2019 Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts, Ranked: Contenders Use True Tales to Unpack Urgent Issues

IndieWire | 2/20/1939 | Staff
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Each of this year’s five contenders for the Oscar Best Documentary (Short Subject) packs a timely issue at its heart: immigration, women’s health, health care, racism, and the spread of fascist ideology. Most of them find a personal edge for their stories, too, rooting out heroes (a plucky group of Indian entrepreneurs, empathetic American hospice workers) and villains (a pack of narrow-minded British teens, governmental policies of all stripes) in the pursuit of both truth and a good story.

Curiously, in a mostly well-made group of would-be winners, it’s the nominee that is the least outwardly personal that is the most successful, because its content doesn’t chronicle the story of just one person or group, instead offering a chilling indictment of an entire country at one pivotal moment in history. In a field of urgent films, it’s the oldest story that packs the biggest punch, if only because it comes with such a necessary warning: keep telling these stories, or nothing will ever change.

Ranking - Category - Speculation - Frontrunners

Here’s a ranking of the category with some speculation on the frontrunners.

“Lifeboat”

Filmmaker - Skye - Fitzgerald - Group - Refugees

Filmmaker Skye Fitzgerald follows a German non-profit group dedicated to helping refugees fleeing Libya by undergoing the treacherous Mediterranean sea crossing. It’s a story many people have likely heard about in big, broad strokes, but few have ever journeyed inside, and while Fitzgerald’s access is admirable, the final result is less inspiring. From the start, the sense of disconnection is profound — where are we? who are we with? what’s happening? — but while that could speak to the emotions of the very people attempting to reach a better life through terrifying means, it seems less intentional and more the product of unfocused filmmaking.

Fitzgerald does eventually hone in on his principal characters and the wrenching mission they’ve set themselves on, and the film’s unflinching chronicle of the...
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