A little bit goes a long way. I wish there were more survivor accounts and more about the disaster itself. The poetic ideal is a pleasant idea, but it distracts too much from the stronger, more harrowing material.

Grade: B


Incident in New Baghdad

In July 2007, U.S. helicopters in Baghdad fired upon a group of men thought to be armed. A few were, but the choppers also killed civilians, including 2 reporters. In this short, Army Specialist Ethan McCord recounts his experience on the ground during the episode. McCord saved the lives of 2 wounded children and was deeply changed by the incident. After WikiLeaks released the surprising footage to the world, McCord found himself reliving what he’d like to forget.

This short is blunt and to the point. McCord recounts what happened in detail, how he left the army and now speaks out against it. It certainly could have used a little more background information for those, like me, who were unaware of the media storm surrounding the leaked footage. Some of us don’t follow current events so closely. Without more info, it’s hard to know exactly what went wrong and who was to blame. The short shines more light on McCord’s feelings than anything else.

Grade: B-


Saving Face

Apparently, in Pakistan hundreds of women suffer from acid attacks every year. I had no idea. I didn’t even know what an acid attack was. Men, usually husbands, for no good reason other than living in a still way too barbaric society, take acid and throw it at women. It’s shocking and this short is brutal.

The movie follows a few brave survivors as they recount their suffering. Some are still awaiting justice through the lenient courts, while others are being aided by a plastic surgeon trying to rebuild what’s left of their faces. It’s extremely moving stuff. The filmmakers wisely allow the material to speak for itself and you’d be hard pressed to find subject matter more worthy of being explored.

Grade: A


The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement 

This movie briefly goes into the life of an 85-year-old barber who was once a “foot soldier” during the civil rights movement. See, it is right there in the title. The film doesn’t really do anything else except point out how interesting that fact is. See, he’s old, cuts hair, but he once cut MLK’s hair. Interesting right?

Since that’s all the film really has going for it, it dubiously ties in Obama’s inauguration into his story. The dream is finally coming true and all that. It’s a pleasant thought, but the whole enterprise is rather thin. He’s not that exciting a character, even if he’s led an extraordinary life. Really, this film could have been an even shorter GMA segment because there’s not enough material for much else.

Grade: D+


God is the Bigger Elvis 

Speaking of stories with a “hey that’s kind of interesting” feeling and not much else, here we have God is the Bigger Elvis. This short focuses on Dolores Hart, a nun who used to be an actress. She starred in movies with Elvis and others, was on her way to a big career and a happy marriage, then she gave it all up to be a nun.

There are some side plots about some of the other nuns and what made them join. And we see some of their day-to-day, but that’s about it. A lot of time is spent trying to explain her decision, but it’s an impossible question to answer. This was first an article in Entertainment Weekly, other outlets have reported the story, and that’s really all it should have been. Turning it into a documentary adds nothing.

Grade: C-

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