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.
JOE'S VIOLIN (USA)
Joseph Feingold survived the horrors of the Holocaust (though some of his family didn't). When he came to the United States after the war to begin a new life, he went to a flea market and bought a violin. It cost him only a carton of cigarettes and became his constant companion for over 70 years. When he heard an announcement that there was an instrument drive for local schools, he decided to finally part with it, and it landed at the Bronx Global Learning Institute for Girls. There, 12-year-old Brianna Perez was chosen to borrow it during her time at the school. When she learned of the instrument's history, she invited Feingold to a performance. He went, and it was magical. This film is less than a half an hour long and I cried through at least half of it. Beautiful story, beautiful people, beautiful music.
Highland Hospital in Oakland, California treats patients of all walks of life in their Intensive Care Unit. This film showcases the work of Dr. Jessica Zitter, a palliative care specialist, and her team as they navigate their way through heartbreak after heartbreak, helping families make the toughest decisions of their lives. Their care, stress, compassion, intelligence and warmth are on raw display day after day, week after week. This short glimpse only captures a fraction of it, but reminds us who the real heroes are in this world.
4.1 MILES (USA)
Life as a Greek Coast Guard on the quiet island of Lesbos used to be stress-free for Captain Kyriakos Papadopoulos. That is, until the refugee crises began. Now his days are filled acting as a ferry between Turkey and his town as thousands risk their lives to cross the Aegean for a chance at a better life. He has no CPR or medical training, but continues to rescue and attempt to resuscitate those in need. Sometimes he succeeds; sometimes it's too late by the time the bodies float to his boat. Thinking of the times I splashed in that same Sea as a little girl, carefree and safe with my family in Greece, this film hit me especially hard. To see the terror in the eyes of parents not knowing if their children would live, or the fear in the children who were scarred by the horrors of war was borderline unbearable.
WATANI: MY HOMELAND (UK)
A Syrian couple tried to have children for eight years before conceiving, and then, God blessed them with four. Now their one son and three daughters dodge bullets and hide when shells come flying into their formerly peaceful neighborhood as their father, a Free Syrian Commander, dedicates his life to the revolution. Mom gives them cough syrup to relax, but they insist on staying by their father's side ... until their father is captured by ISIS. Unable to continue living in a constant state of chaos, the family seeks asylum in the small German town of Goslar. There they receive a clean home, a monthly salary and the warm welcome they so rightly deserve. They're grateful to their new hosts, but miss their family and homeland. The most in-depth look I've seen into the lives affected by the conflict, and one that will stay with me indefinitely.
As bombs fall onto their neighborhoods and explosions light up their Syrian skies, members of The White Helmets run toward the danger to rescue whomever survived or recover the bodies of those who did not. Members are former builders, former blacksmith—good, kind blue collar men that simply want to do the right thing in the midst of the most grim humanitarian conditions they'll ever face. Civilian volunteers with limited (or no) training who have saved over 58,000 lives to date. But those good deeds don't come without sacrifice. Each day they venture into the rubble is a day they may never come home. Many White Helmet lives have been lost "on the job." Despite this, they support each other like brothers (some even learn of their own deceased family members while being filmed for this documentary), crying, hugging and taking well-earned emotional breaks when they just can't keep going. Films like this should be mandatory in schools, in homes, in governments.