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4 Oscar Nominated Documentaries to Watch in the Trump Era

Gif of movie camera with film reels animating out of it.


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:

HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING

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

“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

A NIGHT AT THE GARDEN

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

LIFEBOAT

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

12 Comments on “4 Oscar Nominated Documentaries to Watch in the Trump Era

  1. Thanks! I wish documentaries had the showing exposure that fiction movies have!

  2. I just saw the Oscar nominated short documentaries. The strongest one to me was the one called “Black Sheep.” I also liked “The End Game.” Both are timely and well worth a look.

  3. Thanks so much for the heads-up on these important films. It’s a great service you have provided.

  4. Thanks for making me aware of “A Night at the Garden”…..truly terrifying!

  5. Before anyone watches any one of these they should watch ”You’ve Been Trumped”. Made in 2011 or so, it documents Trump’s imposing himself on a world heritage wetlands in Scotland to build a golf course. Anyone watching this would never, could never, vote for him for president.
    There is a lot to take away from the film, but as far as I can tell no one has seen it.

  6. RBG was just shown on CNN a few nights ago, 2/17/19. It is an amazing film that should be widely viewed. I don’ know if CNN will repeat it, but worth watching their schedule for it.
    Info we all need!
    AJ Smith
    Key Largo, F

  7. All four a must! Do not remain ignorant lest your life will have little meaning.

  8. Thank you, I’ve been checking out documentaries from the public library – as I am limited income senior trying to catch up with world conditions/situations. I love the fact that so much info is condensed and presented in creative, enlightening ways … much I have learned is horrific and so the fight continues for humanity, creatures, plants, the earth and her resources – especially water which none of us can live without. The greedy ones in power already know this and have great control over it.

  9. I saw “A night at the Garden” and reflected about how much we have not advanced in our political thinking in that with this present president we have encouraged a lot of “nationalists” to make themselves known, How are they different for those attending Charlottesville to those in attendance at the Garden. I was born in NYC the year after this rally. I NYC there is a section called Yorkville in the east side of NYC of which 86th street and 1st, 2nd, and 3rd was the center of Germans in the city and many of whom I would supposed attended this rally. In some cases does this not remind us of DT’s campaign rallies? All except the “salute” which may be done by many of those attending the rallies would do at secret meetings not open to the public.

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