OSCAR Nominated Shorts – Documentary (2022 releases)

March 3, 2023

Greetings again from the darkness. Every year this is one of my favorite categories. Typically, these filmmakers are committed to a subject and have very little money to work with, making their work easily categorized as passion projects. This year is no exception, and once again we are amazed at the wide range of topics and subjects covered: the transformation of an angry war veteran, true love at an elephant sanctuary in India, a profile of a key player during the Watergate era, the effects of climate change on walruses in the Arctic, and a father-daughter video project covering 16 years. Below is my breakdown of this year’s nominees:


Director Kartiki Gonsalves introduces us to Bomman and Bellie, indigenous Kattunauakans working together to care for Raghu, an elephant rescued as an injured orphan in Tamil Nadu, India in 2019. The elephant preserve where they live and work is run by the Forest Department, and Bomman’s hut is right next to the stall where Raghu sleeps.

The love they share for Raghu soon develops into a romance between Bomman and Bellie. They talk to Raghu, train him, feed him, bathe him, play with him, and even tuck him in bed at night. Later when they also become caregivers for 5-month-old Baby Ammu, we can see the similarities to raising human children. Both elephants make it into the wedding day pictures of Bomman and Bellie, but when Raghu is re-assigned to other caregivers, we witness the grieving of the couple, as well as that of Ammu, who has lost a friend and role model. The 41-minute film serves to show how animals and people can live off the same forest and share a love.

HAULOUT (UK, Russia) 25 min

For the first few minutes, we aren’t sure what we are watching. Maxim is huddled in a rustic cabin on the shore of the Russian Arctic. He eats canned good (from the can), boils his water, and recycles his cigarettes. One morning he awakens to the grunting and groaning noises occurring outside. What follows is a stunning and spectacular shot of tens of thousands of walruses huddled on the beach by his hut.

It turns out Maxim is a Marine Biologist, and he spends 43 days observing this annual ritual of walruses as part of a 10 year study. Although the walruses show up every year, the effects of climate change are obvious. There is no longer ice for them to rest on during the trek. This exhausts the creatures, causing the death toll to increase each year. Co-directors (and brother and sister) Maxim Arbugaev and Evgenia Arbugaeva deliver a beautiful (considering the harsh conditions) 25-minute film, and a stark reminder of how animals are being forced to adapt to the changes.


We must admire Jay Rosenblatt’s foresight as a father. It’s a simple idea, yet brilliant in it’s lasting impact. Beginning on his daughter Ella’s second birthday, Mr. Rosenblatt maintained a tradition of videotaping an “interview” with her each year. This tradition, or ritual, continued through her 18th birthday. The result bounces between predictable, stunning, sad, joyful, and touching … all in a condensed 29-minute run time.

To watch the progression of a precocious two-year old and three-year old toddler obsessing over a lollypop and make-up to a poised eighteen-year old on the brink of independence is fascinating. As a parent, we recognize the many stages … some so cute, others so challenging … each to be treasured.

Dad’s questions include: What do you want to do when you grow up? What are you afraid of? What is power? What are dreams? What is most important to you? You get the idea. He wants to document her progression as a person and as a thinker. In addition to the lollypop and desire to wear make-up, Ella’s singing voice develops beautifully as she grows into a 12-year-old who has learned sign language, and a 13-year-old fresh off her Bat Mitzvah. We see her with braces on her teeth, and as a 14-year-old toting the burden of her age. It’s those last couple of years that really give us hope for Ella’s future, and an insight into what the project has meant.

As a teenager, what would you have told your 25-year-old self?


Fifty years have passed, yet the Watergate scandal continues to provide us with stories. Co-directors Anne Alvergue and Debra McClutchy turn their attention to one of the fascinating figures of the era in this 40 minute short. Martha Mitchell was the wife of Richard Nixon’s campaign manager and subsequent Attorney General, John Mitchell. Outspoken Martha was a colorful personality and characterized as “a menace” by Nixon himself.

The directors utilize archival footage and news reels to show how Martha became a media darling during one of the most closed-off administrations in recent history. Reporters such as Helen Thomas and Connie Chung bring a media perspective, as do the numerous newscast clips shown. However, things took a pretty dark turn for this charming lady, and her story provides a stark reminder of just how corrupt and extreme the Nixon administration became.

