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2018 Oscar-Nominated Shorts: Documentary

March 4, 2018



Each year, the Documentary Shorts are typically the best of the three Short categories from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and this year’s nominees are no different. The Live Action and Animated categories certainly had some good nominees, but neither of them are as consistently solid as the shorts in this category. Each Short here is moving, compelling and enlightening in their own way. Four out of five of them focus on brave, complex and fascinating women and all of them leave us with a richer understanding of the human condition. If all of these shorts have something in common, it is that they provide a consideration for someone else’s perspectives and life experiences in an effort to provide a better understanding for the people around us, the ones we may have preconceived notions about.

The only thing I found lacking is that they all took place in the States and looking at the other Short categories, I’m pretty sure that’s not a requirement. Right now, you can find these shorts on a variety of platforms (HBO, Netflix, Amazon or iTunes). Below are my thoughts on each Documentary Short…






USA, 29 minutes

In just 29-minutes, director/producer/editor Laura Checkoway, involves us in the lives of Edith Hill and Eddie Harrison, ages 96 and 95, who claim to be America’s oldest interracial newlywed. That’s right, not just a married couple, but newlyweds. It’s hard not to get pulled in by that curiosity, but it’s when the short gets into a family feud over the care-taking rights of Edith, that we realize this is a poignant story that touches on ageism and racism. As I watched, I couldn’t help but think about how this Virginia couple was discovered (it could’ve been news footage which caught filmmaker’s attention) and also how this loving couple agreed to be filmed. Intimately shot, “Edith+Eddie” looks at what can happen when the right to live life on your own terms is taking away, regardless of love. The short comes from Kartemquin Films and was produced by Thomas Lee Wright (“Last Flag Flying”), and executive produced by Steve James (Hoop Dreams), Betsy Steinberg, Gordon Quinn as well as actress/singer/activist Cher.







USA, 40 minutes

If you’ve ever been caught on the 405 during Los Angeles rush hour (more like “hours”), then you’d know it’s no slice of heaven, but it is to 56-year-old Mindy Alper, a talented artist who has a fascinating and inspiring story to tell. She has and continues to endure much, dealing with acute anxiety, mental disorder and, at times, devastating depression, but has an acute self-awareness that enables her to express herself artistically. After suffering a ten-year period in her past that robbed her of the ability to speak, she now lives on her own and is represented by one of the top galleries in L.A. She has a distinctive style that can be found in her prolific, autobiographical drawings and sculptures. We learn about Alper through candid interviews, as well as some reenactments and we observe the building of a giant papier-mache’ bust of her beloved psychiatrist, and throughout we learn how she has emerged from darkness and isolation to a life that includes love, trust and support. Director Frank Stiefel met Alper when she was in the same art class as his wife and obviously recognized an opportunity for others to know her fascinating story. I’m glad he did.








USA, 39 min.

Obviously the enormity of the opiod epidemic in America cannot be covered in just under 40 minutes, so instead director Elaine McMillion Sheldon hones in on three women who’ve been making a difference to help in the fight against drug addiction, specifically those who overdose. Fire Chief Jan Rader spends the majority of her days reviving those who have overdosed; Judge Patricia Keller presides over a drug court, handing down empathy along with orders; and Necia Freeman of Brown Bag Ministry feeds meals to the women selling their bodies for drugs. Between the three of them, there’s enough material for an entire series, but this Netflix original short deftly balances communicating to viewers what is happening with the addicts and those who are trying to help them. It touches on generational addiction, lawlessness and poverty in the distressed setting of Huntington, West Virginia, an Appalachian city that has the highest overdose rare, ten times greater than the national average. The director, who focused on West Virginians in her interactive documentary “Hollow”, clearly has a passion for the people there.

RATING: ***1/2






USA, 40 minutes

At first, I thought this was yet another cooking doc that follows a chef or a restaurant, but it’s so much more. Director Thomas Lennon, whose previous and current work in documentary film has earned him an three Oscar nominations and one win (in 2007 for “The Blood of Yangzhou District”), focuses on the creation of Edwins, a French restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio, of all places. Why? Because it’s exclusively staffed by men and women who are recently released from prison. As the short begins, a select class of former inmates have been selected to dive into a crash-course that will last a few weeks until the opening of the restaurant, which includes learning about France, the country’s cuisine, cooking in a fast-paced kitchen and essentially becoming a poissonier.  Landing a job out of prison is part of what makes getting out of prison tough, but this hectic environment isn’t easy, but it also provides a place they can feel accepted and valued. Lennon introduces us to three trainees, as well as the restaurant’s founder, who is himself haunted by his time in jail. They all have something to prove – to themselves, their families and society – and all of them struggle in their new place in life, an endeavor as pressured and precarious as the ambitious restaurant they are launching. This short serves as a good reminder of the power of redemption and how all of us deserve a second chance, over and over again, as long as we’re willing to take a bold step.






USA, 30 minutes

One of the most harrowing and frustrating shorts in this category is the “Traffic Stop” from HBO, which tells the story of Breaion King, a vibrant 26-year-old African-American schoolteacher who was stopped for a minor traffic violation on June 15, 2015 in Austin, Texas. What should have been a routine encounter quickly escalated into a traumatic arrest that was captured in detail by the Officer Bryan Richter’s police dash cam. I’m really curious to know how director Kate Davis and producer David Heilbroner (the dup behind HBO’s “The Newburgh Sting”, “Southern Comfort” and “Jockey”) were able to include certain footage of law enforcement here. It definitely wouldn’t be the same without it. Davis juxtaposes that footage with scenes from King’s home and work life, delivering an unforgettable look at a woman forever changed. The most poignant moment comes when a handcuffed King is having a candid conversation about her treatment and racism with a backup officer who is driving her to the precinct. It’s here where we see the potential for a more in-depth look at both sides. This is the most impacting of all the documentary shorts and one that could definitely benefit from a feature-length treatment. Unfortunately, footage of white officers abusing black citizens (be they criminals or innocents) and thankfully the best thing “Traffic Stop” does is show King as a human being, rather than a statistic. What’s most frustrating about what happened is there will be those who say she had it coming.


RATING: ****



One Comment leave one →
  1. Patric McMenamin permalink
    February 7, 2020 1:42 pm

    Re HBO’s 2017 documentary “Traffic Stop”… Unsure as to the lesson intended by the filmmaker, I was near-immediately backed away from the set, astonished by the foolishness, self-consumption, and danger-inducing behavior exhibited by this woman. Her relentless, upswelling refusals to simply comply with the officer’s repeated standard requests precipitously raised the heat on what could have clearly been a routine, mutually courteous stop. HBO’s misguided effort to elevate this woman’s inane and dangerous behavior will stun any average “street-wise” citizen.  Contrary to their secondarily evident intent to posit a charge against police brutality, the “Traffic Stop” documentary far better provides a quick-learning tool for exhibiting to young drivers precisely how NOT to behave when stopped and addressed by police.  This young woman has clearly never considered the degree to which it is vital that police determine there exists a safe and weapons-free situation before relaxing their level of concern.  It is not possible for us, at first contact, to comprehend the many issues with which an officer may be contending.  Mutual courtesy and regard – and quiet, clearly observable, demonstrated compliance – when stopped by police will near always secure a pleasant and safe day for all. 

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