Best Documentary Short Subject – Oscars 2017

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 d

ocumentary 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.

5 Documentaries You Need To Watch Right Now

Long gone are the days of frantically searching through musty, old encyclopedias that were given to your parents as a wedding gift that they never asked for. Pretending you have any clue what you are doing while fumbling through a library’s card catalogue to find a book on your project that is due tomorrow, is a thing of the past.  Hell, you no longer even have to read the sites recommended from your Google search anymore.

All thanks to a little thing we like to call, the documentary.

Who would have thought that in roughly 90 minutes we could become experts in everything from politics, religion, equalities and wars, to the important things in life, such as sushi, saki, wine, and One Direction.

After countless hours of furthering my education, and more importantly, my ability to beat my friends in touch screen bar trivia games, I have narrowed down the list to the 5 documentaries (all of which were in the iTunes top 200 at some point in the past month) that you must watch the next time you have a spare 90 minutes. AKA, RIGHT NOW. Let’s face it, you’re not as busy as you tell your family, friends, and acquaintances that you are.

 

5. Searching For Sugar Man, 2012

The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley. Richard Marx. Every musician dreams of becoming as beloved, admired, and successful as these pop culture icons. However, only a few have ever achieved such status. Private jets, screaming fans, Graceland, that creepy amusement park place that Michael Jackson lived and had sleepovers with children, wherever the hell Richard Marx lives. These are all just a few of the perks that come along with the recognition of being the best.

But, imagine, if you will, living your entire life, thinking that you were a failure at your passion. Imagine never knowing that you are a living legend on the other side of the world. That is what happened to Sixto Rodriguez, the American musician from the late 1960’s that gained absolutely no recognition here in the States, but somehow managed to become one of the most popular musicians in the history of South Africa.

Searching For Sugar Man is the fascinating, almost unbelievable story of Rodriguez, and his adoring fans on the other side of the world, that were determined to find out what happened to their idol. Did Rodriguez panic at the thought of being a superstar, and pull off the greatest Irish goodbye in music history? Will his South African super fans track him down and demand answers for his disappearance? Can Rodriguez even remember the words to his songs he thought were long erased from even his own memory, let alone the memory of his “fans”? Will Rodriguez be performing with Lady Gaga at Superbowl 51? Watch this inspiring, heart-warming, tear-jerking documentary to find out for yourself.

 

4. Angel of Nanjing, 2015

Remember that time that you bought an iced coffee for the person behind you at Dunkin’ Donuts and felt the need to tell all of your Facebook friends what a wonderful, selfless person you are, and urge them to “Pay It Forward”? Or how about that horrific day when you were walking into the gas station and held the door for three more seconds than you normally would have in order for the stranger THAT DIDN’T EVEN SAY THANK YOU to enter the building without having to be pestered with the nuisance of holding the door themselves. And don’t even mention when last Friday you put $5 into the dress down day bucket, even though you only had to pay $1 to wear your sweatpants to work. We get it, you’re a Saint, and on the fast track to the Pearly gates. Congratulations.

And if you’re a Saint for holding a door, buying an iced coffee, and throwing a crumbled, old, $5 bill into a bucket (be honest, you aren’t going to put a nice, crisp, mint condition bill into the charity bucket), then Chen Si is the new Mother Teresa. Sure, he is a male, Chinese, not a million years old, and I can only assume wouldn’t turn down a free pair of Tom’s Shoes, but he certainly can hold his own when it comes to selflessness, generosity, and pure love for his fellow man.

Angel of Nanjing tells the story of Chen Si, as he volunteers his time to save the lives of

those that wish to take their own lives by jumping off of the Yangtze River Bridge in Nanjing, China. The bridge is one of the most popular places in the world to commit suicide, and over the past 13 years, Si has saved the lives of over 300 strangers.

Filmmakers Frank Ferendo and Jordan Horowitz not only capture Si’s rescue attempts on the bridge, but also follow Si and his recently rescued friend back to Si’s house, where he will shelter them, feed them, and make sure that they have the help that they need to change their outlook on their lives to realize that suicide is not their only option. Chen Si is such a lovable man, and you will be so captivated in his efforts, that you will forget you are reading subtitles after the first few minutes. After all, love has no language. Is that a saying? If not, it should be.*

Anyway, watch it now, and then pay it forward. (preferably when you see me in the car behind you at Dunkin’ Donuts. Or better yet, at the Wine Warehouse).