Once news of the Watergate break-in hit the news, Martha seemed to vanish from the public eye. Her story is that she was held captive, basically kidnapped, as the administration advanced a public character assassination on her. When the secret tapes were revealed, and Martha discovered her husband had conspired with Nixon on the break-in, she became a high-profile whistleblower, After Nixon’s resignation, Martha became a celebrity, frequently seen on talk shows. Cast by many as a ‘crazy’ lady, the “Martha Mitchell effect” became the description for those whose ‘delusions’ turned out to be true. The recent TV miniseries “Gaslit” also focused on Martha Mitchell, who died in 1976 from a blood disease.


Should you ever doubt that kindness and understanding can make a difference, please watch this film from director Joshua Seftel (WAR, INC, 2008). The 29 minute run time may just rejuvenate your faith in human beings to change their attitude and be accepting of those they once distrusted.

As a Marine, Richard “Mac” McKinney was trained to hate and kill Muslims. He was informed that they were terrorists out to destroy his country, and September 11, 2001 was all the proof he needed. A simple question from his young daughter Emily convinced him he needed to act, so he plotted to bomb the Islamic Culture Center of Muncie (Indiana). So this former Marine, a trained killer and hater, headed to the mosque to obtain the “proof” he needed to convince his daughter that his actions were righteous.

A funny thing happened. Mac was treated kindly by the folks there. They asked him questions and guided him to a better understanding. Now this didn’t happen overnight. A shift in beliefs never occurs quickly. However, their treatment of Mac not only (unknowingly) saved their own lives, it saved his as well. He may have been trained to not think of his war targets as human beings, but he found them to show him more humanity than he’d ever known. It’s chilling to see Emily ponder what it would have been like to have a mass murderer as a father, and mostly we are inspired to see good people work so diligently at accepting someone who initially showed them nothing but hatred. Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai is one of the producers of the film.

SPITFIRE 944 (doc short, 2006)

April 14, 2020

Greetings again from the darkness. I watch a lot of short films, yet post very few of those reviews on this site. For this special film, I am not offering up any type of review other than to encourage you to take 14 minutes and watch this documentary short.

Filmmaker William Lorton’s Great Uncle was Jim Savage, who was an Air Force field surgeon during WWII. When he died, Lorton discovered some untouched footage his Great Uncle had shot at an airbase.  One sequence in particular caught his eye: a wheels up landing in a grassy field by a Spitfire, followed by some airmen huddled up afterwards. After some research, Lorton tracked down the pilot, (retired) Lt Col John Blyth, who agreed to meet with Lorton and his crew.

The film clips are fascinating, but it’s 83 year old Blyth recalling his missions that is truly captivating. Blyth flew reconnaissance missions in a British Spitfire retrofitted with extra fuel tanks and cameras. What was missing? Guns. Blyth actually flew over Germany with no guns or escort!  Lorton films Blyth as he views the clip for the first time. It’s quite something to behold.

You can watch the documentary short here (thanks to Sundance, and a friend of a friend for sharing):

CASTING COUCH (2019, short film)

March 2, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. It’s always a bit dangerous to poke fun at something that has caused so much pain to so many people, but the reality is that the proverbial casting couch has been used as an unfortunate punchline for many years. Late last year I reviewed the Barry Avrich documentary THE RECKONING: HOLLYWOOD’S WORST KEPT SECRET, which provided an in-depth history of what went on behind closed doors in Hollywood. While that film left me with a feeling of nausea, SiniSisters Productions have used their distinct talents in addressing the same topic in a more redemptive manner.

In what can be described as a Comedy-Horror film highlighted with social commentary, co-directors Justin Lee and Matt Thiesen present a script from Milly Sanders that tells the story of a casting couch demon that has been literally feeding on the flesh of aspiring actors for decades. We see “old” clips of auditions before cutting to a modern day audition of two actresses and that same “icky” velour sofa. The actresses are played by Ms. Sanders (the screenwriter) and Jessee Foudray, while the new age director is played by David Stanbra. By new age, I’m referring to the next generation of directors who have undertaken new methods of manipulating actresses in an attempt to achieve the same results as the slimy buzzards of old Hollywood.

The script is quite clever and the low budget short film (10 minutes) even features an impactful effect. Harassment and power plays have no place in any industry, and SiniSisters willingness to make a point through such a creative outlet is quite impressive … and entertaining. Any filmmakers who somehow believe the old ways are ok, should beware of the ‘couch hunters’!

