5 Best Short Documentaries

Thursday, March 10 by Joan Russell

Learn about the 5 best short documentaries made during the last 20 years that received the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject). These films are non-fiction and range in subject matter from 9/11 to dealing with a physical disability. Some of the films covers the fight of an aging woman to keep her grandson and the effects of nuclear radiation on heath. Short documentaries usually do not run as long as the average two-hour movies; they run from 30 minutes to one hour.

  1. "Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien" This documentary was made in 1996 and won an award in 1997. It is about Mark O'Brien, a journalist and poet that lives in California. The documentary covers his struggle with polio and his use of an iron lung. He lived four decades with the disability, showing an intimate look at someone living with severe disability. He is a writer and poet despite the limitations of his illness.
  2. "Twin Towers" This film was made in 2003 by Bill Gutenberg and Robert David Port. It was about the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. It was awarded for best documentary short subject. It is about two brothers: one is a policeman and the other a fireman. The documentary follows their actions after the attacks on the World Trade Center.  There were many documentaries made on 9/11, but this one is rated as one of the best. It sends a powerful message in a short time span.
  3. "Chernobyl Heart" This 2003 documentary was made by Mary De Leo. It won the best documentary in 2004 Academy Awards. De Leo travels through the Ukraine with Adi Roche, the founder of the Chernobyl Children's Project. The film documents the effects the nuclear disaster had on the children's health that lived in the area. It caused mutations, radiation poisoning and many serious conditions. She made another documentary in 2008 called "White Horse" when she went back to see if conditions had improved.
  4. "Big Mama" This documentary was made in 2000 by Tracy Seretean and Tamara Goldsworthy. It is about an 89-year-old black grandmothe fighting to keep custody of her grandson. This is a common theme: grandparents raising their grandchildren because their children cannot do it. Many grandparents are facing such problems in the Unites States. This film won an Academy Award for Best Documentary.
  5. "Smile Pinki" The documentary is about a girl with a cleft lip in the poorest section of India. The girl receives free plastic surgery to correct the lip. A hospital provides free surgery to many children through a program called The Smile Train in India. This film won the 81st Academy award and was made in Hindi. The film documents how the operation changed the poor Indian girl's life. She was socially ostracized before she had the surgery.