The Best Documentary Oscars, which the Academy will award on Sunday the 24th with the others, offer a chance to reflect on telling important stories through film and video, and the innumerable ways of telling stories. Many of us are familiar with the Best Picture nominees, and the ways that dramatization of historical events (Lincoln, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty and yes, Les Misérables), important issues (Silver Linings Playbook), or just a great, creative script (Life of Pi) can use the power of story to highlight universal issues. But for an extra dose of refreshment and stimulation especially pertinent to video, we’d like to use this blog space to mention the best documentary Oscars that you might not see without a little nudge.

The Best Documentary Oscars show the power of stories about real life

The closest parallel to the kind of short video stories we do are the short best documentary Oscars nominees, or “shorts,” which must capture their stories in less than 40 minutes.  Here’s the trailer for one of them, Inocente, which highlights immigration issues, homelessness, identity, and art through a view into the life of a girl named Inocente. You can see just how powerful the short trailer is already! The very word, documentary, speaks to their power: they document life. Documentaries get their talent from real people, and their drama from real happenings. And the best documentary Oscars tell stories just as action-packed, heartbreaking, or riveting as any mainstream film. In fact, Daniel Junge (who also won last year’s best documentary Oscars in the “shorts” category) argued that documentary actually has more flexibility than feature film since a good story can be told in forty minutes, ten minutes or even three. In the best documentary Oscars, it’s the story that counts, not the length. If you’d like to see more, the full slate of shorts for the Best Documentary Oscars, and summaries from the official Oscar site, is:
  • Inocente Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine—Fifteen-year-old Inocente, a homeless, undocumented immigrant, clings to her determination to become an artist in the face of a bleak future.
  • Kings Point Sari Gilman and Jedd Wider—Over the course of a decade, five senior citizens living in the Kings Point retirement community face loss, illness and an increasing sense of isolation in their lives.
  • Mondays at Racine Cynthia Wade and Robin Honan—On the third Monday of every month, sisters Cynthia and Rachel open their Long Island beauty salon to women undergoing chemotherapy
  • Open Heart Kief Davidson and Cori Shepherd Stern—Eight Rwandan children with serious heart disease travel to the Salam Centre in Sudan for treatment.
  • Redemption Jon Alpert and Matthew O’Neill—In New York City, individuals known as canners survive by collecting cans and bottles from trash and recycling bins and redeeming them for money.

The Best Documentary Oscars will give you ideas at any length

If these short ones whet your appetite, and you have time for something longer, the nominees for 2013 Best Documentary Oscar feature are….
  • 5 Broken Cameras Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi—As Israeli settlers begin building homes and erecting a barrier wall in the West Bank village of Bil’in, a Palestinian farm worker documents the town’s resistance to the new settlement.  Over the course of several years, the townspeople clash with the Israeli Defense Force, and tensions mount as the wall remains and the building continues.
  • The Gatekeepers Dror Moreh, Philippa Kowarsky and Estelle Fialon—Six former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s counterterrorism agency, speak candidly about their participation in the policies that have shaped the long history of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.  Starting with the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War, the men discuss with remarkable openness the successes and mistakes of their individual tenures.
  • How to Survive a Plague David France and Howard Gertler—By the mid-1980s, as the official response to the growing AIDS epidemic remained dispiritingly low-key and at times hostile, the activist group ACT UP began focusing media attention on the disease and demanding action from the government and the medical community.  While some members of the group staged protests, others immersed themselves in the research being done on the virus and helped achieve a dramatic transformation in its treatment.
  • The Invisible War Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering—According to Department of Defense estimates, over 19,300 members of the U.S. military were sexually assaulted in 2010 alone.  Yet, although the rate of sexual assaults against women in the service is twice that of the civilian population, only ten percent of assault cases end in prosecution, with female soldiers often finding themselves ostracized or pressured into remaining silent.
  • Searching for Sugar Man Malik Bendjelloul and Simon Chinn—In the early 1970s, A&M released two albums by a singer-songwriter known only as Rodriguez, who dropped out of sight and was rumored to have died after the records failed to sell.  When Rodriguez unexpectedly attracted a cult following in South Africa, however, two of his ardent fans decided to track down the truth behind his disappearance from the music scene.
The best documentary Oscars nominees draw attention to a genre that offers the opportunity take what people do, believe, and care about, and tell their stories. They can be riveting to watch, and can spur you to action—a great reason to consider the strengths of their storytelling when crafting your own video stories. SO, even if they’re not playing in your local theater, these days you can access the best documentary Oscars nominees via platforms like iTunes and DirectTV.  So, take a look, and let us know in the comments what you think of the nominees this year. Or tell us how you feel about documentary film and its connection with video; we’d love to know what you think and, perhaps, to help you with your video stories. If MiniMatters can help you with fundraising video, association video, or other video production needs, we’d love to provide an estimate through our online form, talk with you at 301-339-0339, or communicate via email at [email protected]. We serve associations, foundations, nonprofits, and businesses primarily in Washington, DC, Maryland, and northern Virginia.