***CAUTION: although this short film is not yet rated, it is not recommended for young children

Watch the movie at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kALyJUV-EWQ&feature=youtu.be


Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts 2019

February 22, 2019

Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts 2019

Top-to-bottom, this is the strongest shorts category I can recall. The quality of each is such that winning the Oscar would be well-deserved for any of the nominees. Four of the five are tension-packed, while the fifth is just as emotional – only in a more intimate manner. That being said, I have listed these in order of my preference. However, should you ask me tomorrow, the order might change. All five films are that strong. Just a reminder, these are not Oscar predictions, just personal opinion.


 MADRE (Spain) 19 min

Greetings again from the darkness. Filmmaker Rodrigo Sorogoyen begins his film with a long, slow pan shot across a deserted beach until we see the waves rhythmically rolling in and out. It appears to be a most peaceful setting, but instead it’s actually the set up for one of the most intense and emotionally shattering short films ever.

Marta Nieto and her mother Blanca Apilanez are hanging around the apartment on what’s a typical day for them. When Marta’s answers a call, an unimaginable horror unfolds via cell phone. On the other end is her 6 year old son. He’s on holiday with his father, Marta’s ex. Only her son tells her, as his cell phone battery is dying, that dad left him and now he’s alone on a beach … he thinks it’s France, but could be Spain.

Marta and her mother juggle cell phones as they try to track down the father, while keeping the young boy as calm as possible. It’s a captivating and stunning performance by Marta Nieto, and a brilliant piece of filmmaking from Mr. Sorogoyen. It may be the most unsettling 19 minutes of movie I’ve seen, and if it had gone any longer, it might have become truly unbearable.


 DETAINMENT (Ireland) 30 min

Greetings again from the darkness. Evil personified. That is the only possible way to describe 10 year old boys Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. In February 1993, the British boys skipped school and spent the day doing typically mischievous activities around the local shopping center. Typical that is until they abducted 2 year old James Bulger.

This is writer-director Vincent Lambe’s 4th short film, and it’s based on the disturbingly true story of the abduction-torture-murder of toddler James by the two young boys. The film draws directly from the actual tapes of interviews/interrogations once the boys were identified from the grainy security footage. This dramatization includes the pleas of innocence from the boys, as well as the reactions of both their parents and the police officers. The scenes depicting the questioning of the boys is powerful, and the scenes of the 3 boys together is more than most of us can bear, despite little of the crime being shown (thankfully).

Young actors Ely Solan (Jon) and Leon Hughes (Robert) are both extraordinary in their performances. Director Lambe deftly applies judgment in what is shown on screen and what instead corrupts our thoughts. It’s heart-breaking to see what the parents of these boys must endure, but it’s beyond our comprehension to imagine what Baby James Bulger’s parents must have endured. The boys were tried as adults in 1993, and both subsequently released from incarceration and given assumed identities for their own protection. If somehow Lambe’s short film isn’t disturbing enough, it’s pretty simple to get the full report of what the boys inflicted on that poor child. Evil personified.


 FAUVE (Canada) 19 min

Greetings again from the darkness. Two young boys, obviously good friends, are spending the day just hanging out and exploring the area on the outskirts of town. They are engaged in an ongoing game of one-upmanship as they spontaneously compete over a string of mindless pranks to see who is the bravest or toughest.

Director Jeremy Comte places Tyler (Felix Grenier) and Benjamin (Alexandre Perreault) in common situations that most of us (at least from my generation) easily recognize. A vacant lot or deserted train car are easily turned into a playground as the mischievous boys deal with their unchaperoned independence. We find ourselves chuckling at their harmless teasing … well, harmless until it’s not.

Even with a run time of only 14 minutes, director Comte doesn’t rush the set up. It’s just a lazy, care-free day until the boys make their way into an open-pit mining zone. For someone with a quicksand-phobia (thanks to those early Tarzan movies), the shift in tone delivers an emotional gut-punch. A terrific final scene caps off a powerhouse short film that deserves the festival accolades it has received. From Canada with French dialogue, expect this one to receive even more award consideration.


 MARGUERITE (Canada) 19 min

Greetings again from the darkness. It was after the Oscar nominations were announced that I tracked down this one, the last of the 5 nominated live action shorts in the category that I’ve watched. While the other 4 nominees are tension-packed, this beautiful 18 minute film from writer-director Marianne Farley is serene and both heart-warming and heart-breaking.

Beatrice Picard began her acting career in the 1950’s, and here she is extraordinary in the titular role. Marguerite is a lonely elderly woman in the final stage of life. Understanding that her time is near, she has refused the daily dialysis recommended by her doctor. A window in her living room is literally her window to the world. As her body slowly fails, she is a captive in her home. Her time is spent anxiously awaiting the daily arrival of her in-home caregiver Rachel (Sandrine Bisson), a patient and compassionate woman who provides care, as well as Marguerite’s only human contact.

