The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2014: Documentary

Oscar Nominated Short Films photo starrating-4stars.jpgThe Oscar for Best Documentary (Short Subject) has been awarded every year since the 14th Academy Awards beginning in 1941. In the early years many were propaganda films focused on the U.S. effort in WWII. Over time however they have focused on a variety of subjects. This year’s crop were an extraordinary mix of both feel good and heartbreaking subjects. A very strong collection that was the most substantial of the three short film programs. As far as I’m concerned any one of these could triumph and it would be a solid winner.



USA / 39MIN / Director and Producer: Jeffrey Karoff
Ra Paulette is an artist. He digs “cathedral-like caves” into the sandstone cliffs of Northern New Mexico. He has done commissioned work, but often his desires do not always match those of his clients. An absolutely fascinating portrait of idiosyncratic fellow and the jaw droppingly beautiful spaces he creates. This is seemingly the most lighthearted, but I found it deeply moving and my favorite of these five strong choices.



Facing Fear
Facing Fear
USA / 23MIN / Director: Jason Cohen
The lives of a neo Nazi skinhead and a gay man living in West Hollywood intersect in the 1980s. 25 years later their paths would cross again. Fascinating document of how these men, once enemies, would become unlikely allies. Tale of forgiveness and redemption unfolds gradually with emotionally compelling results.



Karama Has No Walls
Karama Has No Walls
YEMEN, UK & UNITED ARAB EMIRATES / 26MIN / Director: Sara Ishaq
The population in Sana’a, the capital city of Yemen, has assembled in Change Square as an act of civil disobedience. Without weapons, they peacefully demand that President Ali Abdullah Saleh end his three-decade-long rule due to widespread corruption and human rights abuses. Under a barrage of sniper bullets, a peaceful demonstration turns violent. Emotionally powerful chronicle is difficult to watch but, like Oscar nominated documentary feature The Square, it’s a powerful record of atrocities that cry out to be recorded.



Prison Terminal
Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall
USA / 40MIN / Director: Edgar Barens
The final 6 months in the life of a terminally ill prisoner, Jack Hall, is detailed. Hospice volunteers, also prisoners, attend to the once war hero. One might ask, as I did, why we should even care about the life quality of a convicted murderer in the Iowa State Penitentiary. If so, you are the perfect audience for this documentary.



The Lady In Number 6
The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
CANADA / 38MIN / Director: Malcolm Clarke
Alice Herz Sommer is 109 year old, the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor and high on life from her piano playing. The subject is unquestionably touching but it’s also a bit expected as well. Come on! Let’s combine growing old, classical music, and the Holocaust all in the same documentary. I mean how can this lose? It’s almost scientifically designed to win the Oscar.



10 Responses to “The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2014: Documentary”

  1. All were great. I can’t pick one. I think it’s between Karama has no walls and Cavedigger. Our theater actually cheered after Cavedigger ended.


  2. Great stuff. I especially loved your reaction to Prison Terminal.

    Can I ask where you managed to see all of these? Would love to check some of them out.


  3. That last sounds a bit Oscar perfect – that’s for sure. Hopefully something decides to start carrying these (doesn’t seem likely) – they sound fantastic.


    • This is the 5th year I’ve seen all the animated and live action shorts but the first I saw all 5 documentary shorts. They are really incredible. Time to make this a new tradition.


  4. Great reviews. I had no idea what the nominees in this category were even about but all sound very interesting.


  5. Oh man, I just HAVE to see Cavedigger. That looks incredible. As you note, all of these have a high level of appeal but I’m not even hesitant to put that in my top priority. Following after that I might have to select Facing Fear. I’m very curious about how that is supposed to work out. .. .


    • An interesting aside regarding Facing Fear. The director, Jason Cohen is a local filmmaker from Berkeley and I met his wife while she was shopping recently. This was before I had actually seen the film, however, so I wasn’t able to talk details about the picture at the time.


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