Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts

I always hope to see the 13-15 ish films that are nominated each year in the short film divisions at the Oscars (live action / animated / documentary) but this year I've seen but one from the Live Action division: the humorous Italian entry The Substitute which is about a very wild teacher who causes chaos in a high school classroom one day (screened at the IIFF). So I'm turning this report over to Brian Darr who writes the informative Hell on Frisco Bay blog (which focuses on the cinephile scene in San Francisco) and who recently completed a stint covering Sundance for GreenCine Daily.

Take it away Brian...

"Thanks to my film festival obsession, I've seen three out of the four documentary shorts nominated for Oscars this year. All three are excellent, but the synopsis of the one I haven't, Freeheld (a dying cop trying to fight for benefits for her lesbian partner), makes it sounds like it could be the most seductive to Oscar. I missed Freeheld when it played Sundance last year, but caught two others in this year's edition of the festival.

Salim Baba (d. Sternberg)

Tim Sternberg's Salim Baba is my sentimental favorite in the category, probably because it's also the one with the least chance to win. It's the shortest and its subject the least consequential, at least upon first glance: a man who pushes a portable cinema cart through the streets of Kolkata, India, where he exhibits spliced-together fragments of old Bollywood films to the delight of children who can't afford to go to a "real" cinema.

La Corona is just as good, with a riveting subject matter: a beauty pageant in a women's prison in Columbia. Terrific characters, very well-directed, amazing access to the prison facility thanks to director Isabel Vega (her co-director Amanda Micheli made the terrific stuntwoman documentary Double Dare, which proved the awesomeness of Zöe Bell well before Death Proof). My only personal reservation with the film is that it seems like it could have been even more effective if expanded to feature-length, and that its 40-minutes-on-the-nose running time (the maximum for this category, and according to imdb Freeheld hits it too) is a naked grab at this Oscar. I guess that's business though. It feels a lot like a winner; a nice mixture of socially-conscious and entertaining. La Corona was an honorable mention for a prize awarded bythe Sundance Shorts Jury, made up of Juno directorJason Reitman, Melonie Diaz (this year's "queen ofSundance" she acted four feature films in the festival), and Jon Bloom, head of the Academy's Short Film section.

Sari's Mother, which I saw not at Sundance but at the San Francisco International Film Festival back in May, is the fourth segment planned for last year's documentary feature nominee Iraq in Fragments. Director James Longley felt it didn't fit with the other three fragments after all, and decided to leave it out of his feature and develop it into a stand-alone short subject. It's probably the most downbeat of the four of Longley's fragments, as it shows a mother trying to get medical care for her young son, who contracted AIDS through a bloodtransfusion. It's pretty bleak, but voters could go for it if they decide they want to acknowledge the war in Iraq."

Thanks, Brian!

And now it turns back over to you readers... Have you seen any of these nominees? Do you want to ? Do you agree with Brian that La Corona is headed for the win for Best Documentary Short?

Related stuff of possible interest: Best Shorts 2007 Oscar Page (more updates to come) * Nick's Flick Picks review of Iraq in Fragments * Planet Hotties: Zöe Bell and other Grindhouse girls *


Anonymous said...

I've actually seen three myself (Sari's Mother, Salim Baba, and Freeheld).

Freeheld is far and away the best of those 3. It's absolutely riveting, from start to finish, with a satisfying end, but it's very depressing, very sad. But that's something this group loves. If you think of a real life documentary between the lines of North Country and Philadelphia, you probably get Freeheld. I've yet to see La Corona, but considering the subject material, I say Freeheld is easily the frontrunner.

FDot said...

It's easy to see the shorts in NYC. The academy is showing the animated and live action shorts on Feb 16 at the DGA theater, and the IFC Center is going to run them also. MOMA is going to show the short documentaries on Feb 17th at 5:00pm. (MOMA has the number to call to reserve tix for the academy screening...only $5.00!)


well I wouldn't call it EASY per se. they do sell out very fast and there's usually only one showing.

so grab your tickets now people.

Brian Darr said...

There's two showings of these shorts at the Sundance Kabuki Theatre in San Francisco, February 19 & 21. I hope to be able to go and see Freeheld for myself at one of its screenings. Sight unseen, it seems like it could be a frontrunner as bblasingame suggests, but I'm not so sure that a depressing, sad film will be able to overcome the compelling/socially relevant one-two punch of La Corona.

Anonymous said...

Salim Baba has some troubles in the form of a main character that feels used by the filmmakers...

This could really negatively affect their changes. Also, don't you think it is too long? It is a nice piece of shooting, but it is a bit slim to take the gold.

Brian Darr said...

I just noticed that article yesterday. I don't think the film had much chance to win an Oscar anyway. I still think it's a lovely piece of filmmaking.

Anonymous said...

Freeheld is riveting. To the writer who stated that it is depressing -- not so...Justice in the end. Plus, it is fascinating. Best pix. for short doc.