Of the twenty-four categories, The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences devotes three categories to honor achievement in a short subject: Animation, Documentary, and Live Action. Submissions must be less than 40 minutes in length and have held a seven-day theatrical run in either Los Angeles County or the Borough of Manhattan during the eligibility period (October 1, 2012 – September 30, 2013 for Animation and Live Action, September 1, 2012 – August 31, 2013 for Documentary).
Shorts HD TV have done an excellent job making these shorts more and more available to the movie going public. Each category collects and exhibits all five nominees for the price of one feature-length movie. If a trip to the theater doesn’t excite you, then all will be available via iTunes, Amazon Instant, Xfinty, VOD, and the usual rental suspects. Click here to see where you can find the nominated short subjects in theater near you, and here for download and streaming options.
Dating back to 1941, the Academy has awarded an Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject. Documentaries always pose an interesting look into our world, because they go where cameras rarely tread. The 2014 nominees are no different as they venture into worlds where we are allowed to witness the last days of a prisoner in hospice, follow a cave digger explore and realize his passion and dreams in New Mexico, learn how music saved the life of a now 109 year-old pianist, join protestors in Yemen, and reunite two men who occupied both sides of a heinous crime on the streets of Los Angeles. I implore you to check out these five shorts, they will open your eyes to a whole new world.
The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life – At 109 years old, Alice Herz Sommer is the world’s oldest pianist. Every day at 10:00, she plays beautiful renditions of Bach, Beethoven, and the usual classical repertoire. Today, the music gives her purpose and keeps her young (at 109, she is amazingly sharp as a tack), but her skills also saved her life. Alice was living and performing in Prague when the Nazi’s rounded her and her family up and boarded them on trains to Auschwitz. Because of her musical talent, Alice was sent to Theresienstadt Concentration Camp, where she and other musicians performed for the S.S. “Music saved my life and Music saves me still,” Alice says with an ever-present smile, “I have lived through many wars and have lost everything many times – including my husband, my mother and my beloved son. Yet, life is beautiful, and I have so much to learn and enjoy. I have no space nor time for pessimism and hate.” What joy it would be to enjoy a cup of tea with someone with such thoughtfulness. What bliss it would be to sit and listen to her play Bach. What luck that director Malcolm Clarke captured Alice’s love, life, and passion for us all to bask in.
Directed By: Malcolm Clarke Running time: 39 minutes
Karama Has No Walls – Friday, March 18, 2011, Juma’at El-Karama (Friday of Dignity) was one of the most monumental days of Yemen’s recent history. Spurred on by The Arab Spring and the fall of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, thousands of protestors and demonstrators gathered in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. Tent City quickly grew and became “Change Square” were all stood in solidarity, until pro-government snipers opened fired on them. Fifty-three were shot dead. Many of the younger protestors filmed events of the demonstrations and subsequent attacks. These images were broadcast on Al-Jazeera, but not on most American outlets. The revolution may not have been televised, but it was recorded in all of its horror. Karama Has No Walls is peppered with interviews from the protestors and their family members, but it is the cinema vérité footage that speaks volumes.
Directed By: Sara Ishaq Running time: 26 minutes
Facing Fear – Twenty-five years ago, one senseless violent hate crime in an Oki Dog’s parking lot changed two men’s lives. The victim was Matthew Boger, a gay thirteen-year-old who found himself at the wrong place at the wrong time. The victimizer was Tim Zaal, a Neo-Nazi out looking to bust some skulls. Years later, their lives intersected once more, this time under much different circumstances, at The Museum for Tolerance in Los Angeles. Tim had reformed his hateful ways and Matthew was working to help spread stories of compassion and acceptance, and here was a perfect opportunity for the two of them to draw on their own lives to help others. Matthew and Tim use their story to show others how it is possible to overcome, change, and mend bridges. Both agree that that particular night in the Oki Dog parking lot was the lowest point in their respective lives, but they willingly recreate that moment for strangers and relive those emotions day after day.
Directed By: Jason Cohen Running Time: 23 minutes
Cavedigger – Ra Paulette digs cathedral-like structures out of sandy rock structures in New Mexico. He does not have a degree is structural engineering, nor does he use any tools more advanced than a pick and level. He simply uses his common sense and desire for artistic expression. However, creating caves like this takes years, and those commissioning these caves have their own schedules and ideas. Ra, like any other artist, is smack dab in the middle between art and commerce. It would be nice if he could craft directly from the heart, but you gotta pay the bills. As of 2010, Ra began work on his magnum opus, a ten-year project that he will work on without any input from anyone else.
Directed By: Jeffrey Karoff Running Time: 39 minutes
Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall – George W. Hall, or Jack to his friends, was a Private First Class during WWII. He fought in Africa, Europe, was a Prisoner of War in Germany, and was cruelly marched from the Russian front to the American front over the course of three months. Events like this shape and scar a person, and it led Hall down a path of drink. That path came to an abrupt halt when he killed his son’s dope dealer after his son hung himself. Hall was given a life prison sentence and in the last few weeks, he allowed access to director Edgar Barens and his crew to watch as he withered from this life.
Dying is the one thing everyone has to do, knows that it is coming, and how they approach it speaks volumes about their beliefs and character. How we help those exiting speaks to our compassion toward others. Barens gives a very direct and stark approach to this moment in life, and shows that no matter the how and why, everyone wants to die with dignity. The fellow prisoners want to make Hall as comfortable as possible for his last few days, but they also want to makes sure that he, and other inmates, don’t have to suffer the humiliation and pain of dying alone. Hall is a compelling subject, as is one of his sons who has mended past transgressions with his father, but it is the convicts and their desire to return dignity and humanity to Hall on his last fourteen days that touched me deeply.
Directed By: Edgar Barens Running Time: 40 minutes
When film critic Roger Ebert received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005, his remarks spoke to the empathetic power of cinema, “Movies are the most powerful empathy machine in all the arts. When I go to a great movie I can live somebody else’s life for a while. I can walk in somebody else’s shoes. I can see what it feels like to be a member of a different gender, a different race, a different economic class, to live in a different time, to have a different belief.” Here are five chances to feel like someone else, to walk around in someone else’s shoes, and to understand what life is like for others. Of the five nominees, Karama Has No Walls was the one that grabbed me by the collar and forced me to watch a part of this world sadly overlooked, but it will be Prison Terminal and the passing of PFC George W. Hall that will stay with me for quite some time.