Bathing Marguerite, shampooing her hair, helping her get dressed, and applying lotion are part of Rachel’s routine. The importance of these moments is obvious by Marguerite’s face. One day she overhears a brief phone conversation between Rachel and her partner, which leads to an innocent question … the answer which ignites a memory in Marguerite that causes much reflection.

Forbidden love left unrequited and unmentioned highlights the generational and societal differences between these two women in ways we don’t often consider. It also brings them closer together. The wound that won’t heal on her foot is truly insignificant to the decades-long pain Marguerite has carried in her heart. Making peace with her past allows her final stage to play out thanks in part to the tender compassion shown by Rachel.

Marianne Farley is a French Canadian known mostly as an actress, yet this, her second short film as director creates a deep connection despite minimal dialogue between the two women. Cinematographer Marc Simpson-Threlford expertly uses lighting, color and framing to guide us through. C’est beau.


 SKIN (USA) 20 min

Greetings again from the darkness. Bestowed with an Oscar nomination for Best Live Action Short Film, this story from Israeli director Guy Nattiv, who co-wrote the script with Sharon Maymon, is stunning and frightening in how much of a punch it packs into 19 minutes. The influence parents have on their kids is at the heart of this devastating tale.

Jackson Robert Scott (Georgie from IT) stars as Troy, the young son of Jeffrey (Jonathan Tucker, “Justified”) and Christa (Danielle Macdonald, PATTI CAKE$). The film opens with dad Jeffrey taking the shears to Troy’s hair on the front porch. Then all 3 hop in the car with friends, singing a horribly inappropriate song on the way to shooting guns at beer bottles. Later, Troy convinces his dad to take him “surfing”. Of course, there are no waves in sight … you just have to see it to believe it.

Two things are abundantly clear: these are stereotypical hillbillies, and Troy loves his dad very much. Soon we learn something else. Dad is a white supremacist. While at the grocery store, a black man (Ashley Thomas) offers a friendly greeting to Troy, and dad snaps into vile racist mode. Seemingly out of nowhere, Jeffrey’s fellow gang of racists join him in violently pummeling the friendly black man. The vicious beating takes place in front of the man’s frantic wife, daughter and son (roughly the same age as Troy). It’s a family that mirrors Troy’s, with one exception – skin color.

It’s not long before a group of African-Americans take revenge on Jeffrey, albeit in a less violent, yet more permanent and clever manner. Bronny (Lonny Chavis, “This is Us”) is allowed to watch as the revenge plays out. The tables have been turned on Jeffrey, and the shocking ending proves that hate only leads to more hate … and sometimes hate is blind. Racism is a self-perpetuating culture that survives only when passed from one generation to the next. Filmmaker Nattiv and his producing partner-wife Jaime Ray Newman remind us that we reap what we sow. They have a feature length film being released later this year based on the true story of Bryon Widner – a story that likely influenced this impactful short.


Oscar Nominate Documentary Shorts 2019

February 22, 2019

Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts 2019

By definition, films in this category pack a punch with a real life story into a run time of just a few minutes. It’s possible one or two could be transformed into a feature length documentary or narrative interpretation, and yet it’s remarkable how much information or emotion can be relayed with a short film. In an unusual twist, one of the nominated films offers only an edited clip of historical footage – yet it will likely stick with you. Below you will find the five films listed these in order of my preference. Just a reminder, these are not Oscar predictions, just personal opinion.



‘It’s some type of illness that mostly affects girls.’ That’s paraphrasing the answer from a group of young Indian men when asked to define menstruation. Unfortunately, the women aren’t much better educated or informed, and the subject remains taboo in rural India. The Pad Project is designed to empower women by providing a machine that makes low cost pads, far superior and more hygienic than the “cloths” they have used for generations.

Director Rayka Zehtabchi introduces us to the man who invented the machine, but this story is about the women. Not only do the pads improve their life and health, but by marketing the pads, the women experience financial gains that dramatically impact their lifestyle. The film is surprisingly humorous and uplifting, and it’s refreshing to see such a wonderful solution to what’s referred to as “a girl problem”. The film will be available on Netflix beginning February 12.


