Documentary films bring the world into our living rooms. We travel to distant lands, long ago times, witness events that we would never see. We are astonished at stories of overcoming obstacles that somehow provide clarity. Documentaries provide a looking glass into another’s life, dreams, survival, hope and heart.
The 2014 Academy Award Nominees for Best Documentary Shorts brings together a group of resonating, heartfelt, challenging, delightful and difficult choices.
Watching each of them, it is a tough task to determine which will walk away Golden. Good luck to all. The 2014 Documentary Shorts are 184 minutes in total.
Here are the nominees:
“The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life” (Directors: Malcolm Clarke and Nicholas Reed, Canada/USA/UK – English).
“The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life,“ tells the story Alice Herz Sommer, at 109 she is the world’s oldest pianist and the oldest Holocaust survivor.
“The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life” details a life, over a century of passion, love, the deepest hatred our world has seen, endurance, courage, and hope. At the heart of her remarkable story is her passion for music.
While watching this documentary life becomes bigger and more than emotions. Alice Herz Sommer from her remembrances of Franz Kafka, to the days when thunder rolled through the streets as the Nazi invasion began to imprisonment at Theresienstadt Concentration Camp. She tells stories of her son just a child and together they were spared the death sentence of so many and how through it all she continued to reflect on the power of music and how it save her life throughout those darkest, pitch black, days.
Her life presently isn’t simply a collection of days, times, seasons and events. She doesn’t dwell on a solitary moment. Life hasn’t been reduced to that one singular moment, rising to the surface, in her more than 100 years. Even as she describes the days leading up to her arrest and deportation to the concentration camps, and then life in the camps, as she was part of the Nazi propaganda, then suddenly freedom. Life again.
She talks of being happy, our version of ‘it is what it is.’ You can change some things and others not. She talks of controlling the externals by controlling the internal. She is a life well lived with lessons and untold stories, a mind alert, a history lesson for all on living life and not allowing life, when it seems like the bottom has fallen out, to kill the spirit.
“Karama Has No Walls” (Director: Sara Ishaq, UAE/UK/Yemen – Arabic).
“Karama Has No Walls,” began as another Arab Spring uprising documentary when, in 2011, those throughout the Arab peninsula and the Middle East found the courage after decades of oppression to rise, face their fear of reprisal and demand change.
“Karama Has No Walls,” was very reminiscent of another equality movement, one we in the United States are very familiar: The struggle for racial equality. The tactics used to disperse the peaceful student demonstrators who dare challenge the government were no different that the dehumanizing tactics used in the civil rights south.
Peaceful protest, sweeping across the Middle East was met in every country with strong arm tactics from the drowning regimes and Yemen is no different.
Soon the peaceful protestors were boxed in much like the Polish Ghetto. Knowing the wall would bring the protestors closer, the government lured them into the trap so the outgoing regime could systematically murder them.
Children caught in the crossfire were wounded and killed. Adult men, hoping for a better future for their families and children saw other supporters fall by way of the bullets as the army, the last ditch effort in every freedom movement, came in and slaughtered the protesters.
When protesters in Yemen added their voices to those of other nations during Arab Spring, the government responded with an attack that left 53 people dead and inspired widespread sympathy throughout the country.
For freedom, many lost their lives and like the majority of the countries affected by the Arab Spring, the leadership resigned with the condition that he be granted full immunity for any crimes committed in his 33 years of authority.
“Facing Fear” (Director: Jason Cohen, USA/English).
“Facing Fear” was surprising as the story begins of these two very different men explaining their lives, and trigger points. Both subject to intolerance and abuse and how that affected them until destiny has their paths cross for one evil moment.
Fast forward the two men recount a dark night buried deeply in the past. One a gay 13-year-old, Matthew Boger explains how he endured a savage beating at the hands of a group of neo-Nazis. The other explains the beating.
Twenty-five years later the two tell the story of how through fate, chance, kismet, happenstance, karma or whatever you call divine intervention, the two grown men working out the poor choices and bad decisions of youth, meet.
They speak of forgiveness, and honestly Matthew Boger is more generous of spirit than most, including myself, as he faces the one who wanted to kill him for simply the reason that he could. His attacker was bigger, stronger, more powerful, aligned with those of like-mindedness and as a lion attacks the weak, he was brutally attacked.
“Facing Fear,” presents a powerful gripping documentary on forgiveness, tolerance, and how we allow ourselves through the crutch of religion or other umbrellas, the freedom to murder, assault and attack without thought, concern or repercussion.
“Cavedigger” (Director Jeffrey Karoff, USA/English)
“Cavedigger,” begins as New Mexico environmental sculptor Ra Paulette walks through the rocky terrain talking of his passion for cave digging. My skepticism for the documentary is echoed by those closest to Ra as he explains his art and work.
Ra Paulette is by definition and trade a cave digger. He carves elaborately designed and painstakingly executed sandstone caves, driven by an artistic vision that only he can see and often brings him into conflict with his patrons.
When the camera first enters the cave, it is as if one is seeing ancient sand script on the walls, as if an archeologist stumbled onto the home of an ancient Navajo Indian complete with artifacts and discovers this amazing room, left for contemporary society to admire.
This is when the documentary begins to turn around. This man, Ra Paulette, as any sculptor has found a hiding place, deep within the recesses of the earth to create his masterpieces.
The caves become more than temples or museums, they are truly masterpieces, works of art that should be preserved.
“Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall” (Director: Edgar Barens, USA/English).
Synopsis: In a maximum security prison, the terminally ill Jack Hall faces his final days with the assistance of hospice care provided by workers drawn from the prison population.
“Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall,” takes us inside the walls of an actual prison, where this man, Jack Hall, a WWII veteran, decorated soldier, is serving a life sentence for murder.
The documentary has unlimited access to the prison hospital ward and to the Hospice unit, as not prisoners are immediately released when they have less than 18 months to live, Private Jack Hall remains in prison.
The Hospice Unit is special as it was totally completed by prisoner donations in both time, building the cabinetry, and the small pittance of salary they receive. The prisoners created an oasis for the dying among them, with care and concern for their fellow inmate. Humanity didn’t end, when the sentence was pronounced and the men of “Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall” prove it.
“Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall” is enlightening.