4 Oscar Nominated Documentaries to Watch in the Trump Era
We consume headlines, but are we actually digesting the story? In a world where we are bombarded with one outrageous and shocking sound-bite after another, how might we fully understand the impact those headlines and tweets have on human lives?
Enter the documentary film. Passionate filmmakers make documentaries when they feel a topic is not adequately covered by the mainstream media. Documentaries provide an in-depth view of issues we often only have topical knowledge of. They provide a vehicle by which we share the human experience across cultures, countries and time.
In the Trump era of widespread bigotry and prejudice, the empathy that comes from experiencing intimate portraits of lives that we might have little knowledge of is more important than ever.
Here are four 2019 Oscar nominated documentary films we think you might enjoy.
Feature Length Oscar Nominated Documentary Films:
RaMall Ross moved to Hale County, Alabama in 2009 to work as a basketball coach and photography teacher. Once there, he captured moving images of the lives around him in what could almost be described as a visual poem. The study that emerges provides an insider’s view of the lives of Black people in a rural Southern town.
The film centers around Quincy Bryant, a young father working at the local catfish plant, Mary, a woman who has worked hard at the plant for 20 years and her son Daniel, a Selma University student with big basketball dreams, but not the body to match.
Hale County doesn’t follow the narrative structure of most films. Creative visual explorations that employ repetition and confuse linear time are all used as devices to present us with real-life stories – the kind that happen in between the big moments of life and death.
Run Time: 76 mins. Where to watch: streaming on PBS.org from 2/8/19 – 2/25/19.
“RBG” opens with 85-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg working out at the gym with her trainer. She’s lifting weights, doing push-ups and pulling cables. By the end of the film, this will be the least impressive thing you’ll see, and that is saying something.
“RBG” is a moving film about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life’s work: the fight for women’s equality. Equal parts love story, biography and history lesson, the central theme can be found in the now-famous Sarah Grimke quote Justice Ginsberg recites several times: “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”
Through photographs, interviews and unprecedented access to Justice Ginsberg herself, we come to know a committed leader who is methodical and specific in her approach to the law. A woman who changed the course of American history and earned her status as a cultural icon.
It’s almost impossible not to cheer for this film. Thank you, Justice Ginsberg for everything you’ve done and everything you continue to do to get those feet off of our necks.
Run time: 98 mins. Where to watch: YouTube starting at $3.99
Short Oscar Nominated Documentary Films
Created entirely from stock footage taken in 1939 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, “A Night at the Garden” bears witness to an aspect of American history that is practically unknown: The rise of the Nazis in the United States.
Twenty thousand Americans gathered to cheer for Hitler in the heart of the Big Apple, their hands raised high in the sickening Nazi salute. Some might be surprised this happened in the melting pot that is New York City. What’s not surprising are the familiar tactics used by the speakers – demonization of groups of people, chants to take back the country, and blatant attacks on the press. It is all too reminiscent of Trump’s rallies to “Make America Great Again” and matches the horror we saw in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Run time: 7 mins. Where to watch: streaming for free at anightatthegarden.com
On Sept. 2, 2015, images of 3-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body woke up the Western world to the ongoing refugee crisis on the Mediterranean Sea. European leaders offered expanded quotas and renewed plans to help.
“Lifeboat” picks up one year later. It follows the efforts of Sea-Watch, a German nonprofit organization that conducts search and rescue missions in the central Mediterranean Sea. Over three days in 2016, Sea-Watch rescued 3,200 people migrating from Libya in dangerously overcrowded rubber boats.
“Lifeboat” argues that we can’t help or even begin to solve the humanitarian crisis that we are faced with today in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Honduras and other countries across the globe if we continue to see the people at the center of the crisis as “migrants” or “caravans.” We have to look deeper. We have to see humans.
“Then your heart starts operating more than your head. And your heart tells the truth when you listen to it.” – Jon Castle, “Lifeboat.”
Run time: 34 mins. Where to watch: Free on YouTube courtesy of The Screening Room | The New Yorker