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Oscar Documentary Shorts

God Sleeps in Rwanda

Given the current geopolitical climate, it’s more than fitting that three of the four documentary short films nominated for the Academy Award this year deal with the fallout from war and ethnic strife. Kimberlee Acquaro and Stacy Sherman’s God Sleeps in Rwanda finds unforced silver linings where you’d think there’d be none: the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. Through a series of illuminating portraits of teenage and middle-aged female subjects, the film transfigures often wrenching tales of personal loss into a record of women (who account for 70 percent of Rwanda’s post-genocide population) radically rewriting gender-biased cultural norms and traditions as they rebuild their lives and their country. In Steven Okazaki’s TheMushroom Club,vintage newsreel clips and detailed animations illustrate the effects of the atom bomb on civilians in Hiroshima 60 years ago, but it’s the survivors’ own stories — including elderly parents caring for adult children rendered physically and/or mentally disabled from radiation absorbed in utero — that punch you in the gut. Dan Krauss’ The Death of KevinCarter traces the rapid rise and faster fall of the Pulitzer Prize–winning South African photojournalist whose award-winning snapshot of a starving Sudanese girl being stalked by a vulture thrust him into the media spotlight, but also mired him in controversy about his responsibilities to his subject matter. Coupled with a tragedy that struck just after he won the prize, the firestorm around Carter quickly consumed and destroyed him. Filled with heartfelt reminiscences and devastating still photos, the short is sobering and provocative. Bringing a bit of levity to the showcase is director Eric Simonson’s aptly named? A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin. Though now largely forgotten except among media historians, Corwin brought poetry to radio in the medium’s early, content-starved days. His famed On a Note of Triumph poem (which, asserts one talking head, belongs alongside the works of Whitman and Sandburg), delivered on May 8, 1945, to commemorate Germany’s fall, had a lasting impact on the likes of Norman Lear, Robert Altman and Studs Terkel — all of whom sing its praises here. And the centerpiece interview with the elderly Corwin reveals a man as wry and sharp as when he was blazing new media trails. (American Cinematheque at the Egyptian; Sat., March 4, 7:30 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., March 9-11, 7:30 p.m. each evening.)


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