Rating the Documentary Short Nominees

Few categories are less-seen than the Oscar nominees for Best Documentary Short.  To further your Oscars experience, I have watched all five of the nominees and will review and rank each one.  By the way, each one of these is free to watch and takes less than two hours between all five.  Go watch them (links included in the reviews).

Colette
Nominees Anthony Giacchino and Alice Doyard
Watch on YouTube

French researcher Lucie Fouble wants to investigate the life and death of French resistance fighter Jean-Pierre and uses his titular 91 year-old sister to help.  Colette Marin-Catherine travels with Fouble to Germany to the concentration camp where he died.

Humanizing the holocaust is nothing new in this category, but Colette takes a different angle.  The journey is about Fouble and why she is doing this, the conditions Jean-Pierre faced, and what being the in the French resistance really meant.  But the star is Colette and she commands the screen.  She is well spoken and frank, moving past demons and meeting new ones.  Not a minute of the 24-minute runtime is wasted.  Powerful in every sense of the word.

Score: 5.0/5.0

A Concerto is a Conversation
Nominees Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers
Watch on the New York Times website

Composer Kris Bowers owes his success to a number of people, but he focuses on his 91 year-old grandfather Horace Bowers Sr.  The elder Bowers tracks his history in Jim Crow Florida to a successful businessman in California, all leading up to the performance of Kris’ concerto.

At 13 minutes, this documentary is the briefest of the nominees, but also the most warm.  Horace never feels like a victim, but more as a pioneer who didn’t let the eternal roadblocks get in the way of his achievements.  It also shows an obvious warmth between grandfather and grandson with a near-invasive camera technique that faces each subject directly, as if they are still speaking to one another.  Of the five, this doc is the one that leaves the viewer with a smile on their face

Score: 4.0/5.0

Do Not Split
Nominees Anders Hammer and Charlotte Cooke
Watch on Vimeo

Embedded with a group of pro-Democracy protestors in 2019 Hong Kong, students and politicians fight against the pro-China policies of the government and the militarization of the police force.

This is the one that feels dangerous.  It does not paint the protestors as perfect angels while also not portraying the pro-China side as anything other than incalculably inhuman.  Some of the protest footage is truly remarkable and sheds a light on how far these students and politicians are willing to go to save their country.  The narrative is tightly focused on a few protests and how the protests are adjusted when COVID-19 hits.  This also felt the most like news, but that isn’t a bad thing.

Score: 4.5/5.0

Hunger Ward
Nominees Skye Fitzgerald and Michael Shueuerman
Watch on Pluto TV

Yemen is amidst a humanitarian crisis as Saudi Arabian forces (with American support) constantly bomb and decimate the country.  The result of these bombings is childhood hunger crisis of epic proportions.  The nurses and doctors in childhood hunger wards see nothing but misery and death all day with no end in sight.

The only nominee that felt manipulative.  Seeing the life drained from the face of a beautiful Yemeni girl is bad enough, but the horror is given but one brief pause before returning to the impending gloom.  More of a powerful PSA than a documentary.

Score: 3.0/5.0

A Love Song for Latasha
Nominees Sophia Nahali Allison and Janice Duncan
Watch on Netflix

In 1992, a young black girl named Latasha Harlins was shot and killed over a misunderstanding involving a bottle of orange juice.  Her friends and family recount her life as well as her desires for her future she would dream of before her death.

While light on archival footage, the documentary recreates the idea and ideal of Latasha and her friends, even including a prolonged animated sequence when describing her death.  Never feeling preachy, the doc can feel slight if you have heard the story before.  Places blame on the systemic issues, rather than individuals.  As much as I enjoyed it, I felt let down.

Score: 3.5/5.0

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