Oscar-Nominated Short Films: The Documentaries
Runs Fri., Feb. 21–Thurs., Feb. 27 at Sundance Cinemas. Not rated. 167 minutes.
Among the five titles included here, four of which I’ve seen, most deal with emphatically Big Topics: prison reform, the Holocaust, the Arab Spring, and queer bashing. (The fifth, an outlier, is about an eccentric New Mexico artist.) It’s hard enough to finance a feature-length documentary, so these shorts skew toward the important—meaning PBS and HBO will take note. (The one I missed, Prison Terminal, will air on HBO next month.)
The Lady in Number 6 is a polished English profile of a 109-year-old pianist and Holocaust survivor; bless her heart for that. Karama Has No Walls, filmed by two extraordinarily brave young cameramen while government forces were shooting at them and fellow protestors, is a bloody news dispatch from Yemen, close cousin to the Oscar-nominated Tahrir Square doc The Square. Cavedigger, the outlier, is a sad/amusing portrait of a guy who creates cathedral-like sandstone caves; but it’s also like every Seattle homeowner’s horror story about the contractor who won’t finish a remodel on any terms but his. Don’t hire this artist, in other words.
The film I predict will take home the Oscar next Sunday is Jason Cohen’s Facing Fear, a Los Angeles crime tale that takes over 25 years to unfold. In 1981, a 15-year-old street hustler and a 17-year-old skinhead meet in the parking lot of a hot-dog stand. It’s an angry mob against one, and the scared gay teen—cast out by his fundamentalist mother—is kicked and beaten unconscious on the pavement. During the ride home to the suburbs, Tim Zaal later recalls, he and his boisterous, drunken buddies got uncomfortably quiet: Did they actually kill that little faggot?
Flash-forward to the present day. Matthew Boger, scars conspicuous on his face, is a soft-spoken manager at L.A.’s Museum of Tolerance, established in 1993, where he coordinates school groups and lecturers from those previously on both sides of the hate divide. Tim and Matthew are going to meet again, and I’ll leave the particulars there. How do you forgive your would-be killer? And how can that violent felon ever atone for his assault? I’ll leave those questions for Facing Fear to answer. (Damn, is it getting dusty in here? There’s something in my eye . . . )