 BLACK SHEEP (UK), 21 minutes

When a young boy, not so dissimilar to her 10 year old Nicaraguan son, is killed on the streets of her London neighborhood, a mother takes steps she feels are necessary to protect her son. They relocate to Essex for safety, unaware that extreme racism exists. With the camera in close-up mode, a now adult Cornelius Walker re-tells his story as reenactments periodically accompany his words.

Director Ed Perkins captures the pain and intimacy of the decisions that led Cornelius to try and fit in … “make friends with monsters”, as he puts it. What a stark reminder of how strong our survival instincts are. We can rationalize actions that wouldn’t typically be considered, even if the long-term price paid for those decisions is to be forever haunted by losing our true self. The reenactments may cost it some votes in this category, but Mr. Walker’s story will stick with you.


 END GAME (USA), 40 minutes

Though emotions run high in all 5 of the Doc Short nominees, none reach the tearjerker level and gut-punch of this look at palliative care by co-directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. Teams of medical professionals are committed to end of life care and helping patients and families deal with death.

Mr. Epstein is a two time Oscar winner for Doc Feature (THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK, 1984; COMMON THREADS: STORIES FROM THE QUILTS, 1989) and he and Mr. Friedman previously collaborated on the 2014 doc AND THE OSCAR GOES TO … There is an interesting look at the San Francisco Zen Hospice Guest House, but there is a bit too much time spent on one patient/family and the film is very similar to the previously nominated EXTREMIS (2016).



On February 20, 1939, a Nazi-American rally took place at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Perhaps you were aware of this or not, but either way, this brief 7 minute clip edited from archival footage will surely chill you to the bone.

The rally takes place shortly before WWII begins, and the pomp and circumstance, as well as the scope of the event, are startling. Standing at a podium in front of a giant George Washington portrait, Fritz Kuhn, leader of the German American Bund, spews vile hate-filled words and the crowd of 20,000 cheers.

Director Marshall Curry has been previously nominated twice for Documentary Feature, and his work here is wisely restricted to editing the footage. No commentary or interview is necessary. The name you will want to know after this 7 minutes is Isadore Greenbaum.


 LIFEBOAT (USA), 34 minutes

Thousands of refugees take to rafts and battered boats in the Mediterranean Sea in hopes of escaping an environment of poverty, torture and/or bombings. They realize it’s a life or death step, yet they believe those odds are better than staying put. This is director Skye Fitzgerald’s follow up to his 2015 doc short 50 FEET FROM SYRIA, and the second of what he plans will be a trilogy.

We follow Sea-Watch Captain Jon Castle as his crew, funded by a German non-profit dedicated to rescuing refugees, strives to save as many as possible before starvation, illness or drowning occurs. Sometimes they succeed. This one would make an interesting double-bill with last year’s winner THE WHITE HELMETS, which focused on rescues on land (after bombings). Captain Castle (who passed away last year) makes the point that the rescues are the right thing to do as humans, as it could easily be us in need of rescue sometime in the future. Director Fitzgerald pays little attention to political arguments, and presents this as a humanitarian issue.

Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts 2019

February 22, 2019

Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts 2019

The difference in production value is quite evident in the animated shorts category, as not all filmmakers are backed by the resources of Pixar or Disney. What really stands out here is the strength of the stories and how they play on our real life emotions and memories. Below you will find these listed in order of my preference. Just a reminder, these are not Oscar predictions, just personal opinion.


 WEEKENDS (USA) 16 minutes

Familiarity, in fact, all-too-familiar, may be the difference for this story from Trevor Jimenez. A young son gets bounced back and forth between the homes of his divorced parents. Initially the mother keeps things simple, with an emphasis on love. In contrast, trips to dad’s place include scary movies, video games, fast food and plenty of hands-on play time (with weapons and costumes!).

Fittingly, dad’s car radio is on an endless stream of Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing”, while the other times are covered by the familiar and recognizable chords of Satie. The boy is caught between the two adults trying to put their own lives back together, and some amazing animation takes us through the boy’s imaginative dream and nightmare sequences.

While at Pixar, Mr. Jimenez worked on FINDING DORY and COCO, and this one seems to carry personal memories for him.


 ANIMAL BEHAVIOUR (Canada) 14 minutes

The husband and wife animation team of David Fine and Alison Snowden (two very real, not animated creators) won an Oscar in this category in 1995 for their short BOB’S BIRTHDAY, which was then turned into a TV series “Bob and Margaret”. It’s not a stretch to imagine that the animators have hopes for the same path for their latest.

