The Best Documentary Short award is probably the least watched, least understood and least appreciated category at the Academy Awards. Okay, maybe it’s tied with Best Sound Editing. Still, that’s too bad. Fortunately, some of the winners have made the most of this underdog status in their speeches, such as when Jessica Yu joked in 1997 that her evening dress cost more than her film. This year, the nominees for Best Oscar Short are:
- China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province by Jon Alpert and Matthew O’Neil
- The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner by Daniel Junge and Henry Ansbacher
- The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert
- Music by Prudence by Roger Ross Williams and Elinor Burkett
- Rabbit à la Berlin by Bartek Konopka and Anna Wydra
There’s relatively little horse-trading going on in this category, and little is known about the filmmakers — plus, Academy members who vote are obligated to actually see each film, so it’s usually up for grabs. So, how can the rest of us hope to predict the winner? Find a good source. And what could be better than an actual living, breathing Academy voter who is willing to dish a little? That’s what I got — let’s call him/her “The Source” — to help me read the tea leaves and get us all one step closer to winning our respective Oscar pools.
Both China’s Unnatural Disaster and The Last Campaign are worthy, compelling films, but apparently, they don’t have the thematic impact of the other three.
The Last Truck: This story of regular Americans who are facing joblessness in a tough economy should resonate. It “really struck a chord,” the Source says. “Especially poignant seeing friendships that would end, and middle-aged workers wondering how they’re gonna reinvent themselves.”
Music by Prudence: This film is about a disabled Zimbabwean musician (pictured, left) who delivers hope with her beautiful voice that is “beyond Beyonce.” This has to be the favorite: my eyes are welling up just writing about it. According to the Source, the film is the “most extraordinary in its subject matter: you think you’ve got it tough?” The Source adds that the film is “simple but humbling and inspiring.”
Rabbit à la Berlin: Here’s a non-fiction film told through the eyes of the rabbits who lived in the no-man’s land beyond the Berlin Wall. A film like this defines for me why the doc short genre is so great. And this one is “brilliantly told. . . [It’s] funny, enlightening and totally original. Easily the most inventive and best made of the shorts.” Sounds like a must-see. But a must-win? . . .
The Source wasn’t willing to tell me which film s/he voted for, but I’m predicting that the winner will be Prudence by a hare.