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Not Happy, But High Quality 

No car chases or punchlines in the Oscar documentaries

There is not as much of a thematic through-line with the documentary selections as the live action narratives, except a subtle one: Regular people dealing with trauma, death and depression and keeping hope alive. While that sounds like a brutal bit of programming (and at times it is), there is always light and beauty; there is always a way through the bad days into the good ones.

"Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1" (US, Dir. Jessica Driscoll)

An HBO-produced piece about the men and women who work for the 24-hour veterans.

"Joanna" (Poland, Dir. Aneta Kopacz)

A very potent and gentle piece of filmmaking about a Polish woman dying of cancer and her last days playing with and loving her husband and son. The film adapts a very non-intrusive, fly-on-the-wall aesthetic that allows the viewer to experience Joanna and her family's life without feeling voyeuristic or intrusive. The cinematography by Lukasz Zal (Ida) lends the landscapes a storybook beauty that makes Joanna's final days even more heartbreaking, knowing that she is preparing herself to say goodbye to such a beautiful world. While the film is very deliberately paced, it rewards the patient viewer with its grace and sublime beauty.

"Our Curse" (Poland, Tomasz Sliwinski & Maciej Slesicki)

A stark and uncompromising Polish documentary about a couple whose infant son is coming home from the hospital for the very first time. The child has a condition that makes him stop breathing while sleeping and he must have an extraordinarily loud ventilator keeping him alive throughout the night. The scenes of the poor child in pain are heartbreaking, but the real power of the film comes from watching these new parents sitting on the couch, talking about what sort of future a child with such dramatic health problems could possibly have. Seeing these people move from almost crippling depression to joy is one of the most profoundly moving experiences I've had in a cinema all year.

"The Reaper" (Mexico, Dir. Gabriel Serra Arguello)

Hey there, vegetarians! Wanna see a documentary about The Reaper? He is a man in La Paz who has slaughtered 500 bulls a day, six days a week for the last 25 years. Watching this haunted man sit around his family, eating dinner, dead-eyed and silent, as people laugh and converse around him, is as haunting as anything I've seen all year. My vegetarian girlfriend thought the film was a brilliant examination as to why eating meat is murder, and I decided to cut out red meat for 30 least. Rough viewing, but important for anyone interested in the red meat industry and its treatment of animals.

"White Earth" (USA, Dir. J. Christian Jensen)

A timely look at a tiny town in North Dakota where the oil work is booming and everyone wants to drill the day away. The film smartly follows the families of the men putting in 16-plus hour days and shows the psychological toll being away from your loved ones for days and weeks at a time. While the film would have probably worked best as a feature-length documentary, there are enough moments of truth and delicacy (a son talking about his dislike of oil, for example) to make it worth watching. The feature-length film Overnighters covers much of this same ground, but in a different small town.

Should Win: "Our Curse"

Will Win: "Crisis Hotline"

Oscar Shorts: Documentaries

Plays Tin Pan Theater, 869 NW Tin Pan Alley

3 pm, Thurs, 8 pm Fri & Sat, 7 pm Sun

About The Author

Jared Rasic

Film critic and author of food, arts and culture stories for the Source Weekly since 2010.
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