Tonight I saw all five of the nominated films in the Documentary Short category. I'll present my reviews in the order they were shown.
BODY TEAM 12 (Liberia)
The 2014 Ebola outbreak in Liberia devastated the country, leaving nearly 5000 dead and over 10,000 infected. In the midst of the chaos, 29-year-old Garmai Sumo is the only female on a team tasked with safely removing bodies from infected locations. In this film, as we watch the horror unfold, she describes what it's like—the fears, the sadness and even the hope. Her commitment and compassion for her fellow people make this otherwise gloomy subject bearable.
A GIRL IN THE RIVER: THE PRICE OF FORGIVENESS (Pakistan)
In Pakistan, men sometimes beat or kill female relatives who they perceive to have 'disrespected' them. They call these 'honor killings,' as they are meant to restore honor to the family. One such attempted murder happened to 18-year-old Saba when she fell in love and her family told her the boy she wanted to marry wasn't rich enough. She defied them by gaining support from her future in-laws, who helped the couple elope. Her father and uncle then shot her in the face and threw her in the river to die. But ... she didn't die. She lived to tell the tale and tells it here, as she's in the midst of a legal struggle in her community. Her path toward forgiveness under pressure is hard to watch, especially considering that her attackers show no remorse, but it's so well done, I conclude that this is the strongest of the five films.
LAST DAY OF FREEDOM (USA)
A man has a younger brother. The younger brother gets hit by a car during adolescence and is never the same. With a middle school education, said brother enters the service. He goes to Vietnam. Bad things happen. He comes home, again a changed man. His PTSD gets really bad. He does a bad thing. His brother turns him in. He gets the death penalty. The brother is sick with guilt and tells his story here, but we only hear him as the entire short is animated. Though the animation is artistically brilliant, I didn't feel it was the right way to tell this story and it distracted me from the core of the emotion. Meh.
CHAU, BEYOND THE LINES (USA and Vietnam)
The effects of Agent Orange are still prevalent today, as evidenced in this documentary focusing on Chau, a disabled Vietnamese boy with a triumphant spirit. We're first introduced to him in the orphanage-like home he's living in, though he's still in touch with his family (and will go back to them briefly before setting out in the world on his own). The staff at the home, which primarily serves children affected by Agent Orange, don't recognize that Chau's a gifted artist with real potential; they discourage him from pursuing what they see as a futile dream. Thankfully, he ignores them and forges on, despite the fact he doesn't have a knee on one leg and his arms and hands are disproportionate to his body. If you're able to stop crying, this is a life-affirming gem of a film.
In 1985, Director Claude Lansmann released a documentary that had consumed him for 12 years: Shoah. Remembered now as perhaps the most important Holocaust film ever made, the creation of it still haunts him this many years on. In this talking-head short—the most traditional documentary of the bunch—we hear from Lansmann directly as he shares stories of the horrors he drew out of various survivors. It's riveting and depressing and makes you respect the classic work all the more, even if his methods for making it weren't always noble.