Three of the most difficult categories to call every year at the Oscars are those of the short films. They lack precursor prizes and, in many cases, visibility. If you are not able to see these films before the Academy Awards on March 4, don’t worry: we’ve got you covered. Below is our take on the five nominees for Best Documentary Short.
A screening committee drawn from documentary branch members winnowed a field of 77 entries down to 10 semi-finalists for the Best Documentary Short Oscar using an averaged scoring system. As with the last two years, this marks an increase from the eight it has been in the past. All members of the branch could take part in the second round which was done by preferential voting. All members of the academy will receive DVDs of the five nominees and can vote for the winner.
Director: Laura Checkoway
Running Time: 29 minutes
This heart-wrenching film documents America’s oldest interracial newlyweds as a family feud threatens to tear them apart. At the ages of 96 and 95, Edith Hill and Eddie Harrison found love they were determined to hold on to through their golden years. Disrupting their plan was Patricia Barber, one of Hill’s daughters who disputed the marriage claiming it would eventually cause complications when distributing her mother’s estate. Barber successfully enforces a legal guardianship over her mother and heartbreak ensues. Fresh off a win at the International Documentary Association Awards, this acclaimed short is executive produced by Oscar-winning superstar, Cher.
“Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405” (USA)
Director: Frank Stiefel
Running Time: 40 minutes
A brilliant artist, Mindy Alper, shares her lifelong struggle with depression and anxiety. Growing up with an abusive father and often-times dismissive mother, Alper channeled her inner turmoil into art. Along the way, she went through controversial shock therapy that left her with permanent brain damage. Despite that, she believes it saved her life. Redemption was sought as she opened her critically acclaimed art exhibition at the age of 56. This film gorgeously intertwines Alper’s artwork with revealing interviews to enhance her story of heartache and triumph. This is the warmest and most creatively told story of the group, definitely putting it in contention for Oscar gold.
Director: Elaine Mcmillion Sheldon
Running Time: 39 minutes
With an overdose rate 10 times the national average, Huntington, West Virginia has become the epicenter of America’s opiate addiction crisis. In this Netflix documentary, we learn the stories of three strong women determined to combat the deadly disease destroying their community. Jan Rader is the first female chief of the Huntington Fire Department. Patricia Keller is a judge who oversees a revolutionary rehabilitation program. Necia Freeman volunteers for Brown Bag Ministry and takes to the streets each night to council homeless women. The three of them work together to prove hope can prevail in a distraught community riddled with addiction. Academy voter’s looking to promote female empowerment could cast their vote here.
“Knife Skills” (USA)
Director: Thomas Lennon
Running Time: 40 minutes
In a film about second chances, this short documents the chaotic opening of Edwins restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio. Staffed entirely by recently released prisoners, the subjects at the center of this story are determined to prove they can meaningfully contribute to society. The production style of this film feels like a reality TV show. In fact, they could probably pitch a successful series to the Food Network. It is the most comical of the nominees, which could either garner votes in its favor or make it feel too “light” depending on how voters react.
“Traffic Stop” (USA)
Director: Kate Davis
Running Time: 30 minutes
This HBO original shares the story of Breaion King, a 26-year old African-American school teacher who was stopped for a routine traffic violation in Austin, Texas. Like far too often happens in this country, King’s minor violation escalates into a dramatic, brutal arrest. This timely documentary is successful at interspersing the dash-cam footage of the arrest with the personal story of King. We learn she is not a lifelong criminal, but a successful career woman with no prior arrests. If this can happen to her, it can happen to anyone with brown skin. Although this film is well-executed, it lacks a complete story arc that others in this category have. Winning would be a long-shot.