Each month, the Indie Prof reviews a current film in the theater and second film or series available on DVD or instant-streaming service. For his film choice this month, he highlights multiple Oscar-nominated documentary shorts.
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Oscar-Nominated Documentary Shorts (2016)
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.
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 2. After that, it will be available on Shorts HD Channel. No release dates for Amazon and iTunes have been given.
Sneaky Pete (Amazon)
The trend of excellent original programming on cable networks is a phenomenon in its infancy. We are going to see a glut of new programming from every direction in the coming months and years, and sorting through them/finding them will be difficult. I will focus on what I call “cinematic TV,” those shows that most resemble the wonderful art of the cinema in both its production values and in story/acting. One of the better shows to grace the small screen is Sneaky Pete, an Amazon original series. It has all the elements of a great film.
In the pilot we meet Marcus Josipovich (Giovanni Ribisi), a prison inmate who is about to be released. His roommate, Pete, is a prodigious talker who has regaled Marcus with stories of his youth and his family. Upon his release, Marcus finds that he cannot return to his NYC home because a mobster is out to get him (to settle a past debt). Marcus decides to hide in plain sight, assuming the identity of his former cellmate Pete, and integrating himself into Pete’s estranged family. While Marcus thinks he will hide out for a short time in rural Connecticut, he finds his new life to be more than he bargained for.
This is a well-written, professionally produced, and engaging series that is dominated by the acting. Ribisi is fantastic, and he carries the series the way most other protagonists of cinematic TV only wish they could. The secondary characters are also very strong, making the cast one of the best ensembles on TV. If Sneaky Pete echoes another recent show with an excellent ensemble cast, Breaking Bad, there is good reason for that. Bryan Cranston is one of the creators of the show, and he does a turn as the Mafia boss out to get Marcus/Pete in the first season. Cranston adds to the talented ensemble and brings a certain gravitas to the part. The total package works in interesting ways, and it is one of those shows that begs for the binge.
You will like this if you enjoyed Breaking Bad, Rectify, and/or Goliath.
Season One now available on Amazon Prime.
Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Cinema Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.