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A version of this story first appeared in a special awards season issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Documentary shorts often get lost in the Academy Awards melee, but these small snippets of nonfiction filmmaking have the capacity to contain narratives with outsize impact.
There are 10 of these shorts (to qualify, a film must clock in under 40 minutes) vying for five slots on the Oscar ballot, and although their subjects vary widely, the films share one commonality: All are true stories told in a timely manner.
Body Team 12 (RYOT Films and Vulcan Productions)
Filmed on the ground in Liberia, the doc follows a team tasked with collecting the bodies of those who died in the Ebola epidemic. Olivia Wilde was an executive producer on the project.
When asked what drew here to his project specifically Wilde said: “I was horrified by the stories I was hearing, and floored by the heroes who were risking their lives to help save whomever they could. While the developed world seemed mostly concerned with whether or not Ebola would come to our shores, people in places like Liberia were actually dealing with our worst nightmare.”
The actress has worked with Body Team 12 director David Darg and producer Bryn Mooser on other short docs that focused on a man with the hopes of building a movie theater in post-earthquake Haiti and a surfer who looks to the ocean as a means of escape after Hurricane Sandy destroys his home.
“Once back in the States, David spent the entire editing process in quarantine,” explained Wilde of her filmmaking partner. “He risked his life to make this film, and I am incredibly proud to be a part of the team bringing it to audiences so they can have a glimpse of just how bad this crisis was.”
Chau, Beyond the Lines (Cynasty Films)
Chau is a Vietnamese 16-year-old who lives with severe physical disabilities incurred from the effects of Agent Orange, but nonetheless has dreams of becoming a clothing designer.
Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah (Jet Black Iris America)
A documentary about the making of a documentary. It chronicles French director Claude Lanzmann’s harrowing artistic journey from 1973 to 1985 that led to his landmark Holocaust doc Shoah.
50 Feet From Syria (Spin Film)
Hisham Bismar, a Portland- based orthopedic surgeon, is a Syrian ex-pat who travels to Turkey to help those who cross the border from his war-stricken homeland to seek much-needed medical help.
A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness (SOC Films)
The documentary follows an 18- year-old Pakistani girl who is a rare survivor of an honor killing attempt.
Last Day of Freedom (Living Condition)
This animated doc centers on a man who realizes his brother has committed a crime and subsequently agonizes over whether or not he should call the police.
Minerita (Kanaki Films)
Three women — Lucia, Ivone and Abigail — work an incredibly dangerous job as night watchwomen in the Cerro Rico mining district in Potosi, Bolivia.
My Enemy, My Brother (Fathom Film Group)
The short tells the story of two men, Zahed Haftlang and Najah Aboud, who meet by chance on the streets of Vancouver — when 20 years earlier they were fighting on opposite sides of the Iran-Iraq War, where Zahed risked his own life to save Najah’s.
Starting Point (Munk Studio — Polish Filmmakers Association)
A woman sentenced to prison at age 19 for murder forms an unlikely friendship with Helena, an elderly woman with severe rheumatism.
The Testimony (Atria Film in association with Escape Artists)
The largest rape trial in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s history is at the center of this short that examines military rape as a result of M23 rebellion fighting.
Oscar-winning producer Steve Tisch (Risky Business, Forrest Gump) produced the project after being approached by director Vanessa Block, the sister of an executive at his production company, Escape Artists.
“I was drawn to the story for two reasons,” Tisch explained. “The tragic topicality of the subject matter —sexual violence in Minova in the Democratic Republic of Congo — as well as Vanessa’s passion for wanting to tell this story.”
Tisch’s hopes for the short are simple: “I hope The Testimony leaves audiences educated, enlightened and empowered.”
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