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Academy Award-Nominated Documentary Shorts 2005

Not rated, 132 min. Directed by Various.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., April 7, 2006

The average moviegoer rarely has a point of reference when the Oscar winners in the short film categories are announced each year. Who but members of the Academy have the opportunity to see these nominees prior to the big night? Although this compilation of the four short documentary films nominated this year will permit you only to pronounce ex-post-facto the nominee that should have won the Oscar, it nevertheless provides you the limited opportunity to see a type of film rarely available for public viewing. The four nominees presented in this omnibus package (no clue why the traditional five films were not nominated in this category this year) all have a socio-political bent, some more overt than others. “The Death of Kevin Carter: Casualty of the Bang Bang Club” (D: Dan Krauss) cryptically relates how a fearless (some may say reckless) South African photojournalist, who won the Pulitzer prize for a haunting photograph of an emaciated Sudanese toddler being watched by a patient vulture, ultimately succumbed to his demons as a result of the horrifying things he witnessed in his profession. It’s not entirely clear from the film, however, the extent to which Carter’s self-destructive impulses and love for danger also played a part in his tragic end, and as a result the documentary is not as compelling as it could have been. Slightly more successful is the gently feminist “God Sleeps in Rwanda" (D: Kimberlee Acquaro and Stacy Sherman), which presents a series of interviews with Rwandan women who survived the ethnic-cleansing genocide in 1994 that resulted in the death of three out of every four men in their country. The documentary is a hopeful one, depicting how these women – once a repressed gender – have emerged as community leaders, heads of households, and the backbone of a nation that continues to heal. Like the first two short documentaries, “The Mushroom Club” (D: Steven Okazaki) could also use tighter editing and a more focused perspective, though there are times in the film that you might feel as if your heart is being wrenched from its cavity. Japanese-American filmmaker Steven Okazaki returns to Hiroshima 60 years after the first atomic bomb destroyed the city and interviews residents there who survived the unthinkable. While these firsthand accounts and the emotional and physical effects of the bomb’s impact are difficult to witness, the most shocking imagery in this film comes in the form of an animated piece created by a survivor who was just a boy on that fateful day in August 1945. (The animator lived because he was picking up a rock off the ground just as the blast occurred.) On its face, the last film initially seems out of place in the context of the other three films. Its focal point – a now-forgotten radio programmer and writer named Norman Corwin, who was a household name during World War II – seems almost trivial compared to the casualties of war depicted in the other short documentaries. But as you listen to the muscular, Whitmanesque poetry that Corwin broadcasted for the masses and appreciate the thinking-man’s patriotism he advocated, you realize that the sentiments he expressed about the lessons that humankind must learn about the senselessness of war are as universal now as they were then and shall forever be. It’s no wonder that this subtle but powerful fourth entry in the Oscar race took the golden boy home. “A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin” (D: Corinne Marrinan and Eric Simonson) is a triumph indeed, on every level. (Screens April 10 and April 15-17 only.)
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