February 20, 2011

MOVIES: 2010 Oscar-nominated documentary shorts

Well, what a gloomy bunch of films this is! Long, too; each of the five films comes in just under the 40-minute time limit, so we were given a ten-minute intermission after the third film.

"Killing in the Name" is the story of a Jordanian man whose wedding reception was underway when a suicide bomber hit the hotel. He has since become an anti-terrorism activist, attempting to persuade other Muslims to renounce violence.

"Sun Come Up" is about some of the world's first environmental refugees. Carteret Island, in Papua New Guinea, is being lost to the rising seas; the tides come in so far now that land once used for crops is now a salty desert. Their government lacks either the ability or the interest to help the Carterets relocate, so they send a delegation to the nearest island, begging for land on which they can relocate before they starve to death.

The environment is also the subject of "The Warriors of Quigang," about a small Chinese village whose residents struggle against government indifference and corruption to close down the chemical plant that has been dumping toxic chemicals for the last 30 years.

"Poster Girl" is a profile of an American woman whose service in Iraq has left her with severe post-traumatic stress disorder. The biggest problem with the film is that we never get a good sense of what she was like before her service, so we're tempted to assume that the angry, fearful, hostile woman we're seeing is who she's always been, and it's sometimes difficult to empathize with her.

"Strangers No More" is the only moment of uplift in the collection, and unfortunately, it's a festival of cliche. It's the story of a Tel Aviv school for children of refugees; there are students from 48 different countries. The movie pounds on all of the predictable points -- brotherhood, the inherent saintliness and lack of prejudice found in children, the "we must help them, so that they can make a better world" idealism.

After the intermission, as a way to make sure that no one missed any of the documentaries because they were in the restroom or grabbing snacks, we got to see the animated short "Sensology." It's abstract black-and-white animation timed to a group of even more abstract jazz pieces for piano and bass. It's not very interesting animation, and it's even less interesting music; it was a waste of six minutes.

If I were voting, I'd go with "Sun Comes Up," but if I were betting, I'd put my money on "Strangers No More" to win; it's the most optimistic film of the bunch, which usually helps, and it's filled with adorable children. Hard to bet against that.

No comments: