Best Documentary Short Film

Redemption (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Redemption (2013)
85th Academy Awards 2013
2/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Documentary Short Subject (Jon Alpert, Matthew O’Neill).
Watched June 30, 2014.

Redemption is a unique view of life in New York.  On the very doorstep of nice homes and large buildings, condominiums and the Empire State Building itself, the impoverished of the city spend endless hours, day in and day out, collecting bottles and cans from trashcans in order to redeem them for five cents a piece.

This documentary short follows a basic premise to tell a sad story.  It follows different people, from veterans and the elderly, to immigrants and single mothers.  Some of them live on the streets and band together from a mutual need of safety.  Others live in a one room apartment with at least six other people.  Some New Yorkers help the collectors, while others turn a blind eye.

The one bedroom apartment is like a scene from hoarders.  It makes the situation more real and brings the message of the film home.  It doesn’t matter where you come from.  There is a woman who worked for Microsoft for years, but now her Social Security benefits don’t cover everything and she has to can all day, fighting with an angry and overly competitive Chinese woman who will steal your cans right from under you.  Each person has a story.

The film is very transparent.  It doesn’t seek to hide its message or motives under artistic camera work or in-studio interview footage.  It is all on the streets.  There is little to no symbolism.  It is simple.  This probably makes it more powerful, and yet from an artistic standpoint it is very blah and unimpressive.  It transitions from character to character well, and it tells their stories even better, but there is nothing else to it.  Perhaps its length limited it, but its rawness was a negative for me.

The documentary is less than half an hour long.  If the story sounds interesting to you, then I would definitely recommend it.  I am a lover of documentaries and don’t consider my time wasted by viewing it.  It did open my eyes a bit more to the poverty around us, which is probably the biggest goal of the film, and therefore it did its job.  However, in my opinion, a film should exceed the bounds of just “doing its job” in order to deserve an Oscar nomination.

Mondays at Racine (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Mondays at Racine (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Documentary Short (Cynthia Wade, Robin Honan).
Watched March 12, 2014.

Mondays at Racine is a well done documentary short that is so much more than just a story about women with cancer.  The two sisters who own a hair salon open their doors to women diagnosed with cancer once a month and give out much more than a free hair cut.


The story follows a couple women with breast cancer, while featuring a few others.  The owners’ roles in the film are very small.  They have painful, personal experience with cancer, but they also realize that in our society, and especially in Jersey, women have a very distinct idea of what beauty is.  They want women to feel beautiful, especially when going through cancer because they have enough to worry about already.  This is their way of giving back, and they make a good point that they get so much out of the experience that is is almost selfish.  It makes them forget or dismiss their own troubles while helping these women.


One of the main cancer fighters has been fighting for years, defying all odds and living over a decade beyond what the doctors told her she would live.  She mentors younger women with recent diagnoses in emotional aspects, but also when it comes to surgery and treatments.


It was a great forty minutes watching this film, but I cried a lot.  The story telling was okay, the editing was okay, but the people were phenomenal.  Our world emphasizes beauty, and these women are truly beautiful.

Inocente (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Inocente (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award, which it won.
Won Best Documentary, Short Subject (Sean Fine, Andrea Nix Fine).
Watched January 21, 2014.


Inocente is definitely an Academy type documentary, and I can see by their standards how it stood out.  I haven’t watched any of the other shorts yet from this year so I’m not sure how they compare.  However, I’m not sure that Inocente would have won in my book, and here is why.


I thought it was fairly average.  The story had power and the colors and symbolism were there, but I felt that its stillness and quiet moments were a large weak point.  As a fan of photography and cinematography alike, I understand and can appreciate how just one frame or photograph can speak volumes.  In Inocente, those frames were so repetitive that the forty minute short felt like seventy.


Inocente Izucar is a 15 year old living in San Diego, California.  For all intents and purposes, she is homeless.  She has never lived one place more than three months at a time and knows most, if not all of the shelters in and around her county.  None of her friends from school know.  She has found healing in art, so much so that she can’t even keep it off her face.  She paints her face every morning, dons her bright red converse, and is off.  She enjoys being alone and does not spend a lot of time with her family, but instead at ARTS (A Reason To Survive) where she paints bright scenes from her dreams.


Inocente is chosen by the director of ARTS to be one of two chosen to host their own art show.  She creates thirty pieces in a couple months, and then sells them for twelve thousand dollars towards the program and her college fund.  The documentary follows her artistic journey and uses the art pieces as background as she narrates over the top, sharing stories of the past.  She and her family are living illegally in the United States, and Inocente feels like it is her fault that they are homeless and running scared.  Her abusive father was deported years ago, and Inocente feels directly responsible.  At only eleven years old, her mother pleaded with her that they should both jump off the Coronado bridge.  Inocente had to talk her down.


Despite the power in her words and story, I felt like the story telling was weak.  The people were all respectfully represented, but there was little shown of the difficulty of their life.  There was so much time spent in the art studio and so much less on just her life that although Inocente shared many stories and many things, very few things stood out as emotionally grabbing.  The colors and camera work were well done, as far as MTV goes, but I am surprised that the film gained an Oscar from the Academy.


Inocente’s story seems like it would be fascinating, and her way of telling it is raw and real.  She feels awkward at first, not knowing how to start.  Her art is a central focus, and perhaps that was the goal.  Perhaps she and the Fines wished her art to tell her story more than her words.  They wanted it to be brighter and more positive.  I can understand that, but I guess it just was not my cup of tea.


