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, where available).
The Elephant Whisperers
Nominees Kartiki Gonsalves and Guneet Monga
Watch on Netflix
Indian couple Bomman and Belli’s whole life is elephants. The both work at a nature preserve caring for orphaned elephants at the Mudumalai National Park in South India. As they continue to care for a young elephant named Raghu, they are also put in charge of the care of baby Ammu. As the elephants grow and learn, the humans share an uncommon bond between themselves and the nature around them.
This documentary is nothing short of heartwarmingly fascinating. This is such a departure from modern lifestyles that it’s almost refreshing. Both Bomman and Belli are so sweet and hopelessly devoted to their craft. There is no villain, per say, other than nature and circumstance. Achingly sweet.
Nominees Evgenia Arbugaeva and Maxim Arbugaev
Watch on YouTube
Maxim Chakilev travels to a remote hut in the bitter cold of the Russian Arctic. He works and lives alone. He eats his meagar meals and lives in small lodgings on the coastline. He prepares for the same event every year: the massive migration of walruses to that specific part of the beach.
To say it has the biggest surprise of these nominees would be an understatement. The sheer number of walruses is almost overwhelming. Obviously, the film deals with the impact of climate change, but in a practical way instead of being preachy. If you are going to put a face on the actual impact of sea warming, you could do worse than have a million or so walruses do the work for you.
How Do You Measure a Year?
Nominee Jay Rosenblatt
Starting at age two, Jay Rosenblatt interviews his daughter Ella on her birthday. Each year, he asks the same questions. As the years continue, her father gains further insight into the girl she was and the woman she is becoming.
Just as a personal pet peeve, I can’t stand journalism that constantly inserts the author into the story. Rosenblatt did it last year with When We Were Bullies and he does it this year with this film. There are some sweet parts, but this is not a film. This is the epitome of self-important filmmaking. Probably should have been shown at family gatherings instead of the entire world.
The Martha Mitchell Effect
Nominees Anne Alvergue and Beth Levison
Watch on Netflix
Martha Mitchell was a celebrity. During the tumultuous Nixon administration, she was the most famous wife in Washington. Never afraid to speak her mind, the wife of attorney general John Mitchell was always willing to talk to the press and speak the truth. Following the Watergate scandal, the Nixon administration (and her husband) deemed her outspoken beliefs to be dangerous and waged a smear campaign to discredit and silence her.
Mitchell is a fascinating topic to explore, but this film is not about her. This is about the Nixon administration and their efforts to silence her. Despite covering Martha’s views, her life is viewed only through her worth as a wife and political figure. She is given little agency as a person, despite her eventual victory with truth. This is a captivating woman that we learn shockingly little about. That being said, it doesn’t make the film any less interesting.
Stranger at the Gate
Nominees Joshua Seftel and Conall Jones
Watch on YouTube
Former marine Richard McKinney had deep emotional scars from his time at battle. The lingering affects also imbued him with a hatred for Muslims. Anchored by his beliefs, McKinney planned a terrorist attack at a small-town mosque. While scouting the area, his belief system becomes shattered by the warmth and kindness of the very people he was there to kill.
It’s easy to be cynical about a story like this, but everyone is so plainly honest about their intentions, it instead comes across as altruistic. I don’t want to spoil the “twist” in the story, but it truly came out of left field. Luckily, it’s one of those stories that seems so crazy, it must be true. Kudos to the filmmakers for squeezing such honesty out of these people.
Ranking the 2021 Documentary Short Nominees
Reviewing the 2022 Live Action Short Nominees
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