Two months ago, I encouraged several people to watch this year’s crop of Oscar-nominated documentary shorts. My only instruction: have tissues handy. Hard-hitting themes ranged from Syria, to end-of-life decisions in an ICU, to Syria, to the Holocaust, to Syria.
So months before the White House fired its missiles in the direction of the Middle Eastern country this week, the Academy was providing us privileged folk sitting in soft recliners with varied perspectives on the crisis that’s happening halfway around the world—where instead of privilege there are regular shellings, and instead of soft recliners there are scared children. The nominated documentaries, “The White Helmets” (the eventual winner), “Watani: My Homeland,” and “4.1 Miles” each offer a completely different take on Syria’s civil war, and each gives us reason to care. This is essential viewing. Below I give a brief synopsis for each film, including the full version of “4.1 Miles.”
Fifteen documentary features have been shortlisted for the 85th Academy Awards. Of these, five will receive nominations, which will be announced on Thursday, January 10 at 8:30am EST. The shortlisted films are as follows:
I recently acted as a creative consultant on a friend’s feature documentary. In doing so, I came up with EATS, a set of considerations to help make a strong doc. (I was hungry when I originally wrote this, so I imagine that factored into the acronym.) I do not profess to be an expert in documentary filmmaking, but with my previous experiences as a festival screener and in consideration of some of the most successful and enjoyable documentaries I have seen, I believe these four elements are necessary. What are your thoughts? Feel free to comment below.
Buck is the winner of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award—Documentary. Below is the official poster and synopsis.
“Your horse is a mirror to your soul, and sometimes you may not like what you see. Sometimes, you will.” So says Buck Brannaman, a true American cowboy and sage on horseback who travels the country for nine grueling months a year helping horses with people problems.
Buck, a richly textured and visually stunning film, follows Brannaman from his abusive childhood to his phenomenally successful approach to horses. A real-life “horse whisperer,” he eschews the violence of his upbringing and teaches people to communicate with their horses through leadership and sensitivity, not punishment. Buck possesses near magical abilities as he dramatically transforms horses—and people—with his understanding, compassion, and respect. In this film, the animal-human relationship becomes a metaphor for facing the daily challenges of life. A truly American story about an unsung hero, Buck is about an ordinary man who has made an extraordinary life despite tremendous odds.