This year's Oscar-nominated short documentaries serve up potent slices of life that can be a little difficult to swallow because of the lumps they put in your throat.
Despite their brief runtimes — each one clocks in at 40 minutes or less — the films earn their Academy Award honors by powerfully pairing real faces and true stories with weighty social issues.
As part of its Oscar Tune Up, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art is showing all five nominated short documentaries at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at its Noble Theater, 415 Couch Drive. For more information, go to www.okcmoa.com/see/films.
My favorite of the nominees, the biographical short “Inocente,” delves into homelessness and touches on illegal immigration as it chronicles the toils and triumphs of the title character, a 15-year-old aspiring artist from San Diego, Calif. Her undocumented, fatherless family bounces from various homeless shelters and cheap apartments as her mother struggles to provide for Inocente and her two younger brothers.
Through a nonprofit program called A Reason to Survive — or ARTS — Inocente is given a chance to develop a charming, self-confident personality along with a vibrant, vividly hued painting style. As she creates 30 new pieces in preparation for her first solo exhibition, the teen copes with her fractured relationship with her mother, the aftermath of abuse suffered at the hands of her now-deported father and, above all, her longing for a real home.
Directed by previous Oscar nominees Sean Fine and Andrea Nix (2007's feature documentary “War Dance”), “Inocente” is a poignant testament to the healing strength of the arts.
“Redemption” subtly touches on a variety of hot-button issues as it follows several New York City “canners”: men, women and sometimes their children who dig through trash cans from Brooklyn's Crown Heights to Manhattan's Gramercy Park to collect empty bottles and cans to redeem for 5 cents apiece. Since the tough economy has left jobs in short supply, the canners include a homeless Vietnam War veteran who used to make his wage as a short-order cook, a retired IBM programmer supplementing her Social Security check and several undocumented workers trying to carve out better lives for themselves and often for their children.
Another sometimes humorous and more often heartbreaking story featuring multiple colorful characters, “Kings Point” examines loss, love, loneliness and, most of all, the complexities of relationships at a retirement community just outside West Palm Beach, Fla. Most of the residents are former New Yorkers who moved into Kings Point in 1970s and '80s, lured by the promise of mild weather, low down payments and myriad social activities. But as their community ages, they are left with an increasing sense of isolation.
“Mondays at Racine,” which showcases a Long Island salon whose feisty owners provide free services for cancer patients on the third Monday of each month, also incorporates many different names, faces and stories. But director Cynthia Wade, who already has one short documentary Oscar for 2007's “Freeheld,” fortifies her film by following two breast cancer patients home: Cambria Russell, 36, a newly diagnosed mother of two young boys, and Linda Hart, 59, who wants to stop treatment after undergoing nearly nonstop chemotherapy for 17 years.
“Open Heart” also beats more strongly because filmmaker Kief Davidson hones in on two girls — 6-year-old Angelique and 17-year-old Marie — in a group of eight Rwandan children who must travel 2,500 miles to the Sudan to undergo lifesaving heart operations at the Salam Center, the only free cardiac surgery hospital on the entire African continent.
This year's short documentary field is so robust, film fans will have difficulty deciding which one to root for when the Oscars are handed out Feb. 24.
— Brandy McDonnell