Home is Everywhere: Our Review of ‘Oscar Short Films 2024: Documentary’

Posted in Theatrical, What's Streaming? by - February 17, 2024
Home is Everywhere: Our Review of ‘Oscar Short Films 2024: Documentary’

I was looking at my colleague Caity’s piece on this year’s live action nominees and I was slightly jealous that she got to watch a Scandinavian short. I assumed that the shorts in that category have some diversity on it. At first look, this year’s nominees for the Motion Picture Academy’s Best Documentary shorts feel like they come from two places. Two are from China and three are from America. But on closer inspection, I think I chose right and besides, two of the American shorts show different sides of that melting pot. Both shows how America stifles creativity and how creative people are resilient regardless. In my own way, I got to country hop, I chose right, let’s get this over with.

Nai Nai and Wai Po

This short captures two Chinese grandmothers – one is the director’s maternal grandmother and the other is the paternal. Despite moments where they share each other’s Daytona Winds, they hang out. It’s good to have good feelings while watching documentary shorts. A part of me, though, was suspicious towards a short that starts out cutesy. But one scene outdoes the other here, especially its climatic scene where both women dress up in Gen-Z drip. I wish I look this good now and I know I won’t look this good in my…eighties? The short then turns serious, reminding us that each person lives lifetimes. This is the crop’s best and my pick to win, making me worry that it’s all downhill from here on in.

The Barber of Little Rock

Give even if either other people or society at large tell you not to. That’s the message of John Hoffman and Christine Turner’s short which appeared in The New Yorker’s platform. Its main interviewee, Arlo Washington, narrates the economic devastation that many Black Arkansans feel. And the short accompanies that narration with visuals of boarded up houses, after just talking about boarded up houses. He then compares the Black neighbourhoods in Little Rock to the white ones across the Interstate. A tale as old as America. Washintgon, though, starts a fund to help Black businesses. This short has a lot of haters online, and rewatches don’t do this favours, but its emotional impact still works.

The Last Repair Shop

Many people have different reasons to love music, or work in the industry in some capacity. This short interviews several elementary and high school level musicians as well as the people repairing their instruments. Obviously, the adults, each in charge of different groups of instruments, have a bigger variety of interesting stories. The climactic one is about a guy who finds his love of music from Frankenstein of all places, but other stories involve a single mother from Mexico and an Armenian who had to leave Baku after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Affecting stuff as it beautifully mixes archive photos, behind the scenes footage, and interviews with sweeping orchestral music. As a former clarinet player, how could I not?

Island In Between

Filmmaker S. Leo Chiang captures images of an empty ferry terminal in Kinmen, an island belonging to the Republic of China (Taiwan), one hundred miles from the People’s Republic. He then narrates the relatively recent history between the two Chinas as well as the factors that kept the two countries both apart and together. This short also shows how COVID heightens the tensions between the two countries. A short from the New York Times, it evinces this feeling of dread to have two enemies be that geographically close. The short does have some didactic tendencies as it captures a woman and her friend talking about the ferry and other topics, but that doesn’t take away from its overall tense atmosphere.

The ABCs of Book Banning

People need to learn history, or new perspectives, or to help people see themselves, and books help do those things. A young hijabi reads Wishtree, reading some painful passages about angry men screaming Islamophobic things as a blue house. The short juxtaposes this scene with another where a young girl reads Ari Folman’s illustrated version of Anne Frank’s diary. A Florida library and school board, by the way, banned both books. You know that the school board banned those books because it shows the cover and there is a graphic indicating that the board banned it. This is more like an infographic instead of a documentary.It also tries to retell these forbidden stories through animation that could have been better.

Watch the documentary shorts with Oscar nominations in select Canadian theatres.


This post was written by
While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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