Editor’s note: This is part of a 32-part series dissecting the 85th Academy Awards, brought to you by the Large Association of Movie Blogs and its assorted members. Every day leading up to the Oscars, a new post written by a different LAMB will be published, each covering a different category of the Oscars. To read the other posts regarding this event, please click here. Thank you, and enjoy!
By David of Never Too Early Movie Predictions
Did you know that some movie bloggers have already committed to watching nine hours of a Hobbit running around middle earth, but can’t be bothered to sit through a forty minute film that would teach them something about this earth?
Luckily, I’ve got you covered. Not only do I enjoy short men with hairy feet, but I also enjoy short films that have a message. And so it was that I set out on an afternoon adventure to watch the five nominated Documentary Shorts. Along the way, I also discovered some fun facts that even a Hobbit can enjoy.
The Story: Kings Point interviews several members of a retirement community in Florida. While they moved here to experience paradise in their senior years, and sometimes for health reasons that tore them away from their former colder environments, they find new challenges and, often, a sense of loneliness rather than camaraderie. Love, friendship, estrangement from family and the challenges of aging are dominant themes. The film is dedicated to the director’s grandmother, who was a resident in this retirement community, but is not interviewed on screen.
Bona Fides: Kings Point was a nominee for the International Documentary Association Awards this year. It is Sari Gilman’s first film as a director, but she is well known within the industry for her extensive film editing work, including an Emmy nomination for editing Ghosts Of Abu Ghraib. Also nominated is producer Jedd Wider, who along with his brother Todd is fast becoming one of the most successful documentary producers in the business, with films that include Client 9: The Rise And Fall of Eliot Spitzer, Taxi To The Dark Side, Mea Maxima Culpa and Semper Fi: Always Faithful.
Oscar Chances: The film is done in a way that is quite relatable for all age groups. Viewers of a certain age will recognize universal themes playing out, while younger viewers will rush to call their parents and grandparents. Several funny elements make the story endearing and bittersweet. The film points at larger societal injustices in how we treat the elderly, but tells the story on a very intimate human scale. That may hurt it among Oscar voters who tend to like their documentaries to be a bit more hard hitting.
Fun Fact Even A Hobbit Can Enjoy: Although this documentary is set in a retirement community, all of the retirees are still significantly younger than both Gandalf and Gollum. So don’t judge!
Mondays At Racine
The Story: Mondays At Racine is set at a beauty salon in New York that hosts a special day for breast cancer survivors once a month. The film follows several of the women in different stages of the disease, from chemotherapy through masectomy and beyond. In addition to the medical elements, the film emphasizes the emotional, social and relational challenges that face these women and their families. The beauty shop setting also helps to emphasize the challenges that breast cancer and its treatments pose to traditional representations of femininity, since breasts and long hair are societal markers of beauty that can both be lost from this single disease.
Bona Fides: Mondays At Racine won the audience award at the Boston Independent Film Festival, an honorable mention at SilverDocs, and was nominated for the International Documentary Association Awards. Director Cynthia Wade is a previous Oscar winner in this category for Freeheld, and winner of numerous festival awards for her films Born Sweet and Shelter Dogs. Also nominated is producer Robin Honan, who has co-produced several of Wade’s projects.
Oscar Chances: The large number of people who have had breast cancer or know someone who has gives this film a natural audience to draw upon. The emotional stories of heartbreak and courage will also help the film’s Oscar chances. The challenge, however, is that there is another medical film in the race this year, which will likely draw votes away.
Fun Fact Even A Hobbit Can Enjoy: It may be hard to believe, but sometimes stories have women in them naturally, and don’t need Peter Jackson to invent something for Cate Blanchett to do.
The Story: Inocente is the story of a young artist in San Diego. Struggling with the challenges of homelessness, immigration and growing up, she nevertheless creates beautiful and optimistic artwork from her own spirit and experiences. The vibrant colors of her paintings jump off the screen, and provide a visual treat unparalleled among this year’s nominees, all while telling a very serious story of poverty in America. The artist’s cheerful personality and the transformations she and her family undergo as she prepares her first public art show make for a compelling narrative.
Bona Fides: Inocente has won awards at the Arizona, Heartland and San Antonio Film Festivals, as well as the special UNICEF award at the Educational Broadcast System’s Documentary Film Festival. Directors Sean Fine and Andrea Nix are previous Oscar nominees in this category for their film War Dance.
Oscar Chances: Inocente is definitely the “feel-good” film in this year’s competition, and the emphasis on the transformative power of art will appeal to many Academy voters. This is the first year where all members of the Academy will receive the films on screeners and be eligible to vote in this category without attending special showings, and that could very well help if a more populist electorate goes for the film that is the most enjoyable.
Fun Fact Even A Hobbit Can Enjoy: Although he’s never played a hobbit, John Leguizamo has played characters of short stature in both Moulin Rouge and Spawn. He’s also an executive producer of this film!
The Story: Redemption follows several men and women who make their living collecting cans and bottles off of the streets of New York City. In addition to exploring the economic and societal implications of consumerism and recycling efforts, the film gives us a very intimate look at their lives. Known as “Canners”, some are homeless or near homelessness, others are immigrants, former chefs or computer programmers, and seniors whose social security checks are insufficient to live off of. Along the way, we see traditional discrimination play out, as well as incredible acts of kindness and generosity within this community.
Bona Fides: Directors Jon Alpert and Matthew O’Neill are previous Oscar nominees in this category for China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears Of Sichuan Province, and Emmy winners for Baghdad E.R. It is also worth noting that Alpert was invited to become a member of the Academy in 2011, so that’s one vote already in the bag!
Oscar Chances: When it comes to traditional documentary filmmaking technique, I would say that this is the strongest of the films. The interviews are conducted on location as people work, instead of having a talking head explain everything. Even the sheer number of canners interviewed dwarfs the other films in competition, and it couldn’t have been easy to convince so many people who speak different languages to participate.
Fun Fact Even A Hobbit Can Enjoy: In the real world, when the corporate dragon takes away your mountain home, they don’t send a wizard to help with your quest.
The Story: Open Heart tells the story of eight Rwandan children who travel to Sudan to undergo heart surgery. As if traveling to another country weren’t enough, they must do so without their parents, and the discrepancy between their living conditions and the high-tech hospital they visit feels like visiting a spaceship. Poverty, international politics, and the state of the medical field are all explored in a way that is even more heartbreaking when we realize that this dangerous surgery is only necessary because they were not treated for a very common childhood disease – strep throat.
Bona Fides: Open Heart was nominated for the International Documentary Association Awards. This is director Kief Davidson’s first Oscar nomination, but his previous films Kassim The Dream and The Devil’s Miner have been rewarded by numerous film festivals and the directors guild. Also nominated is producer Cori Shepherd Stern, whose credits include being an executive producer of the film Warm Bodies, currently in cinemas.
Oscar Chances: The international and political nature of this film makes it the most likely to win the Oscar. Hollywood likes its documentaries to have a cause that can be rallied around, and the film is part of a campaign to provide heart surgery to an additional 52 patients who haven’t been able to receive it, as well as create a sustainable healthcare system in Rwanda. Plus, it just has the “feel” of an Oscar documentary, being a serious world issue which needs immediate attention.
Fun Fact Even A Hobbit Can Enjoy: Damon Lindelof may be most famous for producing LOST, Star Trek and Prometheus, but he’s also an executive producer of Open Heart, proving that fact and fiction can work hand in hand.