Beautifully Tragic Truths: Our Review of the ‘Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - February 08, 2019
Beautifully Tragic Truths: Our Review of the ‘Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts’

There’s real value in the truth…

As we’re in the full swing of Oscar season with the awards ceremony only a couple of weeks away it makes sense that the entire lineup of Oscar nominated short films are running now at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.  We’ve looked and the Animated as well as the Live Action selections but now it’s time to take a gander at the Documentary shorts which range from haunting to uplifting to a little enervating.

A Night At The Garden

On February 20, 1939, more than 20,000 Americans gathered in Madison Square Garden to celebrate the rise of Nazism. Archival footage shows the speech given by Fritz Kuhn, the leader of the German American Bund, as he urges his supporters to mistrust the media and free America from the influence of Jews.

As short yet terrifying affair, this is a cold slice of life from director Marshall Curry that shows how in almost 80 years as much as we have changed and evolved as a species, we’ve still got a way to go.

Produced by the all-star documentary team from Field Of Vision; Laura Poitras and Charlotte Cook (who are also in the running for a documentary feature with Hale County, This Morning, This Evening, this stunning short has to be our personal favourite to take home the gold.

Black Sheep

Following the killing in 2000 of a 10-year-old boy of Nigerian descent, Cornelius Walker’s Nigerian mother, fearing that her sons could also be targeted, moves her family from London to Essex. Their housing estate is filled with racists, however, prompting Cornelius to go to extremes to fit in and find friendship.

From directors Ed Perkins and Jonathan Chinn, Black Sheep really manages to shine a light on not only the extremes that people will go to sometimes in order to find acceptance while in a difficult situation but it also highlights the true ignorance of rampant racism that spreads faster then we’d care to admit in so many walks of life.

The film successfully draws into the psyche and emotional plight of the subject at hand which makes for a truly engaging watch and is easily another front runner in this Oscar Race.

End Game

At Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco, teams of medical professionals, social workers and counselors work with patients and their families to ensure that their end-of-life care is compassionately tailored to their needs while also trying to alleviate their fears about death.

It’s kind of fitting that this entire film (also available on Netflix) takes place at the ‘Zen’ Hospice Project because End Game does take a very Zen look at people preparing for an witnessing the death of a loved one.

The film takes a very healthy approach because while the subject matter and the subjects themselves are going through a very emotional and difficult time, directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman don’t try to overtly manufacture any more drama then there already is.  Instead it’s a frank look at death and the discussions that need to happen for the terminally ill, because for these people it’s not necessarily about survival, it’s instead about making sure that whatever time any of them have left is the best it can possible be.

Ultimately a very solid, understated and important film that’s worth a watch but it might not move the needle towards an Oscar.


In 2016, the German non-profit Sea-Watch aids refugees braving the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to Europe. One such rescue mission, piloted by British captain Jon Castle, plucks refugees from several tiny boats and carries them to safety. During the journey, the refugees reveal how poverty, violence and sexual trafficking forced them to flee their homes.

This is a tragic and powerful watch as directors Skye Fitzgerald and Bryn Mooser put us on the front lines to see the surge of immigrants from war torn nation literally risk life and limb at the remote hope of a better life away from these war torn countries.  However as poignant and obviously true this crisis is, the film is way too on the nose and really only gets to talking to its subject; a captain of the Sea-Watch rescue ships towards the end of the film.  It tries to touch on the constant struggle these rescue workers deal with between the compassion they want to give towards these people and the logic of knowing that so many are coming in that taking these refugees is increasingly difficult for so many nations.  However the film spends it’s time manipulating its audience with emotional reactions and testimonials from actual refugees.

I’ll grant that if this film even inspires one person to contribute or help in some way with the refugee crisis then its done its job but purely as a film, Lifeboat is obviously manipulative and plays a little clunky.

Period. End of Sentence.

In the rural village of Hapur, outside of Delhi, India, women hope to make feminine hygiene supplies easily available and end the stigma surrounding menstruation, which often results in girls having to drop out of school. A machine that makes sanitary pads is installed, and the women operating it find financial security and independence.

While this easily could have gone into some darker territory, directors Rayka Zehtabchi and Melissa Berton have made a positive and empowering little film.  Directly inspired from The Pad Project ( Period End of Sentence allows for some genuine awkward humor along with a genuine sense of empowerment and pride in the female populations of these smaller rural towns as they no longer have to accept any outdated stigmas about how the female body operates.

The film allows its subjects to be able to hold their heads high and is at the very least a life affirming reminder that for all the horrible things going on the world (some that we saw in the previous films) there’s also some good going on as well.  It’s a feel good short, but those rarely bring home the gold.

The Oscar Nominated Documentary, Live Action and Animated Shorts are all currently playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox…go check them out and get your Oscar pools filled nice and early.

  • Release Date: 2/8/2019
This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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