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Review: Oscar doc shorts examine human experience

Five nominated films look at life around the globe

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

A wide range of the human experience — from racism to women's issues to humanitarian crises to matters of life and death — are addressed in this year's stellar crop of Oscar-nominated documentary shorts. 

Taken together, the five films offer a sweeping view of human life, its complications, its struggles and its beauty. 

The shortest and most matter-of-fact of the five nominated films is "A Night at the Garden," which presents footage from a 1939 "Pro-American" rally at Madison Square Garden, with pro-Nazi Americans saluting the U.S. flag and a stage backed by a giant banner of George Washington. The film shows in simple terms how quickly and how widely hate can spread, and its context relative to today doesn't need to be spelled out any further.

"Black Sheep" is a poignant first-person account of a kid growing up in England and assimilating with his racist tormentors. He bleaches his skin and pops blue contacts in his eyes just to fit in, speaking to the universal need for acceptance in any form it can be attained.

In "Period. End of Sentence," director Rayka Zehtabchi examines the way menstruation is dealt with — and in many ways ignored — in rural India. It is still largely considered a taboo subject, so the women who begin to manufacture and sell their own sanitary pads are considered radicals. 

The eye-opening, gut-punching "Lifeboat" looks at the migrants fleeing North Africa and heading toward Europe via rafts packed dozens deep, and the workers who patrol the sea and rescue 1,000 people a day from drowning. 

"End Game" visits with several patients at a San Francisco hospital in their last days, showing — in stark and honest terms — how different people deal with the looming threat of death. It's scary, it's peaceful, it's what you choose to make of it. But most of all, it's final. 



The 2019 Academy Award Nominated Short Films - Documentary


Not rated

Running time: Approx. 180 minutes 

At The Detroit Film Theatre