Oscar season is one of my favorite times of the year, and not because of the actual ceremonies. My favorite part is watching the short programs on local screens: the Oscar-nominated short animated films, live-action films, and documentaries. The documentaries are always particularly good, and they’ve produced two Academy Awards for Denver filmmakers: Donna Dewey for “A Story of Healing” in 1998 and Daniel Junge for “Saving Face” in 2013. I learn a lot from these films every year, and this year is no different. Three of the five films tell stories about Syria, one tells the story of a Holocaust survivor’s violin, and the other follows a doctor who cares for terminally ill patients. Yes, the topics are serious, but they get to the heart of cinema’s ability to move us. What follows is a short description of each.
“Joe’s Violin” is directed by Kahane Cooperman and Raphaella Neihausen and tells the story of a Holocaust survivor, the violin he donated to an instrument drive on a radio station, and the Bronx girl who lands the violin. Eventually, the girl learns to play a song Joe’s mother used to sing to him, and well, just have the tissues handy.
“The White Helmets” is directed by Joanna Natasegara and follows volunteer rescue workers who try to save victims of the strife in Syria and Turkey. It is quite remarkable to hear/see everyone’s story in this film—both the volunteers who risk their own lives as well as the heartbreaking stories of those they save.
“4.1 Miles” is directed by Daphne Matziaraki and is focused on a Greek Coast Guard ship and its commander patrolling the seas off the coast of Lesbos. The waters have been a graveyard for refugees escaping the horrors of Syria, and the film chronicles the refugees as well as the hardships faced by the Coast Guard.
“Extremis” is directed by Dan Krauss and it follows Dr. Jessica Zitter, a palliative care doctor as she moves from patient to patient and one uncomfortable conversation to another. Much like the other shorts, this one in particular would have benefitted from a longer format—although watching it would have been that much more heart wrenching.
“Watani: My Homeland” is directed by Marcel Mettelsiefen and follows a Syrian widow over a three-year period as she leaves her homeland to find a better life for her children. It rounds out a stellar group of films.
The winner of the category is almost irrelevant; all of the films are deserving, but even more importantly, all are worthy subjects and outstanding works of art.
Unfortunately, the Oscar Short Docs will be playing at the Sie Film Center only through March 2nd. After that, it will be available on Shorts HD Channel. No release dates for Amazon and iTunes have been given.