We enter a group therapy session for an unusual collection of critters, including: a praying mantis, a leech, a bird, and a pig.  The session is led by a dog, and is soon crashed by a newcomer – a boisterous gorilla. The gag here – beyond the obvious – is that each of these critters is dealing with normal traits for their species, though they sound particularly bothersome when stated aloud. Kids are not the target market here given all the talk about sex (stay away from the praying mantis) and orifices. Creativity is on display here, and don’t be surprised if some mutation of this ends up on TV.


 ONE SMALL STEP (USA, China) 8 minutes

Former Disney animators Andrew Chesworth (animator on MOANA and FROZEN) and Bobby Pontillas co-direct a script co-written with Taiko Studios founder Shaofu Zhang. It’s a story of a single father and his Chinese-American daughter Luna, and takes us through her early childhood dreams of walking on the moon to her college years taking astrophysics classes.

The devoted father is there to encourage his young daughter’s dreams, and later to quietly support her with meals and shoe repair. It’s yet another reminder of how the efforts of parents sometimes go unappreciated, but the commitment never fades. The ending here is predictable, yet no less powerful and emotional.



 BAO – Pixar (USA) 8 minutes

It should come as no surprise that Pixar has a nomination in this category. The premier animation studio employees some immensely talented folks, including Domee Shi (previously a storyboard artist on INCREDIBLES 2), who becomes the first woman to direct a Pixar short film.

As with many Pixar projects, this one will likely resonate with parents as much, if not more, than with kids. Of course there are some exceptional visuals; however, it’s more poignantly a look at the stages of life … especially the trials and tribulations of parenthood (especially the overprotective type). This one is far and away the most viewed entry since it ran before theatrical showings of INCREDIBLES 2, which itself is Oscar nominated for Best Animated Feature.

Some may struggle a bit with the idea of a homemade dumpling coming to life and being raised as a growing kid, but the ending will likely hit home with most every parent.


 LATE AFTERNOON (Ireland) 10 minutes

Louise Bagnall previously worked as an animator on the Oscar nominated SONG OF THE SEA, but this one is all hers. These days there is no shortage of projects putting dementia front and center, and we quickly realize the elderly Emily (voiced by the great Fionnula Flanagan) suffers from this dreaded affliction.

The fantastical dreamlike sequences carry us away in Emily’s memories of life. These snippets of her childhood and adult life tell us much about the woman who now finds happiness in a biscuit with her tea. The past and present are often a jumbled mess for Emily, and although her caretaker’s identity is no real mystery, it is still a wonderful moment when it clicks for Emily … even if we know it’s only for a short while.


MADRE (Spain, short film, 2018)

September 26, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. Filmmaker Rodrigo Sorogoyen begins his film with a long, slow pan shot across a deserted beach until we see the waves rhythmically rolling in and out. It appears to be a most peaceful setting, but instead it’s actually the set up for one of the most intense and emotionally shattering short films ever.

Marta Nieto and her mother Blanca Apilanez are hanging around the apartment on what’s a typical day for them. When Marta’s answers a call, an unimaginable horror unfolds via cell phone. On the other end is her 6 year old son. He’s on holiday with his father, Marta’s ex. Only her son tells her, as his cell phone battery is dying, that dad left him and now he’s alone on a beach … he thinks it’s France, but could be Spain.

Marta and her mother juggle cell phones as they try to track down the father, while keeping the young boy as calm as possible. It’s a captivating and stunning performance by Marta Nieto, and a brilliant piece of filmmaking from Mr. Sorogoyen. It may be the most unsettling 19 minutes of movie I’ve seen, and if it had gone any longer, it might have become truly unbearable.


February 21, 2017


Greetings again from the darkness. When the feel-good movie of the bunch revolves around a Holocaust survivor, you know there aren’t many chuckles to be had for this block of Oscar nominated Documentary Short Films. However, if you can deal with being ultra-serious and devastated for 2 ½ hours, you will find high quality filmmaking focused on topics that are not just timely, but exceedingly important and vital. Below, in order of personal preference, are the nominated 2016 releases.

