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Oscar-Nominated DOCUMENTARY Shorts (2012)

February 19, 2012


For some reason, the studio behind “God is Bigger than Elvis” did not offer their Oscar-nominated Documentary Short to be included in Shorts International’s limited run currently making the rounds in select theaters. But the four (out of five) films that were shown are exceptional – all very powerful, important and emotional, in their own way. You won’t find any feel-good vibrations coming from any of these films though, so be forewarned. In traveling to Baghdad and Islamabad, we witness the horrors humans inflict on each other. We also visit the survivors of a devastating natural catastrophe in Japan and then head to Alabama to find a man who’s seen his share of humanity’s ugliness. Out of all the Oscar-Nominated Shorts (Live-Action and Animated), this is the batch that are the overall best.

It’s a shame these Shorts aren’t more accessible. Here are reviews of the Shorts I saw, along with a synopsis of “God is Bigger than Elvis”, the one I did not see….




directed by James Spione / 22 min. / USA/IRAQ

Back in April 2010, Wikileaks released footage of one of the most notorious incidents of the Iraq War – the July 2007 slaying of unarmed civilians in Baghdad by US Apache helicopters.  We re-visit this event through both stunning aerial cockpit footage and from the perspective of Army Specialist Ethan McCord, who witnessed the devastating aftermath firsthand. McCord recalls seeing the carnage, which he described as something out of a horror movie, and how he also wound up finding and rescuing two children that were caught in the barrage of fire. Through his emotional recount, he shares how seeking mental health care after his experience was scoffed upon, how his PTSD has affected his interaction with his two children, and how he’s struggled for years with anger, confusion and guilt over his involvement in the war. This is a riveting short that could really benefit from a feature-length and a bit more embellishment (maybe detailing why McCord is now a single dad), especially when I learned that two of the slain victims were Reuters journalists – something editor/co-producer/director James Spione doesn’t mention.






directed by Daniel Junge & Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy / 40 min. / USA/PAKISTAN

This HBO Documentary is the most upsetting of the shorts I saw. It is the story of the many Pakistani women whose faces have been disfigured by acid attacks, usually at the hands of their husbands. The filmmakers focus on two victims who are fighting back, enlisting local aid from both a female legislator and a female attorney, in an effort to take a stand and punish their attackers. The stories of these two women is heartbreaking. One has lost the left side of her face (including an eye) and has to wear sunglasses and a burka in public. Her imprisoned husband denies his involvement, claiming it’s a conspiracy against him. Another young woman was splashed with acid by her husband, doused with gasoline by her sister-in-law, and lit on fire by her mother-in-law. The ray of hope is a compassionate Pakistani-born plastic surgeon (claiming his specialty is “boobs and butts”) from London has returned home to help restore the lives of as many woman as he can. The fact that this happens to hundreds of women each year should make your blood boil and eyes water – it sure did for me. As challenging as it is to watch, these woman are incredibly brave and courageous as they unite and speak out against such brutal acts.

RATING: ****





directed by Lucy Walker / 39 min. / USA/JAPAN

Here is a short that deals with the two sides of nature, its devastating destructive side and the side that showcases its profound albeit short-lived beauty. It opens with footage of the tragic tsunami that struck a specific area of Japan, as seen by townspeople who ran to the mountains for safety. We see fires caused by increasing waves carrying vehicles that crash into houses and schools, and witness unsuccessful attempts of rescuers and evacuees. Survivors provide their account of the event and how it has changed not only their way of life, but their outlook on it. With a calming and reflective score composed by Moby, director Lucy Walker also covers how the celebrated cherry trees and their exquisite blossoms have also survived, comparing their resilience with that of the survivors. It shows that beauty can bloom from tragedy, and the juxtapositioned images are both poetic and profound.

RATING: ***1/2 





directed by Gail Dolgin & Robin Fryday / 25 min. / USA

The goal of this short is to introduce us to one of the many men (and women) who played an integral part of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama back in the 60s. He is Army Veteran, James Armstrong, who at 85, still owns and runs the barber shop he’s had In Birmingham since the 50s. His shop feels like a museum, adorned with historic newspaper clippings and photos, that (among many events) capture the march from Selma to Montgomery that Armstrong took part of, fighting for the right to vote for blacks. A sign in his shop proclaims plainly, “If you want a voice, you have to vote. You can’t complain about nothing if you don’t vote”. He has withstood tear gas and billy club attacks, as well as death threats toward him and his family, but seeing Obama elected President is a dream come true. Armstrong is the kind of guy who you can sit and listen to for hours, and many of his patrons do just that. Unlike the other nominees, this can be seen as more of a tribute, or a commemorative salute, to a man who is an example of how to opposed oppression in a non-violent manner, maintaining one’s integrity and dignity. He leaves viewers with these parting words, “Dying isn’t the worst thing a man can do. The worst thing a man can do is nothing”



Barber of Birmingham – Trailer from jacob steingroot on Vimeo.




directed by Rebecca Cammisa / 37 min. / USA

Mother Delores Hart, was once a rising Hollywood starlet and is now a 73-year-old cloistered Benedictine nun. Known for providing Elvis Presley his first on-screen kiss (hence the title), Hart had co-starred with the likes of Montgomery Clift, Jeff Chandler and Robert Wagner. Then she gave it all up to become a nun, just as her acting career had peaked and right as she was about to get married. She spends her time at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut, but is rumored to make an appearance on Oscar night since the film has been nominated. Hart’s story was also told on a 20/20 episode….


Find out which Documentary Short will win an Oscar on February 26th!

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