Oscars: 10 Doc Shorts That Go to Great Lengths

9:00 AM 11/15/2016

by Mia Galuppo

From Netflix's 'Extremis' to 'The White Helmets,' the films that made the Academy's shortlist explore many global topics that are ripped from the headlines.

10 Doc Shorts That Go to Great Lengths - Extremis - Still 1 -H 2016
Courtesy of Netflix

While Hollywood will have to wait a few more weeks for the documentary feature shortlist to be announced Dec. 5, the Academy's documentary branch has named the 10 shorts (out of 61 submissions) that made the first cut in the category's runup to the Oscar nominations, which will be announced Jan. 27. The selections come from all corners of the globe, shining light on the triumphs and tragedies surmounted by subjects ranging from Syrian refugees to Holocaust survivors.

  • 4.1 Miles

    Greece-born but Bay Area-based director Daphne Matziaraki returned to Greece to tell the story of a local coast guard captain who, amid the Syrian refugee crisis, has become overwhelmed saving families from the Aegean Sea after they flee Turkey. All of the rescues in the film took place on one day, Oct. 28, 2015.

  • Brillo Box (3¢ Off)

    Director Lisanne Skyler's parents bought one of Andy Warhol's original Brillo box sculptures for $1,000 in 1969. In 2010, the work sold at a Christie's auction for $3 million. This short, which is backed by HBO Documentary Films, tells the story of the famous pop-art sculpture's decades-long journey from a living room to the auction block.

  • Close Ties

    Polish film student Zofia Kowalewska directed this short about her grandparents, Zdzislaw and Barbara, who, while approaching their 45th wedding anniversary, rekindled their relationship. Zdzislaw, who had left Barbara for his lover, returned to his wife after he became ill.

  • Extremis

    For the Netflix original, Oscar-nominated director Dan Krauss (The Life of Kevin Carter) gained access to an ICU in Oakland, Calif., where he documented families making gut-wrenching end-of-life decisions. The streaming giant has been nominated four times for best documentary feature but has yet to secure a nomination in the short category.

  • Frame 394

    Distributed via the CBC, Frame 394 tells the story of Daniel Voshart, a Canadian architecture student who becomes obsessed with the 2015 shooting of Walter Scott, an American black man, by a white police officer in Charleston, N.C. Director Rich Williamson shows Voshart poring over every frame of video from the shooting to find out what happened at the fatal traffic stop.

  • Joe's Violin

    This Kickstarter-backed short focuses on Holocaust survivor Joseph Feingold, who donates his violin to a New York instrument drive. Director Kahane Cooperman, a former executive producer on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, heard Feingold's story on public radio and tracked down the instrument's new owner, Brianna Perez, a teenage girl in the Bronx.

  • The Mute's House

    Israeli filmmaker Tamar Kay takes a look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the eyes of Yousef, an 8-year-old Palestinian boy who was born with only one arm. He and his deaf mother live in the Israeli part of the West Bank city of Hebron, where they are the only inhabitants in an otherwise deserted building, which the Israeli soldiers around them call "the mute's house" (though Yousef's mother isn't mute).

  • The Other Side of Home

    Armenian director Nare Mkrtchyan, a graduate of USC's film school, centered this film on Maya, a Turkish woman who discovers that her great-grandmother was a survivor of the Armenian genocide. Maya wrestles with what the unresolved conflict, which left more than an estimated 1 million dead, means to her a century later.

  • Watani: My Homeland

    This short follows four children — Sara, Farah, Helen and Mohammed — as they relocate from war-torn Aleppo to settle into a new life in Germany. It is the follow-up to director Marcel Mettelsiefen's TV documentary Children on the Frontline, where he documented the daily struggles of the same family.

  • The White Helmets

    The White Helmets are a group of 3,000 civilian rescue workers in Syria who run in after air strikes to save the wounded and uncover the dead in the resulting rubble. Director Orlando von Einsiedel and producer Joanna Natasegara also worked with Netflix, which distributed the short, on the Leonardo DiCaprio-produced documentary feature Virunga, which scored a 2015 Oscar nomination.