Arts & Entertainment

Movie reviews: Oscar-nominated short documentaries

Unrest, Conflicts and WarBombingsDocumentary (genre)IraqWeatherIraq War (2003-2011)Fran Drescher

This year's Oscar contenders in the nonfiction shorts category reflect the academy's preference for documentaries with a socially conscious message rather than more experimental or open-ended explorations.

Clocking in at about 40 minutes each, all five address dire realities and offer varying degrees of uplift, but in every case the essential notion is that of healing through action.

For the Jordanian subject of "Killing in the Name," who lost much of his family in a suicide bombing at his wedding, that healing takes the form of a "de-radicalization" project, a crusade within the Muslim world to put a human face on political ideology. The straightforward film offers a refreshing non-Western perspective on the victims of terror.

"Poster Girl" also looks at an individual's stance against violence, profiling the antiwar awakening of a young female Iraq vet. The most intimate of the films, it's sometimes uncomfortably — and affectingly — close in its depiction of her struggles with PTSD and military red tape.

For the Chinese villagers of "The Warriors of Qiugang," the awakening is collective. The visually inventive and eloquent film follows three years of the village's legal battles with a poison-spewing chemical plant. In its most powerful moment, a plant rep tells a farmer, "You are not an ordinary villager anymore."

Breakthroughs have a softer impact in the more conventional, talk-heavy "Strangers No More," but there's no shortage of feeling in its year-in-the-life portrait of a Tel Aviv public elementary school. The students, refugees from war zones and dire poverty around the world, blossom under the guidance of passionate teachers, among them a spirited cross between Fran Drescher and Sally Hawkins.

A different type of refugee — environmental — is at the center of "Sun Come Up," the most haunting of the nominees. The debut doc captures a poignant historical transition as the Carteret Islanders search for a new home in the South Pacific, their tiny piece of paradise doomed to the rising oceans of climate change.

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