2019 Oscar Nominated Documentary Short Films: Five Moving Documentaries

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The Academy Awards are just around the corner on Feb. 24th, so we’ve reviewed the five Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts. Are they worth checking out? Find out below!

A Night at the Garden (USA) (2017)

Before World War II broke out, there were a number of Americans that supported Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany. The short seven-minute film uses archival footage of an American Nazi rally at the Madison Garden arena in New York City. The event, in 1939, attracted 20,000 people and quite a few protesters. The film shows you that it was a big-time event with lots of pomp and circumstance. It is a very scary film to watch, seeing this immense-crowd give the Heil Hitler salute is just chilling when you realize these are American citizens. A portion of a speech in the film is from Fritz Julius Kuhn, the leader of the anti-Semitic group called the German American Fund. The film also shows when Isadore Greenbaum, a Jew, rushed the stage as Kuhn was speaking. He was stopped, and we see him get beat up by a bunch of uniformed stormtroopers before being dragged away by the police. It’s a truly horrifying scene as the men on the stage behind the speaker are seen laughing as the man is savagely beaten and manhandled by NYC police to the point that a terrified Greenbaum loses his pants. There isn’t any narration, which makes more of an impact as you feel you are there.

My Rating: Full Price

Black Sheep (UK) (2018)

On November 27, 2000, Cornelius Walker lived with his mother and father in London. Just five minutes away from Cornelius’s home, a young man, the same age as Cornelius and like him was of Nigerian descent, was killed in the street. Fearing for his son, Cornelius’s father moves the family out of London and to a small town in the country. Very soon Cornelius discovers on his way to the store that his family is the only black family living in this town and it is made up of racists. After months of being tormented and beat up, Cornelius decides to become more like the people of the town. He buys the clothes the kids in the town wear, changes how he does his hair, puts in contacts to turn his eyes blue and bleaches his skin. He begins hanging out with the other kids and follows their lead, becoming immersed in their culture of violence and hatred. He even participated in harassing black people that came into the town. Cornelius, now an adult, narrates the story on camera with great conviction, trying to explain why he did the things he did, though he makes no excuse for the violence that he participated in. It is a fascinating film as we watch Cornelius before evolving in front of our eyes. The ending of the documentary is moving, you really feel for the man who is sorry for what he did to survive on the mean streets of his small town. 

My Rating: Full Price

Lifeboat (USA) (2018)

The film centers on one boat manned by volunteers from a German no-profit that risk their lives to find refugees in the Mediterranean trying to flee the horrors of all the things happening in Libya and make it to Europe. Over 3,000 refuges died on the seas trying to create a better life for them and their families. The film shows us the work that the volunteers have to do when they find three jam-packed boats where the refugees are sunburned, dehydrated and dying. This film is part of the ‘Refugee Trilogy’ made by director Skye Fitzgerald, who made the Academy Award nominee from 2015 50 Feet From Syria. The film is pretty depressing because there isn’t much light at the end of the tunnel, as most of the volunteers don’t see the problem ending anytime soon. The film points out that even if the refugees make it to Europe, they are going to end poor and unemployed in a foreign country that doesn’t want them. This is probably the weakest of the five films as it never tugged at the heartstrings as I wanted it to.

My Rating: Bargain Matinee

Period. End of Sentence  (USA) (2018)

In a rural village outside of Delhi, India a group of women are fighting the deeply rooted stigma of Menstruation. Many women in India don’t use modern pads but just use cloth when they get their period. The women are isolated when they have their periods and many quit school because they don’t have a way to properly deal with it. The film follows a group of women, one of who wants to join the police force in Delhi. Their lives are changed when an inventor creates a sanitary pad machine and installs it in the village for the woman to use. They learn who to apply the pad and then learn how to manufacture the pads and sell them to stores and women in their village and other villages in the area. This is my favorite film of the bunch. The film starts a little strange, as an off-screen voice asks both men and women about ministration, most of the men have no idea what a period is, and if they do, then they talk about it like it is a bad thing. Most of the women and girls the camera talks to are too embarrassed to talk about it. The transformation of the women is remarkable when they realize not only can they use these pads (which, by the way are cheaper and better than other pads) but their lives are changed when they begin making money, as most of the women have never worked before. By the end of this magical film, you see women that are proud of their accomplishments and have newfound respect from the men in the village.

My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again

End Game (USA) (2018)

From Academy Award-winning filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffery Friedman comes a documentary about how people deal with the last days on earth. The film takes place in a hospital and in a separate hospice in San Francisco. The film looks at the patients and their families but also at the teams of caretakers who deal with people who are going to die. This touching and moving film slovenly looks at the dying, giving them the dignity to show just how hard it is to accept the death that is coming. We meet five patients, some of which have accepted their fate and others that think they still have a chance to put off death. The film centers on Mitra, a 45-year-old mother of one little boy, whose family is struggling to come to terms with her impending death. Hamid, Mitra’s husband, wants her to continue cancer treatments, even though it will cause Mitra’s life to be full of pain because he has seen her several times look like she was going to die and then surviving. Mitra’s mother and sister are more about making sure Mitra’s last days are as comfortable as possible, surrounded by her loving family. The care team, made up of doctors, nurses, social workers, and chaplains, finally get into the family’s heads that Mitra is in the final stages and they should just let her go. The film shows us numerous conversations between the staff of both the hospital and the hospice, showing us how dedicated and passionate they are for their patients. The film features the spiritual side of dying, with doctors and social workers continually talking to both the patients and their families about how to deal and handle death. It’s a movie that is tough to watch, especially if you have lost a loved one, but I think you will be uplifted in the end by just how well these patients were taken care of in the hardest time of their life, their last days.

My Rating: Full Price

Mike’s Rating System From Best to Worst

1 I Would Pay to See it Again
2 Full Price
3 Bargain Matinee
4 Cable
5 You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again


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