While movies like LaLa Land, Hidden Figures, and Moonlight have created quite the buzz this Oscar season, perhaps the most important films from 2016 are the ones that you have likely never heard of.
Odds are, if you have heard any conversation about the 2017 Academy Awards Ceremony, or ANY Academy Awards Ceremony for that matter, you heard movie-goers making their predictions for the major categories of Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, and Best Actress in a Leading Role, etc.
Additionally, when watching the Academy Awards Ceremony, when you hear the presenter announce to the crowd “I am here to present the award for Best Documentary Short Subject,” you use it as your cue to make some popcorn, grab another beer from the fridge, or even fast forward through the “boring” category.
While I have watched all nine Best Picture Nominees, and enjoyed each of them in their own way, I am here to tell you that if you watch anything in preparation for the ceremony, the nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject are, without a doubt, the most important.
Each documentary is between 20 and 40 minutes long, and focuses on hot-button issues such as immigration, end of life decision-making, the Holocaust, and the daily airstrikes targeting innocent civilians in Syria.
Anyone that says “I can’t watch those, they are way too depressing,” is exactly what is wrong with humanity. They are sad, they are uncomfortable, and they will very likely make you cry at some point. But they are also touching stories about the good in people and how behind every terrible situation is a hero that deserves to have their story told.
Each of the following documentaries deserves to be awarded, but nevertheless, I will rank them from least to most likely to win the Oscar.
* The documentary Watani: My Homeland, the story of one family’s struggle to survive the Syrian Civil War, is not yet available to be watched online. Therefore, will not be included in the countdown. It will be ranked as soon as it becomes available. The trailer is below.
Best Documentary Short Subject
4) 4.1 Miles by Daphne Matziaraki (21 minutes)
“The world needs to know about this. We can’t be going through this alone,” yells one of the citizens in the community of the small Greek island that has been bombarded with over 600,000 refugees fleeing from Turkey over the past few years. The refugees attempt the 4.1 mile trek across the Aegean Sea to try to begin new lives.
But instead of focusing on the fleeing refugees, 4.1 Miles tells the story of the Greek Coast Guard that is in charge of rescuing the refugees as they approach their homeland. Perhaps the most unbelievable part of the entire 21 minute documentary is the fact that just 4.1 miles can separate a luxurious, elegant, Greek island from what many would consider to be Hell on Earth.
The story is tragic, as not all the refugees survive the trek, but the heroic acts of the Coast Guard, combined with the hospitality and acceptance of the refugees from the Greek community will make you thankful that such kind-hearted, selfless people exist.
Watch the documentary in its entirety below, or follow the link to their website.
3. The White Helmets by Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara (40 minutes)
CURRENTLY AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX
The White Helmets tells the story of a group of volunteer first responders that report to the site of the daily airstrikes that take place on civilians in Syria. The men are responsible for saving the lives of over 58,000 civilians since 2013.
Even as heartbreak and tragedy are happening all around them, including their own families, they risk their lives to find survivors in the post air strike rubble.
These men are heroes in every sense of the word, and 40 minutes almost doesn’t seem like enough time to honor the work that they do. Not since Baby Jessica was rescued from the well has a baby rescue scene been so miraculous. And the immediate bond and love the men have for the baby is about as beautiful as a moment can get.
Watch this documentary and if you can, support these heroes by considering making a charitable donation to their cause by following this link.
2. Joe’s Violin by Kahane Cooperman and Raphaela Neihausen (24 minutes)
Joe’s Violin is the story of an unlikely friendship between a 92-year-old Holocaust survivor, and a 12-year-old girl from the Bronx.
Both avid fans of the violin, the two form a deep bond over one very special instrument. One day Joe hears a commercial that a local drive is taking place where people can donate instruments that they no longer find useful. He decided to donate his 70-year-old violin that he purchased after being released from the concentration camps once the Holocaust ended.
The violin makes its way into the hands of Brianna Perez, along with a description of Joe’s story and why the violin is so special.
It is the most heart-warming of all the short documentaries nominated this year, but that doesn’t mean you won’t cry. In fact, have your damn tissues nearby when watching this beauty.
Watch the documentary in its entirety below. Or visit the website to learn more about Joe and Brianna.
1. Extremis by Dan Krauss (24 minutes)
CURRENTLY AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX
Extremis is the heartbreaking documentary that follows the end-of-life decision-making process of doctors, patients and their families. It is a topic that many are scared to touch upon, as it can be quite controversial and harrowing.
Krauss, however, beautifully captures the step-by-step decision process from all ends, and flawlessly relays to the audience the sincere emotions of all parties involved.
One would think that the families going through the process would want privacy in such a tragic moment of their lives, but the truth of the matter is that the vast majority of families have, or will have to go through the exact same stages of decision-making for a loved one at some point in their lives.
It may be the most depressing documentary you have seen in a very long time, but it will also help you to realize how short, precious, unpredictable and beautiful life can be.
Watch the trailer below, or the documentary in its entirety on Netflix.
For who should win Best Supporting Actor click here.