This has got to be the toughest group of the shorts to watch. They’re usually a lot more diverse, but this year, with one feel-good exception, they are all about people suffering. Three are about the War in Syria and it’s effects on the people there, and sadly none of them points a way forward to peace. But they give you a front row seat to the horrifying toll of the war there on real Syrians trying to cope with the day to day, and the reason so many are fleeing their homes. All of these films are very deserving of their nominations.

Below are brief reviews and the trailers, and for a couple of them, the whole film is available here. I highly recommend watching them all.


This one is very hard to watch. It is about what goes on in palliative care with Dr. Jessica Zitter as she counsels families on the critical decisions that need to be made with their loved ones. To pull the plug or not? To see what is really going on, rather than what we want to see? How do you want your final days to play out?  It certainly made me want to get a living will prepared.


4.1 MILES (The whole film here)
This is a heart-breaking yet also heart-warming film about a Greek boat captain from the isle of Lesbos who does everything in his power to save refugees fleeing the Middle East. You’re right there with him as he heads out to sea, and you see what saving these desperate families is about. It isn’t an easy job, but the man is truly a hero.


JOE’S VIOLIN (The whole film here)
This is the sweet film of the bunch. An elderly Holocaust survivor donates his precious violin to a school charity drive for poor young musicians. And the girl who receives it searches him out and becomes his friend. It’s a lovely story.


This film places you in Aleppo with a family of six. Dad’s a fighter with the Syrian rebels. His four children adore him and try to live as normal a life as possible under the circumstances. But when he is captured by ISIS, they flee with their mother, finally making it to Germany, where a town that is quickly aging takes them in and embraces them. It is a heartbreaking take on what defines home. Does safety override your sense of attachment? Does embracing a safe space necessarily make you forget your cultural background? It affects each one in the family differently.


This one also takes place in Syria, during daily assaults from the Assad government and the Russians. The White Helmets are there to rush to the scene of bombings and save as many of the survivors as possible. It’s grueling and the men who are doing this job put themselves in harms way day after day, and you can see the emotional toll it is taking. This film has faced criticism for making heroes of a group that is funded from the West and could be seen as a propagandist move against the Assad regime. However, the filmmakers were smart to let the story be told through just three men, formerly a tailor, a blacksmith, and a builder. See it and decide for yourself. I thought it was very powerful.

One thought on “Documentary (Short Subject) nominees”
  1. Mainstream Chick’s Take:
    This was the most engaging, heartbreaking and motivating crop of documentary shorts I’ve ever watched back-to-back-to-back-back-to-back. I think I liked them better than the full-length documentaries because they told such powerful stories in a tightly-packaged form. I don’t know how the Academy will choose which one is most deserving of the Oscar. Each story is worthy of exposure. Joseph’s Violin is certainly the sweetest of the bunch. 4.1 Miles, The White Helmets, and Watani show three different, but similarly-compelling aspects of the refugee/humanitarian crisis. And Extremis will certainly hit home with anyone who’s ever had to face difficult decisions about end-of-life care for a loved one. I liked them all.

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