The 84th Academy Awards is almost here! Leading up to the event, we’re going to put all the hours we spent watching these films to good use by giving our thoughts on all the categories, big and small. We may not be experts on everything, but I daresay that’s never stopped anyone from blogging before. On the (very remote chance) you disagree with us or the (much more likely chance) you want to applaud our picks, please chime in below.

Documentary (Short Subject)

The nominees are:

  • The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement
  • God is the Bigger Elvis
  • Incident in New Baghdad
  • Saving Face
  • The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom


I had a fantastic time watching the Documentary Shorts this year. A common complaint I have with documentaries is that they don’t have enough material to stretch to a proper full-length feature. Some topics can be appropriately addressed in less time. Several of these documentaries left me wanting more, an issue I don’t often have.

Two really stand out. One is Saving Face, about the plight of women in Pakistan who have been disfigured by acid attacks. Usually husbands or other family members commit these attacks, but sometimes it’s even a spurned suitor. Even worse, many have no other place to turn and return to those that hurt them. The film peeks into the lives of these women as they try to bring their attackers to justice and learn to readjust their lives. A Pakistani ex-pat plastic surgeon living in the UK has come home to repair their faces as best as he can. He can never get them back to how they were before, but his work is astounding. With some adjustments to the legal system, a support network, and some medical assistance, perhaps their lives are not as ruined as they initially believed. It’s quite a powerful film highlighting a serious issue that leaves you with a sense of hope.

Beating it out by a nose for me is The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom. Director Lucy Walker had already planned to make a film about cherry blossoms when the Japanese tsunami hit. She shifted the scope of her film and was in the country just a few weeks after the disaster. The first portion of the film focuses on the tsunami in a particularly hard-hit region. The opening scene is horrifying raw footage of waves sweeping away the town and its people. A survey of the physical and human toll follows. But then the film changes focus and discusses the cherry tree and its importance in Japanese culture. At first this turned me off a bit. Not only am I more interested in the tsunami but people waxing poetic about nature isn’t often my thing (see how much I hated the 2011 festival darling Nostalgia for the Light). But then the film begins to subtly connect the cherry blossoms and the tsunami. Victims talk about the hope the cherry blossoms bring them as spring settles in. Others discuss how the fleeting nature of the cherry blossom flowers – which bloom and flutter away over a short period of time – reminds them of the impermanence of human life. One couple points out a blossoming tree next to their destroyed house. Their neighbors planted it when their son was born 20-plus years ago. Now the neighbors and their house are swept away but the tree blooms again.

These sort of beautiful sentiments make for an extraordinarily moving film. The subjects (or their translations) make some amazingly profound and touching observations. Walker captures some gorgeous images to back up these voice overs, particularly of trees blooming among the tsunami wreckage. An original score by Moby just adds to the majesty. This film is gorgeous, enthralling, and moving.

The other two shorts in the package I didn’t like quite as much. Incident in New Baghdad is the one I think really needed to be longer. It explores one soldier’s disillusionment with the Iraq war through one incident where a helicopter strike kills several people. This is also the same attack that got world attention when WikiLeaks leaked it. There’s so much more to this story that the short barely touches. Clearly it wanted to keep the scope narrow or else the film would have been longer, but the result could have been really powerful. Meanwhile, The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement has the interesting idea of exploring the Civil Rights movement through an ordinary participant. I like the concept but I think it needed to tie together some of its ideas better.