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2017 Oscar Nominated Shorts - Documentary - Rounding up the Usual Suspects
Steve's Livejournal
2017 Oscar Nominated Shorts - Documentary
For the past few years, Oscar-nominated short films have been screening in collections. First it was the live-action and animated shorts, and more recently the documentaries also. Before that, few people other than Oscars voters ever saw the films, which made the short film categories pretty obscure. But now anyone in a decently-served film market can see them.

This year, three of the Oscar documentary short nominees are about the war in Syria. At least one of the subjects will attend the Oscars ceremony, thanks to the Ninth Circuit Court's unanimous decision to uphold a lower court's temporary restraining order against the anti-Muslim travel ban. (An Iranian nominee was also invited to attend, and would be able to attend thanks to the Ninth's ruling, but decided to boycott and host a party in London instead.)

Screening: 4:35 pm Sunday, Sundance Cinema.
Audience: About 30 people, about 50 seats.

Ratings: I mention the ratings the shorts might get if they were rated, but the US ratings system doesn't rate shorts.

Snacks: none.

Ads (mercifully few, a benefit Sundance Cinema's premium admission prices):

  • Beauty and the Beast — A live action version.
  • Kong — Do we really need another King Kong movie?
  • I Am Not Your Negro — A civil rights documentary. Looks good.
  • The Red Turtle — One of the few Studio Ghibli films not by Miyazaki, but it looks like Miyazaki.
  • Sundance Cinemas — A simple self-promotion logo-flash.

Joe's Violin 7 Good

Joe is a Holocaust survivor, and hasn't played his violin in years because of his age. Hearing of a classical radio station's instrument-donation drive to benefit music schools, he contributes his violin. The school finds a remarkably deserving student to play it for the duration of her enrollment.

From the description, this sounds like it's going to be painfully sweet. But it's much better than that. I was impressed.

Extremis 7 Good

This features a doctor who treats patients who are very unlikely to recover from their condition – or perhaps a doctor's experience with some of those patients. Worse, the patients and their families have to choose whether to keep clinging to life in hope of an unlikely recover or to let nature take its course.

My initial impression was that it seemed like it was congratulating the doctor for not being burned out by the emotional drain of dealing with patients who are dying. But "J" observed that they probably chose a doctor because she hadn't reached the point where she had to detach from compassion. It didn't take a lot of reflection to conclude that I was just feeling cynical, perhaps due to events unrelated to the film.

Update (a few days later): In retrospect, it's possible that the doctor deals with a larger variety of patients, so that the patients and families featured in the film are exceptions, balanced by people with more successful outcomes.

The film was well made, and I rate it good, maybe very good.

4.1 Miles 9 Excellent

This film features a Greek Coast Guard captain working the waters near Lesbos, at a job he always wanted to do – being a ship captain. But given the situation in Syria, the Coast Guard is on constant alert for boats full of refugees that are in need of rescue due to overloading, refugee-smugglers' rush to get people loaded onto boats regardless of weather, and the vast number of refugees fleeting the war.

This film is well made technically, features an aspect of the refugee crisis that I hadn't seen or read much about, and tells a story with drama. The film is excellent, and deserves to win the Oscar.

Watani: My Homeland 8 Very Good

This film is about Abu Ali, a fighter with the Free Syrian Army, and his family. It expands on the film-maker's much shorter 2013 documentary Children on the Frontline, and covers the family after Abu Ali has a run-in with ISIS.

One possible weakness of the film is that it shows an unrepresentative story about a family affected by the war. I don't see that as a problem, but some people may.

It's shot mostly with fairly simple equipment, because the film-maker is a doctor who was traveling on his medical visa, rather than as a journalist, because conditions in Syria are too dangerous for most journalists any more. (They're dangerous for anyone.) Still, the technical quality is solid. And the story is very good, making a very good film.

Abu Ali's wife Hala will attend the Oscars ceremony.

The White Helmets 6 Almost Good

The White Helmets are the volunteer search-and-rescue people who respond after air raids, shellings, and other military actions in Syria. It's a difficult, dangerous job, done by people with minimal training for the work. In recognition of their work, they travel to Turkey for formal search-and-rescue training, and return to continue their work and train other White Helmets.

This film has a subject as good as the other Syria documentaries, but it does a few things wrong. For one, it has a dramatic situation early on that fizzles without resolution. For another, the time spent on various phases of the story seems determined more by how much material the film-makers had for each phase than by how much of the story each phase deserved.

Although there are a lot of good pieces to the film, I can only rate the film as a whole as almost good.

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