At the Movies: Oscar documentary shorts

Oscar Documentary Shorts Program

Last week I reviewed the five live action and five animated Academy Award nominated narrative shorts playing at the Crest Theatre.  Those two programs are continuing for another week.

But on Thursday (Feb 23), for the first time in Sacramento, there’s a chance to see the nominated documentary shorts.  Well, four of the five films – as one is missing.  This isn’t that unusual, in fact it’s more remarkable that the distributors of the shorts programs could corral the other 14 films into 3 programs, than it is that they couldn’t get the 15th. 

It’s conjecture on my part, but I’d guess that there was a problem securing distribution rights to the fifth documentary.  Sometimes, another contract with a pre-existing distributor will take precedence and on other occasions some content in a film may not have the necessary clearances for widespread distribution.  For example, some rights to music are granted for distribution at film festivals only – so a film can be seen and garner great praise in those venues without being able to be screened outside of the festival circuit.  I don’t know the circumstances this year, but as a festival director I’ve seen both of these things happen and those would be my first two guesses.

The four films in the program are:

“Incident in New Baghdad” – 22 minutes (USA)

The killing of two Reuters journalists and several other people shocked the world when it was revealed by WikiLeaks.  But for Ethan McCord it was far more personal – he was a witness to that event, during which he saved two children, and it contributed to his post traumatic stress disorder.  The leaked video footage prompted him to speak out about his experiences and in support of fellow sufferers.

“Saving Face” – 40 minutes (Pakistan/USA)
In Pakistan, over 100 women each year are maimed in reported acid attacks, with an unknown additional number going unreported.  The attackers are often men whose advances have been rejected, or the husbands of the victims.  The film recounts several of the women’s stories and focuses on the work of a Pakistani-British plastic surgeon who has tried to help some of them, as well as attempts to change the law as it applies to the perpetrators. 

“The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement” – 25 minutes (USA)
At 85, James Armstrong has been teaching about civil rights and cutting hair in his Birmingham, Alabama barbershop for almost 60 years.  He carried the American flag on the march from Selma to Montgomery and his sons were the first African Americans at an all white elementary school.  In his words, “Dying isn’t the worst thing a man can do. The worst thing a man can do is nothing.”

“The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom” – 40 minutes (USA/Japan)
An account of the rebuilding efforts following the recent Tsunami “and the healing power of Japan’s most beloved flower” (quoted from the film’s official website).  Director/co-producer Lucy Walker’s previous film “Waste Land” was nominated last year in the documentary feature category.

The missing film is:

“God is the Bigger Elvis” – 37 minutes (USA)
In 1963, Dolores Hart was a successful 23 year old actress with 17 television and movie titles on her resume, including multiple lead roles.  That career ended when she chose to become a Benedictine nun and the film documents her life before and after that decision.

The documentary shorts program screens one time only at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 23, at the Crest Theatre.

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