If the story I relayed for you sounds interesting, I would recommend the film to you.  Obviously a lot of other people really enjoyed it, I was just more indifferent to it than they were.  I will say this, though–the colors were absolutely beautiful, as was Inocente.  I wish her the very best.

Saving Face (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

Saving Face (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012.
5/5 Stars.
Nominated for 1 award, which it won.
Won Best Documentary Short (Daniel Jungo, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy).
Watched January 1, 2013.


Saving Face is about 40 minutes long, which is a bit more than I had bargained for when I originally sat down to watch it.  Don’t worry husband, I said.  It’s only a short, I said.  We can watch something else when I’m done, I said.  But after waiting for it to load and then watching through it, our night was spent, poor guy.  Not poor me, on the other hand.


First of all, I will refresh your memory and say that documentaries are my passion.  I am a videographer by trade and am pursuing a career in documentary editing.  Instead of being more critical of documentaries, however, I can find little fault so far in the nominated films I have watched, Saving Face being among them, and very deserving of its win.


It was created by Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and is about the ever growing pool of victims in Pakistan who suffer burn scars resulting from acid attacks.  About 100 acid attacks are reported every year, and even more go unreported.  Usually it is women who are attacked, and usually by someone they know, such as a father, uncle, husband, brother, or even, as one woman reported, a man who was refused her hand in marriage.  Some women are attacked when they are children, many women are attacked while they are sleeping, and some are even attacked by their mother-in-law.  They all have to live with scars that not only disfigure their faces, but “ruin their lives.”  The longer the scars go untreated, the more painful and debilitating they can become.


Saving Face follows two main women, Zakia and Rukhsana.  Zakia was being abused by her husband and when she went to seek a divorce from him, he stopped her outside the building and threw acid on her.  The entire left side of her face, including her eye, is destroyed.  She was so ashamed by it that she would not leave the house without covering her head and face completely–sunglasses and all.  She had her husband sent to jail and took him to court.


Rukhsana’s story is devastating.  Her husband threw acid on her, her sister-in-law threw gasoline on her, and her mother-in-law lit a match and set her on fire.  When she left them, she could not support her children, and thus she was forced to make amends with them.  In tears, she shows us how her family has built a brick wall (literally) between her and her children and she cannot see them any more.


Another plot line of the documentary follows Dr. Mohammad Jawad, a Pakistani plastic surgeon who practices in London, but comes back regularly after hearing about the acid attacks.  He is equally devastated by the stories he hears from the women, and after speaking with Rukhsana he removes his glasses and covers his eyes.  He is very literally saving the faces of these women by spending hours in the operating rooms helping restore a bit of what they once had so that they can continue to heal emotionally.


Their stories are terrifying as well as infuriating.  Zakia is a strong example for her son and daughter, both of whom wear their love and respect for their mother clearly on their faces.  Her son is grown and he walks with her almost everywhere she goes, and is with her as she prosecutes her ex-husband, who denies ever having thrown the acid.


There is justice and there is sadness in this documentary.  It is very touching, and shows a glimpse into a culture you might not know much about.  This of course does not define all of the Pakistani people, but it is an awful part of it that their government is working to correct.


I would definitely recommend that you watch this film.  If you want to see some women kicking butt and being a strong example for their children, this is the documentary to watch.


Sources: IMDBNakedge FilmsSharmeen Obaid FilmsThe GuardianAbu Dhabi Film Festival

God Is The Bigger Elvis (2011) Review | Jamie

God Is The Bigger Elvis (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Documentary Short (Rebecca Cammisa, Julie Anderson).
Watched November 11, 2012.

The only information I ever had about nuns is what I have seen in the movies.  Thank you, Whoopi Goldberg for your contributions to my worldview!  I have never known a nun personally, and since seeing this documentary short, I have gained an enormous amount of respect for the lovely ladies who choose to completely give their lives over to serving God.


There are many different ways to serve God, and being a nun is not for everyone, but it was for Hollywood actress Dolores Hart.  Some of you may know her as Elvis Presley’s famous first on screen kiss in “Loving You,” as well as from several other films from 1957 – 1963.  She was living the dream, both in films, broadway, and love.  She starred alongside big names and was engaged to an architect, but still felt unfulfilled.  A few years into her career she visited a monastery in Bethlehem, Connecticut to rest and meditate after a draining stint on Broadway.  She was fascinated, but was sent away at the end of her rest with promises that being a nun was not for her.


The documentary jumps back and forth from the present, showing Dolores, now Mother Prioress as a 73 year old nun who still radiates the same beauty that she did as a 19 year old woman.  She talks about the blessings of her life, as well as the difficulties.  She discusses her Hollywood life with extreme transparency and it is almost as if it is the most normal life one could live.  She now mentors novice nuns and helps them adjust to their new life.


There are a few plot turns, including her ex-fiancé, but as Mother Prioress says, “The abbey was like a grace of God that just entered my life in a way that was totally unexpected.  And God was the vehicle.  He was the bigger Elvis.”


I found the documentary completely fascinating and inspiring and would recommend it to everyone, no matter your religious opinions.


Sources: NY TimesWord & FilmIMDBDial M For Movies