2013 Oscar Checklist – Documentary Shorts


Here are reviews of all 5 nominees for Best Documentary Short.


A feel bad/feel good documentary about one very interesting 15-year-old girl, who, I shit you not, is named Inocente. It’s one of many elements of the film that feel too manufactured to be true. I’m sure a lot of what is on screen has been edited ever so heartbreakingly, but damn it if it doesn’t work. We learn right away that Inocente is homeless. Her family is also illegal. And if homelessness and immigration weren’t enough dramatic material, she’s also an artist. She’s actually been chosen through a special program (ARTS) to put on her own show.


What’s most interesting are the parts with Inocente talking right at the camera. She puts it all out there, all her dreams and all her regrets. She blames herself for her situation, and yet, still has a surprisingly positive outlook. Whether her Punky Brewster-Art is any good isn’t important. It’s all about her story. It might be too theatrically convenient, but it’s still inspiring.



This is another sad slice of homeless life in America. The film follows several different New Yorkers who partake in canning. These are the poor souls reliant on collecting cans and bottles in order to survive. There’s the alcoholic Vietnam vet who equates everything in terms of cans. A cup of coffee is 500 cans. There’s the Japanese man who used to work in the World Trade Center. There’s the Spanish mother who takes her youngest along with her. With the economy so bad, she considers it honorable work. There are many more, and the film is wise to showcase a wide range of people from all walks of life.


The filmmaking isn’t intrusive. The camera records the toil and understands nothing more is needed. It’s a simple film that keeps the message succinct, if obvious. What we are seeing is a result of Wall Street and greed. Most of the canners talk about how many more people are canning these days, and everyone seems to have just been laid off. I appreciate the visualization of this cause and effect. No jobs equals more canning, and more canning should not be status quo is this country.


Kings Point

I found very little to care about in Kings Point. It’s about a retirement community in Florida and a few of the residents. I didn’t say interesting residents because there’s really nothing particularly more fascinating about these old people than any others. Ideas about mortality are at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Each subject shares musings on life, death, children, and relationships but none of it is all that illuminating. There are no significant insights or sage pieces of wisdom.


About the most interesting thing is one relationship between two widowers. It’s born of convenience and feels like the height of selfishness, but the film treats it like some altruistic love. I just don’t think it’s as engrossing as the filmmakers think it is. Late in the film they skip ahead 2 years for no apparent reason. It’s unexpected and pointless because all the real startling changes hit in the post-script. The film might have worked if they found more compelling subjects, but then again, the dullness might have been the point.


Open Heart

I found this to be a pretty damn good short documentary. It’s about children in Rwanda who need heart surgery. Rheumatic Heart Disease is all but cured in the U.S., but Africa’s children still suffer terribly from it. There’s one modern hospital in all of Africa that offers free surgeries. The film follows a group of sick Rwandans who’ve been afforded an opportunity to fly, alone, 2,500 miles to the life saving hospital. The kids range in age from 3 to 17, but it’s the 6-year-old who’ll break your heart.


The film is well-rounded and covers every important element of this story. There’s just enough about the doctors. We see their struggles with politics, budgets, and preventable diseases. They’re heroes, but the film doesn’t overstate this point. There’s the right amount of background, stats, and set-up, and there’s the right amount of getting to know the children. They’re brave and their journey is affecting, but the film pulls back from obvious saccharine. At the end of telling an important story, the film also leaves you with the fact that more can always be done. It’s wonderful and my favorite of the nominees.


Mondays at Racine

And now I will reveal myself to be a heartless bastard. The title of this short refers to a beauty salon, Racine, which offers its services free of charge to cancer patients one Monday of every month. It’s a lovely gesture, but I had several problems with the film. For one, it’s not about Racine at all. The film mostly follows 2 breast cancer patients. One is a recently diagnosed young mother and the other has outlived her prognosis for 17 years. Their stories are honest and touching. However, I feel like the Racine business sours them.


I know it means well. They’re trying to give women back what was stolen from them. One subject likens it to being erased. But it’s such a small part of the story. I can’t help but think how superficial the salon stuff is, cancer or no cancer. They have cancer, but it’s like they’re more worried about going bald. I know I’m simplifying, but I couldn’t get past it. There’s a random segment where various survivors and their spouses discuss sex and it’s a glimpse into a much more interesting movie. Instead, we’re literally treated to a group hug.


One response to “2013 Oscar Checklist – Documentary Shorts

  1. Pingback: 2013 Oscar Checklist – The Master List | Shooting the Script

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s