2024 Oscar-Nominated Documentary Short Films Review

Starting February 16, the 19th annual Oscar Nominated Short Films will be available in over 700 theaters globally and in 75+ theatrical markets including New York and Los Angeles. This is the only opportunity for audiences to watch all of the short film nominees in theaters before the 96th Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday, March 10, 2024. To learn more about the participating theaters and how to purchase tickets which are now available, please visit www.shorts.tv/theoscarshorts. Each nominee is released in one of three distinct feature-length compilations according to their category of nomination: Live Action, Animation, or Documentary.

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The nominees are:

Island in Between (director S. Leo Chiang; Taiwan, USA; 20 min)

S. Leo Chiang explores the liminal space that the Island of Kinmen holds in the larger history of the tension and conflict between Taiwan and China. And while exploring this space, Chiang also explores his identity as an ethnically Chinese man born and raised in Taiwan while he experiences the triangle of tension formed in the wake of relations between the U.S., Taiwan, and China.

Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó (director Sean Wang; USA; 16 min)

Shot by their grandson, Sean Wang, Nǎi Nai & Wài Póare are two women who were brought together as in-laws through marriage, but now live together in their elder years as the world they know changes and their friends pass away. While the two consider one another like sisters, they each have different outlooks as they approach the end of their lives.

The ABCs of Book Banning (director Sheila Nevins; USA; 27 min)

This short examines the books that have been banned, challenged, or restricted in the United States of America. After providing age-appropriate books to students, the filmmakers gathered the reactions of these children who just don’t understand why these books pose such a threat. Their reactions are complimented by excerpts from some of the over 2,000 banned, challenged, and restricted books in the United States.

The Barber of Little Rock (directors John Hoffman, Christine Turner; USA; 35 min)

Little Rock, Arkansas community leader Arlo Washington has trained over 1,500 new barbers since opening his barber college in 2008. And since 2016, he has helped additional community members through his non-profit loan fund, People Trust. This doc examines the ever-growing wealth gap in the United States that continues to disproportionately affect Black Americans and how Washington and his collaborators are working to close that gap and provide real opportunities to their community.

The Last Repair Shop (directors Ben Proudfoot, Kris Bowers; USA; 39 min)

The Los Angeles Unified School District is one of the last school districts in the country to provide freely repaired instruments to its students. Since 1959, this repair shop has fixed over 80,000 instruments. Through interviews with some the students who benefit from its services, and some of the staff in the four different repair departments, this film demonstrates how access to music can save lives.

All five of these documentaries are definitely worthy of their nominations. They are all powerful and drew me in emotionally in different ways. However, I think that The Barber of Little Rock will take home the golden statue this year. In its short run time, this film is able to examine the larger issues of systemic racism and financial inequity through a micro lens that brings into focus how large and deeply rooted these things are in the fabric of the nation.

Darcy Staniforth

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