ROAD TO OSCARS: The Documentary Shorts (2021)
A Concerto is a Conversation ★★★★
In preparation for the opening night of his concerto titled For a Younger Self, Oscar-winning composer Kris Bowers reflects on someone else’s youth: his grandfather’s, Horace. As the man’s health deteriorates, Bowers feels the urge to make the most of the remaining time, prompting an open-hearted conversation about his grandfather’s past, from the days of Jim Crow to seeing Kris take the main stage at the imposing Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Executive produced by Ava DuVernay, A Concerto is a Conversation is a celebration of not only the power of nurturing but also the importance of preserving a family’s history. Beautifully shot, the short intersperses close-ups of the two men as they go over the love Kris felt growing up and the hatred his grandfather painfully recognised as the norm. We get to see Horace lovingly standing at the back of Kris’ piano as the kid grows into a man, from school days to Julliard to the Oscars. And, as he sees his wildest ambitions personalised, there is a poignancy knowing that the obstacles he faced when entering the world are still very much present as he leaves it.
At 90 years old, Colette Marin-Catherine prepares to visit a concentration camp for the first time in her life. The decision, however, is far from tourism-fuelled. The former member of the French Resistance has been contacted by a young historian currently studying the life of her older brother, Jean Pierre – also a Resistance member – killed by the Nazis in 1945.
It’s hard to justify the voyeuristic presence of the camera as Colette verges on the edge of breaking point. The woman, who at a certain moment states she rarely ever cries, now floods the shoulder of the young student accompanying her in this journey, one that rummages through old wounds to the point of bleeding. The student, equally touched by the harrowing experience, sees the academic fully melt into the personal as one wonders if this story would have been better shared by the two only.
Do Not Split ★★★
Wo le fei. The Cantonese slang is often employed to describe protesters that believe in nonviolent resistance. It means “peaceful, rational, non-violent”. The expression is displayed right at the beginning of Do Not Split, mere seconds before the camera shows a group of people breaking into a Hong Kong branch of the Bank of China and setting it on fire.
The film, which documents the 2019/2020 Hong Kong protests, is filled with palpable rage, so much so it ultimately sacrifices cohesion in favour of showcasing its wealth of impactful footage. With the protests derailed by the COVID-19 global pandemic, the documentary poses an important question: what happens when the world is lifted from the standstill?
Hunger Ward ★★★
“War plus children equals deprivation”. Two hospitals in Yemen experience a gruelling Groundhog Day as children enter their doors on the brink of death. Their arms have the thickness of an adult’s thumb and their heads, adorned by empty eyes, bobble painfully on top of bodies so fragile one would think even the wind would cause it to crumble.
As the civil war continues to ravage the country, blocking food supplies and international aid, child malnutrition reaches an epidemic level. Hunger Ward follows two medical professionals as they attempt to mend a gushing bullet wound with a piece of torn bandage, seeing mothers and grandmothers fall to their knees as they howl, the exhaustion so heavy their eyes at times can’t even produce tears.
Once again in this category one is left to question what delineates the muddy barriers between the moral and the exploitative. As the camera hovers over the dead bodies of children, their families yet to cross the hospital door back into heightened sorrow, nothing much is left apart from despair and a lingering feeling that harnessing one’s grief to fuel change is far from the only – or best – option.
A Love Song for Latasha ★★★★
A Love Song for Latasha tells the story of Latasha Harlins, a black girl shot at the age of 15 by a convenience store owner in 1991 over a $1.69 bottle of orange juice. Harlin’s murderer was set free with five years probation and no jail time, the rage over the verdict one of the catalysts to the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
“They don’t know who she was as an individual”, says Latasha’s best friend, and director Sophia Nahli Allison builds a documentary that seeks to change that by paying tribute to the girl beyond the headlines. Through the use of animation, a sharp montage and ethereal cinematography, the film explores Latasha’s life, her dreams and ambitions as the ones close to her reminisce over her kindness and the hole that was left in their lives when she was brutally taken away.
The video of Latasha’s death, played over and over again in the news two decades ago, is never featured, a testament to Nahli Allison’s direction. We get to know Latasha through words filled with love despite being tainted by grief. We hear her name over and over again. Here, it’s about her life, not her death.
Shorts TV presents the Oscar-nominated shorts in theatres from April 2, 2021.
The films go into theatres around the world shortly after nominations are announced and are not released anywhere else until a few days before the Oscars®, when they are also made available via on demand platforms, including iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play and Vimeo on Demand.