Oscar Shorts (Part II) Documentary
Short Documentary. The theme of decency in the face of indecency demonstrated in “Strangers No More” was also reflected in “Killing in the Name,” my second favorite of the short documentaries. “Killing in the Name” is the story of a Jordanian man, Ashraf al-Khaled, whose wedding reception, at a hotel, was attacked by a radical Islamic suicide bomber. Twenty- seven wedding guests were killed in the attack, including three of the four parents. Ashraf has since been on a mission to break the silence in the Muslim world about radical Islam. While the film has Ashraf holding forth with the parent of a suicide bomber and potential suicide bombers, filmmaker Jed Rothstein also gives screen time to a radical Muslim cleric and planner of suicide missions. What we are left with is a view of the uphill battle Ashraf faces as it becomes clear that the side he wants to change has dug in its heals. Ultimately the film has no resolution, something which is both appropriate and frightening.
Next on my list is “Poster Girl,” a disturbing, yet hopeful, portrait of Iraq War veteran Robynn Murray who is dealing with post traumatic stress syndrome while battling a bureaucracy that will not give her disability payments for which she has applied. We see Robynn, charismatic and outspoken, speaking out and demonstrating against the war as well as discussing her experiences in Iraq. Ultimately she finds a level of peace by using art to express her trauma.
“Sun Come Up” depicts the economic and environmental effects that global warming has on the residents of one of the Carteret islands, located in the South Pacific. Farmlands are flooded with salt water as it becomes apparent that the island will soon be covered by the rising sea. The documentary follows a delegation of islanders who go to Bougainville, the mainland, to seek land from other villagers. The film very effectively deals with the issue of finding a new home while maintaining a cultural identity against very real environmental and economic realities.
“The Warriors of Quigang” is probably the weakest of the group. In the village of Quigang, China, Jiucailuo, a chemical company manufacturing pesticides and dyes, has badly polluted the environment. Many residents have died of cancer. The film chronicles the residents’ attempts to protest and legally remove the chemical plant. While its topic is certainly important and relevant, the documentary is sluggishly paced. Part of the problem is that the village lawyer, Zhang, who is spear heading the legal end of the protest, is soft spoken and, although a good man, is not a particularly energizing or charismatic leader as, say, Robynn Murray in “Poster Girl.” Even in documentaries casting is important.