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2021 Oscar-nominated DOCUMENTARY Shorts

April 7, 2021


While the documentary shorts are typically my favorite Oscar category, I’m not gonna lie and say any of them are pick-me-ups or feel-good viewing. Nevertheless, all five nominees are highly recommended documentaries (regardless of length) and there are a few which are quite inspiring and heartwarming. That being said, most of them are focusing on either challenging subjects or current events such as a democracy being dismantled, the repercussions of Nazi atrocities, and malnutrition that leads to the death of children. Yeah, not cheery stuff, but what this category has always succeeded at is casting a spotlight on what is happening in the world, informing viewers of true stories we would otherwise never been exposed to. These are important and powerful shorts that can enlighten and inform viewers. We’ve all been going through quite a bit within the last year of this pandemic, but it’s always helpful to see the challenges that other people and cultures are facing and that’s definitely what these five nominees offer.

Below are my thoughts on each of these nominees, ranking the best for last…




Now playing on Netflix, “Love Song for Latasha” recounts what happened back in 1991 when Latasha Harlins was shot and killed by a convenience store owner when she was trying to purchase orange juice for $1.79. It’s a tragic and horrific crime that’s told by director Sophia Nahli Allison from the perspective of her best friend and her cousin. It’s been three decades since her demise, yet it’s important that Latasha’s story be told, since one could easily assume a crime of such misunderstanding has been repeated since. Friends and relatives recount who Latasha was and what her aspirations for life were and that’s important since too often casualties are reported on the news and then forgotten in 48 hours. There are reenactments throughout this captivating 19-minute short, in which we see who Latasha was and what she could’ve achieved in life. It’s a documentary that forces viewers to acknowledge that Latasha was a person with dreams and aspirations, just life any of us. At the same time, the convenience store owner could be like any one of us as well. Allison spent two years making this 19-minute short and it’s not only a powerful tribute to Latasha, but it will also leave you with some thoughts and questions…at least it should.




While some challenging ground is covered as Horace Bowers, Sr. reflects on the Jim Crow south when he fled Florida and unexpectedly wound up in Los Angeles, most of this brisk 13-minute short is quite sweet and heartwarming. That’s primarily because African-American composer Kris Bowers (who scored Best Picture winner “Green Book”) is interviewing his grandfather as “A Concerto is a Conversation” unfolds, allowing him an opportunity for viewers to get to know the 91-year-olds history, as well as Bowers own career path in becoming a professional musician. Their conversations and reflections are staged in an easy-going manner, yet what stands out is the “how” in both their stories, not “when” or “where”. Imagine a black man hitchhiking his way from Detroit to Denver and then arriving in California back then. The way in which Bowers Sr. landed a job in dry cleaning and then becoming the owner of the business (a place he still runs today) at age 20 is both impressive and inspiring. It also shines a light on the prejudices and discrimination the senior Bowers had to deal with back then. Bowers know this, which is why this story is being told, but it becomes more powerful when we see what Bowers has done (so far, he’s only in his early 30’s) with his life as well. Bowers co-directed “A Concerto is a Conversation” with Canadian filmmaker Ben Proudfoot and Ava DuVarney serves as Executive Producer (Bowers scored her Netflix mini-series “When They See Us”).





“Do Not Split” is a timely American-Norweigian documentary that covers the landmark events of the 2018 anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill (anti-ELAB) movement in Hong Kong, including the siege of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the siege of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Directed by Norwegian documentarist and journalist Anders Hammer in an immersive ground-level manner, “Do Not Split” also includes covers the suppression of the protests and movement last year and the controversial passing of the Hong Kong security law. Hammer touches on some historic moments in that specific part of the world, but the focus is mostly on getting to know the active demonstrators and knowledgable scholars through various interviews or simply just following them in the streets as opposing troops close in on innocent bystanders and anti-China combatants. While it takes some acclimation during the 35-minute short to get a grasp on what is really going on, the urgency felt throughout is apparent and one can easily see how capturing such events is important and relatable for anyone under a democracy.






Another nonagenarian is the focus of “Colette”, directed by Anthony Giacchino, which follows 90-year-old Colette Marin-Catherine, a onetime member of the French Resistance during World War II. The touching 24-minute short is a trip back in time, both figuratively and literally, as Colette is approached by French history student Lucie Fouble and persuaded to visit the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp where her brother died at the hands of the Nazis. It’s the first trip back to Germany in 74 years for Colette and it’s tough to watch the typically spry and energetic break down in tears as she walks through a place of death. It’s one of many complicated and cathartic moments for a woman who has been through so much. Yet she suffers no fools, as seen when Giacchino (younger brother of composer Michael Giacchino) captures her shutting down the mayor of a German town when he assures such crimes will never be repeated. That moment is a reminder that sometimes saying less means more. Giacchino’s short also reminds viewers that near the end of our lives certain tragedies still sting, despite all the years lived since.




The most challenging and agonizing of the nominees is the unflinching look at child starvation and malnutrition in Yemen due to the ongoing civil war. Director Skye Fitzgerald takes an unflinching approach at the tragic situation, looking primarily at two of the most prominent therapeutic feeding centers. The director is given direct contact, recording what transpires which includes graphic footage of skeleton-thin children (sometimes babies, primarily female) who have either been caught in a bomb blast or stricken with ailments related to poor diets (often related to war, which finds their families blocked off from the kind of food they need), or often both. Fitzgerald follows Dr. Aida Alsadeeq and nurse Mekkia Mahdi as do their best to save the lives of hunger-stricken children in an area gripped with famine. Their patients relatives are seen erupting in agony as they learn of a child’s death and in their grief often lash out in anger and the treating physicians, who are experiencing in their own grief. Fitzgerald largely takes an indicting stance himself, blaming Western governments who have supported Saudi involvement in this mostly forgotten war. Spanning 40 minutes, “Hunger Ward” could have easily been stretched to a feature-length documentary, since it feels like there’s much more to tell here. This is not easy viewing, but it is essential viewing. If this short doesn’t take home the Oscar then voters are simply hard-hearted and callous.

RATING: ****



All five Oscar-nominated Documentary Shorts can be seen at Music Box Theatre or in theaters!

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