2021 Oscar-nominated Documentary Short Films Review

On April 2, 2021, THE 2021 OSCAR NOMINATED SHORT FILMS will be available in over 200 screens across 50+ theatrical markets including New York and Los Angeles and due to theaters being directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, through virtual cinematic releases with a portion of proceeds benefiting the local theaters that are unable to be open during the release. To learn more about the participating theaters (in-person and virtually) and how to purchase tickets, please visit https://tickets.oscar-shorts.com/. This is the only opportunity for audiences to watch the short film nominees in theaters before the Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday, April 25, 2021. Each nominee is released in one of three distinct feature-length compilations according to their category of nomination: Live Action, Animation, or Documentary. 

This year the Oscar-nominated short subject documentaries take us from the Los Angeles, CA where we learn how difficult it can be to survive when people don’t feel certain folks don’t belong. From there we journey to war-torn Yemen to see the efforts of doctors and nurses to save children who are starving to due war. Then it is onto to the protest-filled streets of Hong Kong where the fight for democracy is not easily won. We end finally in Germany by way of France to revisit the horrors of the past in order to grieve in the present.

These five documentaries remind us that regardless of where we are in the world, there are others who are fighting for their place in it. There are other who are grieving losses as we do.  And that there are others working to change the outcomes of the past for those of us in the present.

The Documentary Short nominees are:

A Concerto Is a Conversation (director​s Kris Bowers & Ben Proudfoot, USA, 13 minutes) – We begin in Los Angeles with jazz pianist and composer Kris Bowers as he learns about his family history through conversations with his grandfather who has been diagnosed with cancer. This beautifully shot documentary uses Bowers own concerto as the soundtrack for this journey that begins with his grandfather Horace in the Jim Crow South and winds its way to the stage of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown LA for the debut of Bower’s concerto “For a Younger Self.”

A Love Song for Latasha (director​ Sophia Nahli Allison, USA, 19 minutes) – Less that seven miles away from where Kris Bowers debuted his newest composition, on March 16th, 1991, 15-year-old Latasha Harlins was shot to death by a convenience store owner who thought Latasha was stealing an orange juice that cost $1.79. She died on the floor of the store, clutching $2 in her hand. Her killer served no jail time and Latasha’s death was one of the reasons behind the Los Angeles uprising of 1992. But this documentary does not focus on Latasha’s death, it is instead a more holistic portrait of a life of promise cut short as told by her cousin and best friend.

Hunger Ward (director​ Skye Fitzgerald, USA, 40 minutes) – As we travel across the world, we land in Yemen. A country that many people may only think about as a punchline to a joke from an episode of Friends. However, this war-torn country is on the brink of famine as the Saudi Arabian government has blocked access from humanitarian aid and has left the people of Yemen with almost nothing. This documentary gives us a glimpse into two of the active feeding centers and follows two of the country’s female healthcare workers that are trying to save the children of this country. As Dr. Aida Alsadeeq states at the end of the film, “War plus children equals deprivation.”

Do Not Split (director​ Anders Hammer, USA, Norway, 35 minutes) – While the Unites States saw its own summer of protest in 2020, the people of Hong Kong have been protesting unfair laws, their government, and the police as well. Sparked by the proposal of an unfair extradition bill, the people of Hong Kong took to the streets. And while in the past, the tradition of protest has been one of quietness and respectability, it has become apparent that those forms of protest no longer work. This documentary takes us into the heart of these protests with these activists and into violent clashes with police beginning in the fall of 2019 through present day. And it also captures the strength and sacrifices of the people of Hong Kong to bring democracy to their people.

Colette (director​ Anthony Giacchino, USA, 25 minutes) – Finally, we end in Nordhausen, Germany by way of France as Colette Marin-Catherine, a 90-year-old former French Resistance member goes to visit the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp where her brother Jean-Pierre died three weeks before the American liberation. A difficult trip she had never wanted to take since, “it took me a long time to forget.” While stoic Colette pulls no punches about her memories about her brother even more than 70 years after his death, she lets us into this intimate journey of grief so that Jean-Pierre and the 9,000 other French deportees that died at that concentration camp will not be lost to history.

All five of these nominees are powerful works in their own right. However, I think that Hunger Ward may take home the Oscar. It powerfully captures the causalities of war that people don’t always think about, the children. And while this film is difficult to watch and doesn’t try to package the crisis in Yemen in a neat package, it moves the audience in ways that are hard to ignore.

Darcy Staniforth

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