Sunday, February 19, 2017


Welcome to our special OSCAR WEEK SERIES of reviews. This series will go through the seven categories in which an award is given based on the entire film (rather than any one constituent element). This first review in the series will go through the DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT nominees.


Extremis is a short subject documentary directed by Dan Krauss. The short chronicles the work of a variety of doctors at a public hospital as they discuss ways to handle end of life treatment for all sorts of patients. Overall, I thought Extremis was a fine documentary short that was tough to watch in a lot of ways.

I think the strengths of this short lie in its unflinching look at an extremely trying subject. The film shows off many patients, families, and doctors with a variety of different views on end of life treatment. This made for an emotionally effecting viewing experience. Extremis suffers from an excess of dialogue and conversations that felt canned for the film. Further, at the end, it left me with too many questions to think about rather than one unifying concept that makes it feel overwhelmingly disorganized.

Ryan’s Score: 7/10


4.1 Miles shows the story of a Greek coast guard captain who has to save fleeing refugees from drowning at sea. It also addresses the impact on the community and the choice continue to help ferry the refugees to safety. The film is directed by Daphne Matziaraki. I found 4.1 Miles to be an extremely solid documentary short overall.

The best thing about 4.1 Miles is how imbedded it felt in reality. The access the crew got in shooting this film was pretty special and puts you literally in the boat alongside these people making the voyage. This differentiates it from so many similar pieces making it a strong entry. The only weaknesses of note are that this is a topic that has been covered elsewhere and the film didn’t leave me with any desire to think further on the subject. Both of these are real issues in a documentary film which is why my score is lower than my positivity about its quality would suggest.

Ryan’s Score: 8/10


Joe’s Violin is a documentary short directed by Kahane Cooperman. It presents the audience with a story about a donated violin to a school and uses that to both document a love of music as well as the history of the instrument and its donor. This documentary felt extremely cute and was a pleasantly happy diversion from what is an overwhelmingly somber category. However, it also didn’t feel like an especially important film to watch.

What this film does well is present an incredibly simple thing and find the layers in it to make it compelling for an audience while they’re watching. You wouldn’t think much of a violin donated to a school, but this film did that. What the film didn’t do was give me a reason to watch it again or to recommend it. It’s fine, in and of itself, but it doesn’t matter in any sense. That is troubling at the awards level.

Ryan’s Score: 8/10


Watani: My Homeland is a documentary short about a refugee family from Syria who moves to Germany to escape the perils of the conflict and to provide the children with an opportunity for a better life. The short is directed by Marcel Mettelsiefen. This is a superior documentary short, balancing both careful realism with a compelling narrative that gets audiences thinking.

What was most effective about this short was limiting it to the experience of one family. It gave a sense of very personal stakes and we got to know everyone involved making you care more for their specific plight. Conveniently it also left the audiences with a variety of perspectives as the different members of the family react differently throughout and feel differently about the situation at the end of the film. The only small quibble I have with the film is that it wasn’t very impressively shot and didn’t have a specific reason justifying the different time jumps it includes.

Ryan’s Score: 8.5/10


The White Helmets is a documentary short telling the story about the Syrian aid group known as ‘The White Helmets’ who go about the country saving lives on both sides of the Syrian Civil War. This short film is directed by Orlando von Einsiedel. Overall, I left this feeling underwhelmed because it felt more like a commercial primer for who ‘The White Helmets’ are and not an interesting take on what they do.

The strengths of this documentary are that it is documenting a significant subject and does so with a fantastic level of access and on-the-ground style reporting. This genuine and real focused look makes it potentially impactful and does show a truly significant story. The problem was that it didn’t dig into the story at all. If you literally didn’t know what ‘The White Helmets’ are you might get something out of this. For anyone minimally informed this is a strict rehash of information they already know. The lack of illumination in this film is really disappointing for something that could have been great.

Ryan’s Score: 6/10

Extended review here.

Ryan’s Pick: Watani: My Homeland
Ryan’s Prediction: The White Helmets
GoldDerby Experts Prediction: Extremis

Thank you for checking out this article. Be sure to check back with us over the course of the lead up to the 89th Academy Awards!

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