By: Oberst von Berauscht & Henry J. Fromage –
This year’s Oscar-nominated documentary shorts are about as depressing as you’d expect, tackling refugees, Syria, ICUs, and the Holocaust (which is the happiest of the bunch by far).
Oberst: Welcome to the most depressing 20 minutes of your day. The film follows the lives of several people dying as the doctors and family discuss whether to hook them up to feeding/breathing tubes, or whether that would just prolong the inevitable. The Doc makes clear that there is no one correct answer, and it’s a horrible decision that many people have to deal with at the end of their family member’s lives. I found it almost unwatchably bleak. The film’s main purpose seems to be to convince its audience to consider formalizing whether “do not resuscitate” should be noted on your medical records…
Henry: There’s certainly not much of an arc or thesis, and there are some lines and imagines in these scant few minutes that will stick with me for years in an entirely unwelcome way, but Extremis does shed a light on the messy particulars of the universal experience of dying in a place full of it.
Oberst: Just off the coast of the Greek Island of Lesbos, 4.1 miles off the coast of Turkey, a patrol boat from Greece’s Coast Guard has become a focal point in the European Migrant Crisis. Thousands of migrants are fleeing the Middle East for numerous reasons, all with dreams of asylum, and hopefully a better chance at life. The migrants are victimized by professional smugglers, who forcefully rush them into the sea-crossing, often disturbingly under-equipped for the journey. This documentary brings a human face to the refugees and to the overworked coast guardsman tasked with saving them. Something so often ignored in the media, which tends to focus on statistics, and less on the fact that these are people in crisis.
Henry: In a conversation Oberst also called this the most succinct education on the refugee crisis in a year full of films approaching it from different angles, which is entirely correct. That we also have Danish and Italian and German versions of much of the same shows how much of the world is invested in stories like this.
Oberst: When 91 year old Holocaust Survivor Joe finds himself unable to play his prized violin anymore, he donates it to charity. The violin is given to a 12 year old girl from The Bronx, NY to learn on, and a tender meeting is arranged to thank Joe for his gift of music. Even if a bit maudlin, Joe’s Violin is a very beautiful little slice of life documentary. Very earnest and inspiring; two beers…
Henry: Agree with that rating- this documentary short may not be formally daring, but earns its feels honestly.
Watani: My Homeland
Henry: This approaches the refugee crisis and Syria from a very personal angle, following the family of a rebel over several years as they weather the constant bombings, undergo tragedy, and flee to first Turkey and then the almost alien comforts and liberties of Germany. A human face to the people the Land of the Free is currently trying to shut the door to, who very much qualify as tired, and poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
Oberst: It is incredible that this became a documentary short at all, as the film follows the same family over multiple years of the Civil War in Syria. Who knows what direction their lives would have taken? As it turns out, this is a fascinating family, and their story sends the singular message of the human struggle to adapt to disaster.
The White Helmets
Henry: For my money, though, this is the class of these shorts. It lets the incredibly brave White Helmets of Syria tell their own story, one by which car mechanics and librarians and teachers become true superheroes, risking it all to dig survivors out of buildings collapsed by the years-long pounding all sides of the conflict subject their homes to. Real, self-less courage.
Oberst: The White Helmets tells a story of true-life heroes who defy any political focus. Their job is to save lives; anyone’s lives, everyone’s lives. Braving the daily reality of bombings, the White Helmets of Syria deserve being highlighted. This film does that job, and incredibly well.