This year's Academy Award documentary short subject nominees prove more substantial than their animation and live-action counterparts. Of the three Oscar shorts categories, the docs — a supersized collection of works broken down here into two separate programs — are the most cohesive bunch, with themes of mortality and reconciliation.
Two shorts from Program A feature subjects already well documented elsewhere. "The Lady in Number 6" profiles Alice Herz Sommer, the now-110-year-old pianist who recited Chopin's études from memory while inside the Theresienstadt concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic. Music enlivens her life in north London today, just as it did during the Holocaust. And in "Facing Fear," reformed skinhead Tim Zaal and former teenage runaway Matthew Boger reunite to recount their roles as the perpetrator and victim, respectively, in a hate crime 25 years ago.
Program A also includes the first-person accounts of the 2011 Yemeni uprising in "Karama Has No Walls," which feels more immediate and unsettling. The gruesome footage captured by Nasr Al-Namir, , 17, and Khaled Rajeh, 23, shakes the soul, even if their accounts and the revolution itself come off as far from complete within the narrative.
In Program B, "Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall" presents the case study of Iowa State Penitentiary's privately funded, inmate-run hospice that cares for the terminally ill. The poignant tale invites reevaluation of the criminal justice system.
By comparison, "Cavedigger" seems the most lightweight of the group. Artist Ra Paulette's quixotic life mission remains very much underexplored, but his exquisite caves are something to marvel at.
"The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2014: Documentary."
MPAA rating: None
Running time: Program A is 1 hour, 37 minutes, Program B is 1 hour, 27 minutes.
Playing: In limited release. Also on VOD.