Upon further research, I did not invent the saying, “Love has no language” it has been…

* 2008 movie from India
* Pop Music EP by Alx Veliz (available here. Might I recommend track 3, “Dancing Kizomba” as it is pretty killer.)
* hindu poem by a poet that simply goes by the name, Gulzar.)

And apparently just a love quote/saying

 

3. Weiner, 2016

* Please insert your own weiner…
jokes, where you deem appropriate, as I couldn’t be bothered.

There are two types of people in this world: people that would never vote for Anthony Weiner for any political office because he is a sleazy, horn-ball that can’t stop taking pictures of his private parts and sending them to woman across the country. And people that would absolutely, positively, vote for Anthony Weiner despite the fact that he is a sleazy, horn-ball, that can’t stop taking pictures of his private parts and sending them to woman across the country.  If you fall in either of those camps, Weiner is for you.

If you dislike Anthony Weiner already, Weiner will solidify your disapproval of the would-be mayor of NYC. If you are a Weiner supporter, Weiner will show you a fun loving side of Weiner, and you will want to stop what you are doing, and help him relaunch his campaign. And if you have no idea who Anthony Weiner is, just Google Image search his name, but make sure you type in his last name twice. Also be sure your safety search setting is off. And be at work.

While I adamantly opposed to adult sexting of any kind, I still found it incredibly difficult to not get behind Weiner. In fact, the film taught me that he actually has everything I am looking for in a politician. He is passionate (albeit, hot-headed), not afraid to fight for what he believes in, he is well worded and intellectual. He also knows how to laugh at himself, can tell a joke, has a strong personality, and is someone I would want to get a beer with and talk about the world.

Despite your feelings towards Weiner, the film gives the viewer a behind the scenes look at a NYC mayoral candidate fighting to gain the vote of his people, even through the most dire setbacks and controversy. Anthony Weiner is the epitome of entertaining, and his cringe-worthy moments of awkwardness caught by the filmmakers, help Weiner follow right in his footsteps.

 

2. Somm, 2013

Who would have ever thought that watching a bunch guys prepare for a test, could be one of the most memorable documentaries in the past three years. Somm is the story of four wine-obsessed guys that are preparing to take their level four Guild of Master Sommelier’s exam, a test that is known by many to be the most difficult test in the world.

No matter how much of a wine snob you consider yourself to be, Somm will quickly put you in your place, and make you realize that every last piece of wine knowledge you have, is just a fraction of what a level four sommelier needs to retain.

Somm is humorous, fast paced, and will appeal to viewers despite their level of wine knowledge. Above all, Somm is a motivational, inspirational documentary about following your passions, and pursuing your dreams, no matter how intimidating they may be.

After watching Somm, I was so inspired that I decided to see for myself just how difficult the test was. So, I decided to sign up for the level one Court of Master Sommelier’s exam. After months of studying and the tedious task of practicing my wine tasting skills, I took the level one exam, and can safely say, that the LEVEL ONE exam is far and away the hardest test I have ever taken in my life (and after attaining 4 teaching certifications, a masters degree in New Media Journalism, a teaching English as a second language certification, and literally hundreds of BuzzFeed personality tests to determine which Saved By The Bell character I am, which Survivor contestant I would most likely align with, which Disney Princess I am, or which cult I would have the most fun in if I decided to join) that is saying a lot.

 

1. Holy Hell (2016)

Who hasn’t wanted to quit their jobs, leave their friends and families, and abandon all their personal belongings to move to a secluded part of California and follow a “spiritual leader” on a path to a new enlightenment?

Warning: after watching the first 20 minutes of Holy Hell, you will begin to question every rational decision you have ever made, and regret not opting for cult life right out of high school.

Holy Hell is the riveting, unbelievable story of a group of people that decided to follow “The Teacher, aka. Michel” on the spiritual journey of all spiritual journeys. Known as The Buddhafield, the group of of followers were promised by their leader that they would receive love, happiness, and spiritual fulfillment if they followed his guidelines.

Using actual footage from film maker, and Buddhafield documentarian, Will Allen, Holy Hell follows the impressionable, misguided group of hippy’s as they reach a level of euphoria that they never knew existed, only to have their world collapse around them as they uncovered the deep, dark secrets of their leader.

While a weekend getaway with the early days of  The Buddhafield still seems like a party I would pay to attend, Holy Hell quickly reminds us that this we should all thank our lucky stars, and our parents, for not allowing us to drop everything and follow a deranged self-proclaimed “God”, on a journey to spiritual enlightenment.