Tag Archives: Oscar nominated short subject documentary films

Oscar Nominated Shorts: Documentary

by George Wolf

When I was a kid watching the Oscars, I remember always being perplexed by short film categories. How do people manage to see these shorts?

Good news, kids, it’s gotten much easier. In the last several years, all the nominated shorts have been packaged by category for theatrical showings. This year, of course, virtual screenings are available as well, making it more convenient than ever to find great films in smaller packages.

As usual, these nominated documentary shorts are often heart-wrenching, but able to speak necessary truths to power and our collective human experience.

A Concerto Is a Conversation 13 mins. Directors: Kris Bowers and Ben Proudfoot

Pianist and film composer Kris Bowers explains to his 91 year-old grandfather Horace (and to us) that a concerto is a conversation between a soloist and an ensemble.

But the conversation between the Bowers men is a moving work of art itself, as Horace recalls his life’s journey from a poor kid in the Jim Crow south to a successful business owner in Los Angeles.

And as Kris prepares for the premiere of his first concerto, the film becomes a beautiful expression of heritage, love, talent and courage.

Colette 25 mins. Writer/director: Anthony Giacchino

75 years after her stint as a member of the French Resistance, 90 year-old Colette Catherine is preparing to make her first journey to the concentration camp in Germany where her brother Jean-Pierre died.

She’s accompanied by the young Lucie, a history student and docent at France’s WWII museum, who regards Colette as a “national hero.”

As sobering and horrific as the subject matter suggests, Collette – the film and the hero – finds a redemptive power through defiantly shining a spotlight on an evil that still searches for dark places to take root.

Do Not Split 36 mins. Director: Andreas Hammer

Taking us to the front lines of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests of 2019, Do Not Split becomes a tense, indelible account of resistance against civil rights abuses that will look pretty familiar to U.S. audiences.

Hammer is blessed with a host of intimate footage, often featuring first person commentary from protesters while they are actively pushing back against tear gas and police escalation.

It’s gripping stuff. Without becoming overbearing, the film never lets you forget you are watching important and heroic history unfold.

Hunger Ward 40 mins. Director: Skye Fitzgerald

Part 3 of Fitzgerald’s Refugee Trilogy (along with 50 Feet From Syria and the Oscar-nominated Lifeboat), Hunger Ward‘s focus is the children – specifically those affected by the ongoing civil war in Yemen.

The images of wounded and starving children carry an understandably tragic weight, while real time footage inside a Yemeni memorial service being actively shelled is unforgettable.

And still, those committed to helping the children exhibit an unwavering and miraculous resolve.

The U.N. has labeled Yemen as home to the world’s “greatest humanitarian crisis,” and Fitzgerald’s unflinching call for action and empathy will leave your heart in your throat.

A Love Song For Latasha 19 mins. Director: Sophia Nahli Allison

A touching tribute to one victim of senseless gun violence, A Love Song…turns the focus away from the aftermath and toward the positive effect Latasha Harlins had on those around her.

In 1992, 15-year-old Latasha was killed by a store clerk in South Central Los Angeles. Framed by Allison (and Executive Producer Ava DuVernay) as a VHS tape memoir with sequences of animation, the film lets the narration from Latasha’s best friend Ty and cousin Shinise craft a warmly intimate profile.

A Love Song For Latasha wants us to know that these victims of racial injustice aren’t just statistics to be glossed over. In a short time, Latasha Harlins made a big impact. So it seems only fitting that a short film makes you glad to meet her.

Oscar Nominated Shorts – Documentaries

by George Wolf

Of this year’s five nominated short subject documentaries, four are anchored in the horrors of war and the fifth details the inevitability of death. There are precious few smiles to be had, but as five talented directors seek cracks of light amid waves of despair, a current of unyielding hope begins to unite the films.


4.1 Miles
Director:  Daphne Matziaraki
Running time: 26 minutes

For a coast guard captain on a small Greek Island, “Life used to be under control.”



4.1 Miles is often reminiscent of the acclaimed 2012 documentary Leviathan, as Matziaraki immerses us in a day on a Greek coast guard vessel during the biggest refugee crises since WWII. Terror, frustration and exhaustion are all palpable during a breathless 26 minute ride.


Director: Dan Krauss
Running time: 24 minutes

The debut documentary short from Netflix, Extremis examines the tough choices – and often “murky ethics” – in play as doctors and patients face end-of-life decisions in a hospital ICU.

With minimal time for backstory in a short subject, Krauss instead focuses on how different individuals approach these intensely personal decisions. Families huddle to determine, and then honor, the wishes of their loved ones, while doctors struggle with questions no amount of training can prepare them for.

Raw, thought-provoking and often heartbreaking, Extremis unveils the search for comfort in an uncomfortable truth.


Joe’s Violin
Director: Kahane Cooperman
Running time: 24 minutes

Have some tissues handy for this one, as you’ll meet a 91 year-old Holocaust survivor who donates his violin to a school instrument drive in New York, asking, “How long can you live with memories?”

The donation changes two lives, and Cooperman delicately balances Joe’s story with that of Brianna, the 12 year-old Bronx schoolgirl chosen to next play the prized instrument.

Their meeting rings with an emotional chord of destiny that never feels forced, leaving Joe’s Violin as the frontrunner in a stellar field of nominees.



Watani: My Homeland
Director: Marcel Mettelsiefen
Running time: 40 minutes

“We love you, Syria. Forgive us.”

As a father admits to sacrificing his children’s futures for the benefit of revolution, his family is left to survive without him.

The Syrian War rages, the father’s fate is unknown, and his wife makes the painful decision to leave their homeland in search of a better life.

Filmed over the course of three years, Watani illustrates one family’s struggle to accept a horrific past while embracing the promise of a new way of life.



The White Helmets
Director: Orlando von Einsiedel
Running time: 41 minutes

Technically, the are the Syrian Civil Defense, a group of volunteers committed to helping any victim of the Syrian War, regardless of which side they may be on.

But as we meet individual members of the “White Helmets,” we find men fiercely committed to a job they hold sacred, and the belief that it is “better to rescue one soul than to take one.”

Peppered with breathtaking rescue footage, The White Helmets is a hopeful reminder that mercy exists in even the most hellish of places.

Rating for full program: