Oscars 2015: Best Documentary Short Shortlist

This feels early. But whatever. Oscar shit!

We have our first shortlist of the year. The bad news is that it’s Documentary Short. The even worse news (for guessing purposes) is that they’ve expanded the field of potential nominees from 8 to 10. So instead of only having to guess 5 right out of 8, you have 10 choices, which means you’re basically 50/50 as to whether you’ll guess the category. But whatever. The more the merrier.

Anyway, let’s take a look at the ten shortlisted contenders for Best Documentary Short:

  • Body Team 12 — Body Team 12 is tasked with collecting the dead at the height of the Ebola outbreak. These body collectors have arguably the most dangerous and gruesome job in the world. Yet despite the strain they emerge as heroes while the film explores their philosophy and strength.

100% on. This is the kind of short this category was made for. (Plus Olivia Wilde apparently helped get it made. Not that it means anything. But I mention in case you believe the documentary branch are a bunch of starfuckers.)

  • Chau, Beyond the Lines — Chau, a 16-year-old boy living in a Vietnamese peace camp for kids disabled by Agent Orange, battles with the reality of his dream to one day become a professional clothing designer.

They eat this shit right up. Foreign country, disabled child, overcoming adversity to do art.

  • Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah — Claude Lanzmann discusses the process of directing, writing, and producing his groundbreaking and influential documentary Shoah.

I almost wish this weren’t nominated. Because you’re getting a convenient 40 minute movie discussing how a nine hour documentary was made. People shouldn’t get Cliff Notes with the Holocaust. But that’s just me. I can see them possibly voting for it just because of how important a film that documentary is. (Which, by the way, not nominated for an Oscar whatsoever. Because of course it wasn’t.)

  • 50 Feet from Syria — Follows Syrian-American surgeon Hisham Bismar as he travels to the Turkish/Syrian border to volunteer operating on victims from the Syrian civil war.

Was kind of hoping this was about backup singers. This seems derivative of all the kinds of movies that always get nominated here. Like the doctor who operates on the acid victims. Is there such a thing as too up their alley?

  • A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness — As far as I can tell, this is about a Pakistani woman who survived an “honor” killing, which is something that happens to more than 1,000 women a year in that country. (Meaning, the woman has brought shame upon the family, so they kill her. They don’t explicitly say how, but one can guess.)

Sounds like it could be a powerful portrait. Seems like something that would get on.

  • Last Day of Freedom — When Bill Babbitt realizes his brother Manny has committed a crime he agonizes over his decision to call the police. Living Condition: Bill’s Story is an animated account of his decision to support and help his brother in the face of war, crime and capital execution.

It’s animated. That’s cool. Apparently it’s about veteran’s care and mental health access. They like those kinds of stories. Though the veterans thing won last year.

  • Minerita — Life is really tough in the bleak Cerro Rico mining district in Potosi, Bolivia. This is true for the men risking their lives going down into the mine shafts looking for silver ore, and also for the women, who are viewed by men as fair game. Lucia (40), Ivonne (16) and Abigail (17) talk about their daily lives, in which they are constantly dealing with violence, much of it sexual. Lucia works as a night guard and often has to protect herself by setting off TNT. She wanders the inhospitable area accompanied by a pack of dogs. Ivonne always carries rocks with her to throw at potential attackers. But they are not even safe at home. “You can’t even trust your own brothers and father,” Ivonne explains. Abigail is the only woman in the area who goes down into the mines herself. She knows that as a miner she is not officially allowed to work there, but nobody has ever told her about her rights. The camera follows her down the pitch-black shafts, where the miners pray to a demon. “There’s no god in the mine,” says Abigail. In an area where not even weeds can grow, these tough and vulnerable women survive with a mix of courage and dynamite.

Is this why Butch wanted to go to Bolivia so badly? Not sure if this gets nominated, but it’s fascinating and terrifying at the same time.

  • My Enemy, My Brother — Zahed Haftlang was an Iranian boy who ran away from home to join the army. Najah Aboud was a 19-year old Iraqi who had been conscripted to fight in the war, leaving behind his wife and son. Both men fought in the Iran-Iraq war where Zahed finds Najah injured in a bunker and decides to risk his own life to save him. Zahed kept Najah alive for days, after which Najah was finally taken as a prisoner of war. Their lives diverge and they don’t see nor hear of one another for 20 years until one day they meet by sheer coincidence in Vancouver.

They love this shit. This is the kind of movie that can turn into an Oscar type biopic. (Though maybe it’s best if it doesn’t win. Look at what happened to Freeheld.)

  • Starting Point — Aneta ‘rebelled to the max’ at the age of nineteen and wound up in prison for murder. Nine years later, her daily routine takes her from behind the walls of the prison to a care home for the elderly. One of the residents, Helena, has been ill ever since infancy. In her opinion, the young woman has everything she could want for. And so Helena, whose knowledge of the world has come “from the windows of hospitals and coaches,” avidly asks Aneta about her life. A test awaits Aneta… and help will come from Helena.

Doesn’t sound like something they’d go for, but who knows? Sounds like it would be a foreign language contender if they turned it into a movie.

  • The Testimony — The conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has cost more lives than any other since World War II. The Testimony chronicles the largest rape tribunal in Congo’s history, offering an unprecedented glimpse into the lives of its women and the unshakable strength of the human spirit.

Beasts of No Nation. Do they go all in on this sort of thing?

– – – – – – – – – – –

Okay, so looking at these ten… I’d say the likely five are gonna be:

  • Body Team 12
  • Chau, Behind the Lines
  • 50 Feet from Syria
  • Minerita
  • The Testimony

Just guessing, though. A Girl in the River and My Enemy, My Brother also sounds like possibilities. Too early to tell. I’ll revisit this in two months.


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