I have now been able to see all five shorts from the Best Documentary Short category for this year’s Academy Awards and once again, I am incredibly impressed with the selection. Aside from one short which I really disliked, I would rate every nominee more than 4/5 stars. Here is my final ranking of the Oscar nominees for this year.
1. A Love Song For Latasha
Director: Sophia Nahli Allison
Synopsis: A dreamlike conversation with the past and the present, reimagining of Latasha Harlins’ story by excavating intimate memories shared by those who loved her.
What a powerful short film. I had never heard of the story of Latasha before this documentary, but the interviewee gave the story so much power. It was clear how important the story was to her and what Latasha meant to her, which only made it more compelling. Whilst the visuals took a small amount of time to get used to at the beginning, they are so wonderfully done and add a lot to this story, whilst making sure to respect the subject matter. A must-watch for everyone, especially for only 19 minutes.
2. A Concerto is a Conversation
Directors: Ben Proudfoot, Kris Bowers
Synopsis: A virtuoso jazz pianist and film composer tracks his family’s lineage through his 91-year-old grandfather from Jim Crow Florida to the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
One of the best-edited shorts I have seen at Sundance. The story is incredibly touching, and I love the music throughout. The sound design in this documentary is phenomenal, never overshadowing the conversation that is going on and instead helping drive the film forward. Absolutely stunning.
Director: Anthony Giacchino
Synopsis: World War II. Not all warriors wore uniforms. Not all warriors were men. Meet ninety-year-old Colette Catherine who, as a young girl, fought the Nazis as a member of the French Resistance. Now she’s about to re-open old wounds, re-visiting the terrors of that time. Some nightmares are too terrible to remember. But also, too dangerous to forget.
A really powerful and well-made documentary short, Colette is one of the strongest women in film this year. Not only does this documentary have clear direction, following the journey these two women take to go to the concentration camp and honour Colette’s late brother, but the information is powerful and is well presented. A worthy documentary for the Oscar shortlist.
4. Do Not Split
Director: Anders Hammer
Synopsis: The story of the 2019 Hong Kong protests, told through a series of demonstrations by local protestors that escalate into conflict when highly armed police appear on the scene.
This is a powerful short and a sharp reminder of the issues that Hong Kong still faces to this day. It is a subject matter that is incredibly important to document, and the raw filmmaking here captures the brutality in full force, making it hit how important these protests are to the citizens of Hong Kong. A longer short, but one that feels necessary and makes use of the time it has to tell this story.
5. Hunger Ward
Director: Skye Fitzgerald
Synopsis: Filmed from inside two of the most active therapeutic feeding centers in Yemen, HUNGER WARD documents two female health care workers fighting to thwart the spread of starvation against the backdrop of a forgotten war. The film provides an unflinching portrait of Dr. Aida Alsadeeq and Nurse Mekkia Mahdi as they try to save the lives of hunger-stricken children within a population on the brink of famine.
Whilst I’m sure the intentions for this documentary were in the right place, this ended up being a tough watch that does not come across the way it should. The subject matter is important, but the lack of interviews or dialogue makes it hard to get a sense of the conditions and what is truly going on. The images are hard to watch as they should be, but go way beyond what I would say is humane and I will warn people by saying that dead children are shown on camera. There is a way to highlight this story, but this was not it.