Power and Terror: A Short Essay on the Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts of 2023

Posted in Theatrical by - February 17, 2023
Power and Terror: A Short Essay on the Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts of 2023

A woman exposing the truths of government at the highest level. A baby elephant that bonds with a family. A potential terrorist striking back at those whom he doesn’t understand. A young girl growing up before our eyes.

Oh, and 100,000 walruses.

All of these stories are encompassed in this year’s collection of Oscar-nominated short documentaries, in theatres on Friday. From global warming to female empowerment to racism, each story could not be more diverse in tone or style. Some emphasize the massive scope of the natural world while others tell intimate portraits of the individual. Some emphasize the darkness of humanity whereas others offer a more optimistic picture. As such, each nominee is fascinating in their own right, telling gripping tales of hope and horror.

But, believe it or not, as different as these shorts may be, they all seem to deal with the same theme. The wife of a government representative share similarities with… the vast expanse of thousands of walrus. Every one of these shorts seems to deal with the concept of power in different ways. For example, with only minimal questions to ask his daughter, the father of Measure asks her repeatedly to tell him the definition of power. Those definitions change as his girl grows up but, to him, that idea becomes how he wants to frame his conversation. Meanwhile, Martha Mitchell is beloved by the public (or chastised by those in government). She feels both things because of her independent spirit and ability to make public officials nervous. Her free spirit and ability to remain vocal about truth gives us unimaginable power.

Of course, we also see the toxicity of power as well. This comes best through Stranger at the Gate as it unravels the story of a man who wants to regain control of a nation gone mad in the face of terrorism.

However, the concept of power amongst these docs are not always about how one claims power but also how one experiences power around them, especially through the natural world. In Haulout, we bear witness to a man who is at the mercy of awesome power of the walrus population. Although he is there to observe, the short positions him as the unwelcome visitor amongst these massive beasts who are looking for a home as a result of global warming. Similarly, Elephant Whisperers points to the power that environmental damage is having on the elephant population and how it affects man’s relationship with the wildlife.

Most importantly though, several of the shorts tackle the power of grace. Stranger highlights the healing that can take place when love melts hate. Whisperers reveals the amazing, even spiritual transformation that happens when nature touches our lives. To some extent, even The Martha Mitchell Effect points to the need to listen without judgment in the search for truth.

In almost every story, the power of grace sparks some sense of hope for humanity or the world.

But therein lies the power (pun intended) of these particular docs. Despite their wild differences, every one of them takes a surprisingly optimistic stance in the midst of struggle. Now, it’s up to the voters to describe which message they believe is ‘best’.

The Oscar Nominated Shorts are available in theatres on Friday, February 17th, 2023.

  • Release Date: 2/17/2023
This post was written by
Born at a very early age, Steve is a Toronto-based writer and podcaster who loves to listen to what matters to our culture on screen. When he first saw Indiana Jones steal the cross of Coronado, he knew his world would never be the same and, since then, he’s found more and more excuses to digest what’s in front of him onscreen. Also, having worked as a youth and community minister for almost 20 years, he learned that stories help everyone engage the world around them. He’s a proud hubby, father (x2) and believes that Citizen Kane, Batman Forever (yes, the Kilmer one), and The Social Network belong in the same conversation. You can hear his ramblings on ScreenFish Radio wherever podcasts are gettable or at his website, ScreenFish.net.
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