“CaveDigger” – Jeffrey Karoff
The Documentary Shorts are well represented this year with the many different types of documentaries. “CaveDigger” is a casual documentary with zero urgency that brings a man’s hobby and attempt at employment to the screen as he digs extravagant caves in New Mexico, all without plans. With just an idea in his mind and some hand tools, he works alone for very little pay and rarely gets to finish his work. He’s also building a cave of his own in his backyard but due to challenges that doesn’t work out during the course of this film. But “CaveDigger” lacks the politics of most documentaries and is not bringing anything to our attention and instead is basically to introduce us to this man and then allow us to be entertained. But this does not mark a best of the year by any means.
“Facing Fears” – Jason Cohen
“Facing Fears” brings awareness to some issues while landing on the idea of destiny and how small the world is. Introducing two very different men who lived very different lives, Matthew Boger is a gay man that was thrown out of his house at a very young age and lived on the streets of Los Angeles. Savagely beaten by neo-Nazis at thirteen years old, Matthew barely escaped with his life, to which the neo-Nazis had no idea. Fast forward to adulthood and Matthew is managing the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles and suddenly finds himself sitting across from one of the neo-Nazis who tried to end his life. Through public speaking and working together at the Museum, Matthew finds a way to forgive the other man, but this bizarre story is spellbinding as you become aware of how these men know each other. I can see why the film-makers wanted to make this documentary and it does provide for some entertaining portions, but again, I do not feel like this lands as the best of the year.
“Karama Has No Walls” – Sara Ishaq
If you watched “The Square” this year about the revolution in Egypt, “Karama Has No Walls” has a very similar feel with the same exact political movements under the same basic regime. However, “The Square” is feature length and spans over years, following many different characters while “Karama Has No Walls” follows one isolated event where a wall was put up and the peaceful sit-in turns into a massacre of men, women, and children, to which people effected are presenting their stories. Definitely containing a political message, you do not gain anything from this that wasn’t in “The Square”, which is unfortunate for this because it will grab much less press than the Netflix produced feature. That being said, there’s also very little connection to the people. We are hardly introduced to them and some of the camera footage looks to be shot on a phone. I agree that no matter the quality of the footage, the message and imagery should be just as powerful, but “The Square” ruined me with the amazing footage and leaves me wanting more from this short. Again, I do not see this short winning the category.
“The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life” – Malcolm Clarke and Nicholas Reed
Alice Herz Sommer was the oldest living pianist and more importantly was the oldest living Holocaust survivor, to which the documentary “The Lady in Number 6” pertains. It’s a shame that she died two days before the Oscar votes were placed but with that I hope people swayed their vote to this short even more because of that fact. In interviews with her and her friends, we are privy to her life and her philosophies. She was one of the kindest, most thought old women I’ve ever seen and for what she’d been through and the husband and son that she’d lost, she was one of the most upbeat and inspirational females I’ve ever eard speak. And at the age of 109, she could still speak and play piano like someone 30-40 years her younger. Her passing carries that torch to the next oldest Holocaust survivor, but for the short to have been made when it was made was a stroke of genius and makes it so that this short could never be recreated. The stories were inspirational, the woman was a treat, and I am pulling for this short to win Best Documentary Short.
“Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall” – Edgar Barrens
Truth be told, by the end of “Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall” I was crying. Following the incarceration of war veteran Jack Hall after one of his sons committed suicide and, in defending his son, murdering a man, Jack is in jail for the rest of his life, which, when we meet him, already feels like it won’t be too long. Helped around in a wheelchair by an inmate that volunteers his time, the connection these two felons have is awe-inspiring to say the least. The viewer is also introduced to the new hospice care systems that are being instated in a few prisons, where older, ailing inmates can spend their last days, being visited by their family members and being cared for by volunteering and rehabilitating inmates on a daily basis. The tears came from seeing this man’s repentance and coming to terms with his final days and being their when the man dies, surrounded by inmates and son that cares for him, is such a touching moment, it doesn’t matter who this man is. It killed me in the best of ways and I would love to see it win as this was my favorite of the five films, but it’s just not the one I think will win.