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Finding Roses In The Rubble: The 2011 Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts

By Brian Prisco | Film | February 24, 2011 |

By Brian Prisco | Film | February 24, 2011 |

I never understood the concept of a documentary short. How can they not feel like truncated version of full features? But I guess that’s just the nature of the documentary short. None of these films felt like cheats or unfinished works. I wouldn’t have minded if they found ways to flesh out the final works, but they were still solid pieces of filmmaking.

Like the rest of this year’s documentaries, there’s the overarching themes of the doomed nature of how the world or the government is planning on killing us. It’s a steady batch of global disasters: the Iraq war, terrorism, global warming, pollution, and the displacement of families due to civil war. Most of the films focus on a unique vision on these particular elements, and they continue the spectacular trend of documentary filmmaking. They really do feel like, if not immediate relations, at least the spiritual cousins of this year’s feature documentary crop. Plus, as we well know, the academy adores love and squalor almost as much as Esme.

Strangers No More

This was the sweetest of the films presented, and yet the most casually harrowing. It documents the students of the Bialik-Rogozin School in Tel Aviv, a K-12 institution that takes in the refugees of various conflicts from around the world. Over 78 countries have students, and we get the usual “brief glimpse with violins” of a few select children. But where some documentaries wring every element of pathos out of their subjects, directors Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon focus more on how they are succeed and how they are blossoming. The atrocities are still played for the money shot, but it’s effective because it’s not the point of the film. Horrible things have plagued these children, and now they’re in a safe and successful nurturing place.

The Warriors of Quigang

Pollution! AAAAHHH! That’s usually how pollution is presented as an argument — in the loud and abstract. Quigang is a district in central China, and we watch as the villagers basically fight back against the chemical corporation that is corrupting both the governmental system and the farmlands they live on. It could easily be a Hollywood film — something akin to Cradle Will Rock with the riot police busting heads and goons throwing bricks to intimidate the people brave enough to stand up and stand firm. It’s interesting for what they don’t and can’t show. Ruby Yang shows the dangers of global pollution by focusing on one factory and the town it’s slowly killing and it’s remarkably effective.

Poster Girl

Robynn Murray was a cheerleader and National Merit scholar who wanted nothing more than to join the army since she was a little girl. She’s a big “EAT THIS” to the people who think soldiers are just hoorah Xbox junkies who couldn’t get into college. You know. People like me. So much so that Robynn graced the cover of ARMY Magazine. And then she went to war, and was horrified by the monster she had become. Now Robynn is home, debilitated with PTSD, covered in tattoos and piercings, trying to recover from the devastating effects of the Iraq War. She’s become an advocate for the Veterans Against the War and now she works with a group that takes uniforms and pulps them for paper to create art. Sara Nesson’s film is just as powerful as Restrepo and The Tillman Story, unearthing yet another shattering effect of the conflict in the Middle East. The only complaint I might make is that the film does skew a bit towards the emo, especially in Robynn’s artwork, but if anyone has the right to be maudlin and fauxarty, it’s someone who got shot at.

Sun Come Up

Global warming is another one of those buzzwords you hear where glue factory reject Teabagger-types often ask “Show me the proof!” Well, here you go. The Carteret Islands are located off of Papua New Guinea near Australia and New Zealand. And they’re sinking. Due to global warming, the oceans are rising and the Carteret Islands and being absorbed. Tidal waves sweep in a destroy crops, and now the entire population has to try to find land on nearby Bougainville, or they will die. The film follows the Carteret folk as they basically go village to village, clan to clan, begging for a small tract of land on which they can attempt to scrape and survive. Bougainville recently had a civil war, and the Carteret folks are in danger of being executed as they try to survive. And as their home is swept away. Jennifer Redfearn does a great job telling a crushing story, but I can’t help but feel that much like “The Hills” and other reality type programming, everything feels a little bit staged. It’s a story that needs to be told, but it just feels like a manufactured product.

Killing In The Name

In our effort to bronze and memorialize 9/11 and the spectre of terrorism, Americans often forget that terrorism happens other places. In 2005, a suicide bomber walked into the hotel where Ashraf and his wife were being married and exploded, taking out 27 of their friends and three of their parents. Now, Ashraf has created the Global Survivor Network to help combat terrorism in the Muslim world. His focus is that most suicide bombers are not killing “whites and Jews and Christians” like they planned, but more often than not, they are murdering their fellow Muslims. Jed Rothstein gets unprecedented access to al Qaeda cells and the mindset of suicide bombers. It’s a staggering film, reminiscent of the terrific A State of Mind about North Korean gymnasts.

They’re all damn fine films, and if I had to choose a favorite, it’d probably be between The Warriors of Quigang and Killing in the Name. Those two affected me the deepest, taking issues that effect everyone and personalizing them. We’ve heard documentaries about suicide bombing and terrorism, but rarely do we get a chance to watch a man question the loving father of a suicide bomber who holds the record for a single suicide bomber killing the most people with a single incident.

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