4-1-miles 4.1 MILES (USA/Greece, 26 min)

From 2015 through 2016 more than one million people were desperate enough to flee Syria, Afghanistan, and other war-ravaged areas by risking their lives in small boats launched from Turkey. The 4.1 miles to Greece, and hopefully freedom, is fraught with danger (more than one thousand have drowned). Director Daphne Matziaraki introduces us to a Greece Coast Guard Captain from the small island of Lesbos, as the captain and his crew remain diligent and dedicated to rescuing mothers, children and others so desperate for a new life. The camera work is a bit rough, but that’s to be expected given the harsh conditions of wind, waves, rain and frantic actions … when every minute counts.


joes-violin JOE’S VIOLIN (USA, 24 min)

If anyone deserves to be a little bit selfish, it’s a Holocaust survivor. Instead, 91 year old Joseph Feingold donated his beloved violin to Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation – an organization that distributes musical instruments to inner city schools. Mr. Feingold tells the story of “purchasing” the violin after the war in 1947. When 12 year old Brianna is selected to receive the gift, we learn her story and how the violin and Mr. Feingold’s history profoundly affects her. Director Kahane Cooperman ties together a Siberian labor camp, the dreams of a bright, enthusiastic young girl, and an appreciative elderly gentleman to remind us of the power of music and how it can transcend generations, race, economic status and culture. It’s an inspirational story from two quite different perspectives.


the-white-helmets THE WHITE HELMETS (UK, 41 min)

In what would be viewed as an inspirational story … if not for the tragically violent environment of Aleppo City … this film from director Orlando von Einsiedel takes us to the front line with the civilian volunteer group known as The White Helmets. Numbering 2900 strong, these brave folks run directly into the buildings that have been bombed mere minutes before. We get interviews and discussions with some of the volunteers, but the most awe-inspiring moments come during the rescue missions, as they comb through rubble looking for signs of life. One of the most amazing sequences you’ll ever see on screen occurs during the rescue of a one week old “miracle baby”. Up to 200 raids per day have resulted in more than 400,000 deaths over the past five years, yet the volunteers have sayings like “To save a life is to save all humanity”. They provide hope to a place that has little, and possess a human spirit dedicated to helping.


extremis EXTREMIS (USA, 24 min)

Highland Hospital in Oakland, California is the setting for a first-hand look at the emotional and ethical complexities involved in end of life decisions. We witness the perspective of dedicated ICU doctors, terminally ill and confused patients, and the emotional families often burdened with making the final call between hoping for a miracle and allowing their loved ones to die with dignity. Director Dan Krauss introduces Dr. Jessica Zitter who takes a compassionate yet direct approach in her discussions with patients and families. Her goal is to provide the information that helps them make the most difficult decisions they will ever be faced with.


watani WATANI: MY HOMELAND (UK, 39 min)

Is there anything more frighteningly surreal than watching kids playing with guns as actual bombs are going off in their neighborhood, tanks are rumbling down their streets, and the constant sound of gunfire is present? Welcome again to Aleppo City. Directed by Marcel Mattelsiefen, we meet the father of four kids who is working hard to protect his city. We then flash forward one year and learn that the father has been taken by ISIS and the family is headed to Germany, seeking a safer life … new home, new friends, and a new school. Though they long to return to their original home, it’s a reminder that home is really where you are, not where you are from.


February 17, 2017

OSCAR NOMINATED SHORTS (Animated and Live Action)

Shorts HD now sponsors the annual theatrical run for the block of Oscar nominated Short Films. For those of us who love movies, it’s a much appreciated opportunity to see what once were the most difficult categories of nominated films to watch prior to the awards ceremony. I would encourage everyone to make this an annual event, and experience a variety of stories and styles from filmmakers around the globe.

Below are my comments for this year’s nominees (released in 2016), and they are listed in order of personal preference for each category, Animated and Live Action.


blind-vaysha BLIND VAYSHA (Canada) – Far from light-hearted and feel good, this one not only has the most substantial story, it also features the most original look and style of any in the category. It’s directed by Theodore Ushev and adapted from a short story by Bulgarian writer Georgi Gospodinov. The story centers on “the blind girl”, who remarkably sees only the past through her brown left eye, and only the future through her red right eye. Through her eyes, no present exists. It’s a remarkable fable about how we look at the world, and one of the few short films that lends itself to a good debate.

piper PIPER (USA) – Pixar, through co-directors Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer, delivers what may be the most realistic CGI we’ve seen to date. Easily the most seen of all short films since it played in theatres with Finding Dory, it tells the story of a mother Sandpiper teaching her baby how to scavenge and feed itself. The baby is reluctant to give up being spoon-fed, but soon overcomes his fear of water and embraces life … thanks to the lessons of some local sand crabs.

borrowed-time BORROWED TIME (USA) – An old, weathered sheriff revisits the spot on the cliff where a tragic mistake changed the course of his life. The event has obviously haunted him ever since he was a kid. The animated pocket watch looks real at times, and ends up playing a vital role not once, but twice for the man. It’s a side project from Pixar animators Co-dir Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj, with a score from two-time Oscar winner Gustavo Santaolalla, and a reminder that living with regret is no way to live.

