The LAMB Devours the Oscars - Best Documentary Short Subject

Editor's note: Welcome to the thirteenth of a 33-part series dissecting the 82st Academy Awards, brought to you by the Large Association of Movie Blogs and its assorted members. Every day leading up to the Oscars, a new post written by a different LAMB will be published, each covering a different category of the Oscars. To read any other posts regarding this event, please click the tag following the post. Thank you, and enjoy!

By Michaël Parent of Le Mot du Cinephiliaque.

The category that will be discussed here is not the one that take us in the living room making bets and polls on the winner of the praise of the Academy and which one we thought that should deserve the grand prize and/or have been robbed in public (see here an allusion to the great robbery of Avatar at the Globe). This is a category presented generally in the first half of the ceremony and more often than not they are films with little coverage and sometimes only available on YouTube for a wider diffusion. However, they treat of important subjects that regular films and the mass media would not discourse in times of wide audience. This is one of the categories that is directly connected to reality and humanity. This category is the Best documentary short subject.

The Best documentary short subject category was introduced the same year the Academy started to use the famous confidential envelope system, in 1941. That year, nine films were nominated for the award. As subject matters, from 1941 to 1945 most of the films nominated were about the war effort. In 1942, twenty-five films were nominated and four special awards were given to recognize the war effort on the Allied side in World War II. In these cases, the producers were generally the US Air Force, the US State Marine Corps, the US Navy, the US Department of War, the US Army, etc. Since the early years of the category, a producer well known for his cartoons has often been nominated; Walt Disney, a man preoccupied by entertainment but also by human values. Disney won this award two times as a producer. But the Producer with the most brilliant presence is the National Film Board of Canada with four wins and eleven nominations. The NFB won the first ever documentary award given by the Academy with Churchill's Island in 1941.

The number of nominations is irregular and some years it goes from three to five nominations. The documentaries nominated present realities that are important and generally not presented in the mass media. They show the struggles of human beings fighting for their lives, their rights, and also their fights against diseases, injustice, etc. These filmmakers are witness of the human condition. With their works they attempt to inform the world and help the causes of their subject of films. Their job is more than filming human beings, they participate in the life and they become likethe front man of these causes.

The Film business is celebrated each year with the Academy Awards that congratulate the best films of the year on all their aspects (editing, sound mixing, director, actors, etc.). This contributes to spread the audience and the interest of future viewers of these celebrated films. The Academy Awards is a celebration of excellence in filmmaking but we have to remember that the films winning awards and having success in the box office/rentals are made to entertain, to make us think, to make art, to reflect the world, etc. But in big part the films of the main categories are made to make money. In this specific category, the Best documentary short subject, is probably not the one that makes the most money at the box office or in rentals but these films should be celebrated for their quality of being true and by being made by real passionate people.

For the Ceremony held on March 2010 the Nominees are: (Links on the title of each film is its IMDb.com page)

- China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province by Jon Alpert & Matthew O'Neill

"On May 12, 2008, a catastrophic earthquake hit Sichuan Province in rural China, killing nearly 70,000 people, including 10,000 children. In town after town, poorly constructed school buildings crumbled, wiping out classrooms filled with students, most of them their parents' only child. But when grieving mothers and fathers sought explanations and justice, they found their path blocked by incompetence, corruption and empty promises."

With Haiti strocked by recent earthquakes it makes this documentary on top of the topic. But also, what happened in Haiti was even more disastrous and murderous than what sadly happened in the Sichuan Province and it could have desensibilized from the gravity of the catastrophe. So because of its subject and the recent events, I think this film won't be the winner. It's all about timing.

- The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner by Daniel Junge & Henry Ansbacher

"Documentary following assisted suicide ballot initiative in Washington State."

The controversy of the subject of this documentary may by itself exclude this one from the winning envelope. In this case we often hear from observers that this is already great to be nominated. On the other hand, this is the kind of category that the Academy can be more progressive and vote for controversy. A little controversy can't hurt anyone with new point of views.

- The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant by Steven Bognar & Julia Reichert

"The inside story of the last days of a General Motors plant in Moraine, Ohio, as lived by the people who worked the line."

Go to: My Prediction on the category for more explanations.

- Krolik po berlinsku by Bartosz Konopka & Anna Wydra

"The untold story about wild rabbits which lived between the Berlin Walls. For 28 years Death Zone was their safest home. Full of grass, no predators, guards protecting them from human disturbance. They were closed but happy. When their population grew up to thousands, guards started to remove them. But rabbits survived and stayed there. Unfortunately one day the wall fell down. Rabbits had to abandon comfortable system. They moved to West Berlin and have been living there in a few colonies since then. They are still learning how to live in the free world, same as we - the citizens of Eastern Europe." Written by Bartek Konopka & Piotr Rosolowski

An interesting and funny true story about rabbits, the Berlin Walls, and Eastern Europe!?! It's like National Geographic meets the History Channel! This is, maybe on the surface, the easiest documentary of the category, but its broad subject is still Cold War which was not an easy subject even twenty years after the fall of the Walls. It changed the life of so many people (and so many rabbits) that still feels the repercussions of these physical borders.

- Music by Prudence by Roger Ross Williams & Elinor Burkett
"This is the story about the most unlikely voice of hope, singer songwriter Prudence Mabhena. Her country is bankrupt, her body is broken. Neighbors and family consider her cursed. But in music, Prudence and her seven young disabled Zimbabweans may have found a way out." Written by Roger Ross Williams

The subject of this film is pretty universal; music can help you get out of all the things that obscure your mind. But the subject is Prudence, life is harder on some places on the planet and even with all the misery of it some people are so strong they get over it and hold onto life with music. A lesson to all of us who are more lucky of being born in rich countries with the only matter of buying a better computer and/or choosing which restaurant we are going to eat tonight.

"" All plotlines of the nominees are from the IMDb.com pages of each film.

My Prediction on the category

Since there is no returning champion this year (sometimes it helps to predict a winner) the winning pick is pretty hard to tell. Last year it was Smile Pinki by Megan Mylan that earned the Oscar and in 2007 it was Cynthia Wade's Freeheld. Well, it was dominated by women for the last two years so based on this thin aspect I would say The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant. This argument may seem funny but I deeply think that this is the film that will win the Oscar. I'm not speculating this because it's a female director; Julia Reichert who by the way co-directs with Steven Bognar, but mainly because I think the issues of this film are truly American, GM one of the biggest companies in the U.S.A., employing so much people, being a symbol of the country, made so much money, made so much careers so this feature has reached American people and, I think, the voters of the Academy. If the American car industry goes down, everything in America fell apart with it which would include the American film industry.

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