Oscar-Nominated Documentary Shorts 2014

My coverage of the Oscar-nominated documentary shorts 2014

Facing Fear, directed by Jason Cohen

Facing Fear recounts of tale of crossed paths, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Los Angeles’ Museum of Tolerance staffer Matthew Boger meets reformed neo-Nazi Tim Zaal to discuss a talk by Zaal. In the process of comparing notes about their days in LA, when Matthew was a homeless street kid, they realize that Zaal was the neo-Nazi who kicked Matthew in the face and left him for dead. The film is not only an examination of forgiveness, but a rare glimpse into the psychology of hate. “Violence made me feel big, elated. It was like a drug, the adrenaline of it.” And like a drug, it stopped working, Zaal explains. In a particularly poignant scene, he recounts how seeing one of his own kids talking like a racist made him feel profoundly ashamed and disgusted. It was the epiphany that turned him away from the movement he lived in for decades. He is humbled by Matthew’s ability to forgive him and recounts the flip-side as well, which is how difficult it was for him to forgive himself.

Cave Digger, directed by Jeffrey Karoff
There is a fine line between madness and genius, the story goes, and Ra Paulette is the epitome of the ardent, borderline maniacal zeal that burns inside many artists. Ra digs cathedral-like art caves into the sandstone cliffs of New Mexico.The labor is grinding and physically arduous beyond measure: he toils for years on each one. The patrons who commission his work  do not share in his obsession and there is ensuing friction, a wry commentary on the push-and-pull between art and business. They want to have input; Ra says he is not a “paintbrush.” Valid points on both ends, indeed. Tired of taking commissions, Ra starts a massive self-funded 10-year cave project. Cave Digger could have been the live action version of the Bhagavad Gita, with Ra’s insistence on not being tied to the results but just enjoying the process of creation.

Karama Has No Walls, directed by Sara Ishaq
In a similar vein to The Square, Karama Has No Walls explores a tragedy that left 53 people dead at Change Square in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, during the 2011 Arab Spring. The short shines a light on the often-forgotten cost of the peaceful protests. While the protestors themselves were peaceful, they were subjected to incredible violence by a regime refusing to concede defeat. The image of snipers shooting at a crowd from above is a scathing commentary on political oppression and the high cost of liberty.
The Lady In Number 6: Music Saved My Life, directed by Malcolm Clarke
“Music is a dream. Music is God.” The lady is number 6 is Alice Herz Sommer, a 109 year old pianist and Holocaust survivor. A soul-stirring paean to the transformative power of music, the film documents Alice’s unbridled love for it. Her love is unmarred because music literally saved her life as she was spared from the worst fate in the concentration camps (the Nazis exploited her gift). Alice’s natural ebullience make the film thoroughly engrossing.


Facing Fear is the most compelling because of the sheer scope of emotions and human experience it covers: from Matthew’s own feelings about his sexuality, making peace with a family that put him out on the street at 13, and Tim’s acceptance of a life spent living a way that he now finds abhorrent. Facing Fear is true to its title. Skeletons are big and small, monsters hide in the darkest recesses of our hearts, and the ultimate redemption that also lies there as well, if we know how to look for it.
* We were unable to review Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall.

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