pearl PEARL (USA) – Playing like little more than an animated music video or commercial, this one nonetheless taps into the emotions of a father-daughter relationship over the years … and the role a car and tape recorder might play as they come full circle. “There’s no wrong way home” is a simple little song that works fine in this short from director Patrick Osborne (Feast).


pear PEAR CIDER AND CIGARETTES (Canada and UK) – By far the longest entry at 35 minutes, this one has the feel of an animated documentary or at least an animated diary. The narrator reminisces about his thrill-seeking friend Techno, and the difficult road travelled by the once care-free and talented youngster. Alcoholism, drug addiction, bad luck, poor health and poor decisions all play a role here, but it’s mostly about non-conditional friendship. Directed by Robert Valley, it’s quite a sad story, though not dissimilar to one many friends have experienced in real life.


sing MINDENKI (“Sing”, Hungary) The new girl in school can barely control her excitement at joining the renowned school choir. Poof! Her joy is gone in a scene that proves just how quickly a teacher can destroy a child’s spirit. Directed by Kristof Deak, we see how misplaced priorities of those in charge, can drive the student to become the teacher. The philosophical aspect here is quite interesting … in order to remain part of the group, one must surrender the thing that motivated them to join the group in the first place.

la-femme LE FEMME ET LE TGV (“The Woman and the TGV”, Sweden) Jane Birkin adds stardom to an otherwise earthy story of a small town woman who, for 32 years, has been waving her flag at the high-speed train that blows past her window twice each day. A letter of appreciation from the train’s engineer arrives one day, and it inspires the woman to re-join life and stop living in the past. Ms. Birkin gives a nice performance in this commentary on growing old in a fast-changing world. Timo von Gunten directs this story inspired by true events (he actually interviewed the real flag-waving woman).

timecode TIMECODE (Spain) – In what is easily the best use of security cameras and dancing parking lot guards, director Juanjo Gimenez Pena delivers a very entertaining 15 minute film. With minimal dialogue, the day and night guards barely cross paths, but share a secret talent that’s exposed in a most humorous way with a killer punchline.


silent-nights SILENT NIGHTS (Denmark) – A good-hearted Salvation Army volunteer makes friends with a man from Ghana who has immigrated to Denmark, seeking a better life. She is kind to the man and a romantic attraction develops leading to a look at racism, desperation, and the ramifications of deceit. Directed by Aske Bang and produced by two-time Oscar winner Kim Magnusson, the film teases us with optimism, only to frustrate us before giving way to an unexpected life lesson.

ennemis ENNEMIS INTERIEURS (“Enemies Within”) – The most blatantly political of all entries, it’s also the most relevant. A man from Algeria is interrogated by a government official in hope of obtaining his French citizenship. Questioned on his religion and neighbors, we see how any situation can be twisted to seem suspicious … especially in this age of fear of terrorists. Directed by Selim Azzazzi, it seems to tell us that if we try to find something wrong, we likely will.

watch the Oscar shorts trailer:


OPHELIA (2016, short film)

September 16, 2016

ophelia Greetings again from the darkness. The best short films somehow find a way to connect with viewers and make us care about the story and character(s) – in just a few minutes and usually on a very limited budget. The first film from director (and writer) Anthony Garland expertly establishes atmosphere and tone, creates conflict and develops a character we care about … all in less than 8 minutes.

Garland seizes on one of the biggest emotional stressors for many people … the job interview. The opening scene has a well-dressed Ali Mueller slowly making her way through a dilapidated building while ominous music cues us that we are about to watch a horror film. This horror is psychological in nature and plays to the power of the mind, and the internal battles we fight when plopped into a stressful situation. Ms. Mueller faces a tribunal committee of interviewers (named in the credits as Grumpy, Sneezy, Doc) played by familiar actors whose faces you’ll likely recognize (Mary Pat Gleason, Larry Cedar, Allen Blumenfeld).

The film has a dream-like feel and often we aren’t sure what’s real. However, there are certain segments that are clear manifestations of Ms. Mueller’s insecurities and fears. There is a Black Swan nod with her younger self in the mirror, and a razor blade used to remove any doubt that her outward confidence often fails versus her internal struggles.

It’s a nifty little look at how we seek to control our fears and doubts, and fits nicely with Ophelia’s line from Hamlet: “O, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown”.