Oscars: Documentary Shorts Nominations Go to 'Life Overtakes Me,' 'Learning to Skateboard In a Warzone...,' 'St. Louis Superman' and More
In the Absence, Walk Run Cha-Cha also earn Oscar nominations Monday
Stories from Sweden, South Korea, Afghanistan, Southern California and St. Louis earned recognition Monday as the Motion Picture Academy revealed the Oscar nominations for Best Documentary Short.
Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You're a Girl), the film directed by Carol Dysinger and produced by Elena Andreicheva about a school in Kabul, Afghanistan where girls study academic subjects and skateboarding, earned one of the five nominations. Learning to Skateboard... won Best Documentary Short in December at the IDA Documentary Awards in Hollywood and the jury award for Best Documentary Short at the Tribeca Film Festival last April. [The movie can be seen via the A&E streaming portal]
"After 15 years of filming in Afghanistan I am humbled by the indelible spirit of the young women at the heart of this film," Dysinger commented in a statement. "Their determination in the face of great odds to get an education gives hope for a better future. They are truly inspiring and I'm grateful that this recognition may in some way shine light on their story. My thanks to the Academy."
In the Absence, the short film about the tragic sinking of a South Korean passenger ferry in 2014 that claimed hundreds of lives including more than 250 high schoolers, earned a nomination for director Yi-Seung Jun and producer Gary Byung-Seok Kam. [Watch the film here]
When we started to make this film, the victims' families asked us for only one thing: to share the story with as wide an international audience as possible.
Cinetic Media says the nomination for In the Absence -- coming on the same day as nods for Bong Joon Ho's Parasite -- mark the first Oscar recognition ever for South Korean films.
"This is incredible news, and we are honored and excited to receive this nomination," Jun and Kam told Nonfictionfilm.com in a statement. "The victims' families are still in severe pain, because the story has not ended. Because their beloved ones could have been saved, and the people who are responsible for the tragedy have not been brought to justice yet." [See the filmmakers' full statement below]
Director-producers John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson earned an Oscar nomination for their short film Life Overtakes Me, which explores a strange phenomenon taking place in Sweden. In recent years, hundreds of children of refugee families there have fallen into a mysterious coma-like state lasting many months or more, perplexing the medical community. The condition has been dubbed 'Resignation Syndrome.'
"It’s pretty clear that it's some sort of a psychosomatic reaction to trauma," Haptas told us when we interviewed him last month. Samuelson added, "We were just simply stunned that we live in a world where children are so traumatized. They literally withdraw from the world as if they're dead. So [the film] just seems like a very important way to be showing and thinking about the crisis these kids are in."
Life Overtakes Me is streaming on Netflix.
In a statement to Nonfictionfilm.com, the filmmakers reacted to the Oscar nomination news: "We are thrilled that Life Overtakes Me has been recognized by the Academy. This honor will bring further attention to children whose lives are scarred by trauma. We believe that Resignation Syndrome is just one manifestation of the impact of fear and anxiety on refugees, including children held in detention on our own borders."
The nomination for St. Louis Superman recognizes a film about Bruce Franks Jr., a "battle rapper" who became a prominent activist in the wake of protests in Ferguson, Missouri over the police killing of teenager Michael Brown. Franks was later elected to the Missouri legislature, where he became a forceful advocate for his community. The documentary short was directed and produced by Smriti Mundhra and Sami Khan and represents the first Oscar nod for the recently-formed MTV Documentary Films unit under executive Sheila Nevins.
“We’re absolutely thrilled to receive an Oscar nomination for St. Louis Superman. The film’s success exists solely because of the storytelling superpowers of Bruce Franks Jr. and we are profoundly grateful to have been able to work with Bruce to tell his story," Mundhra and Khan said in a statement. "We share this honor with Bruce and our whole filmmaking team including our champions at MTV Documentary Films and AJE Witness. At a critical moment for our democracy, Bruce’s activism couldn’t be more urgent. We’d like to thank the Academy for recognizing our film and Bruce’s work. We’d also like to congratulate our fellow nominees for their incredible films.”
[We will update where St. Louis Superman can be screened once we receive that information]
Walk Run Cha-Cha, a New York Times Op-Doc film, focuses on Paul and Millie Cao, refugees from Vietnam who became passionate participants in the ballroom dancing scene near Los Angeles.
"On the face of it, a film about middle-aged people dancing might not seem political," director Laura Nix wrote in an essay for the New York Times. "But my decision to tell a story about Paul and Millie’s life in the present, and not solely focus on their past, was intentional. Films about refugees and immigrants are often focused on the point of entry, when the newly arrived are at their most vulnerable. But it’s essential for us to hear stories about what happens next."
"I am beyond thrilled that Walk Run Cha-Cha has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject," Nix said in a statement. "Yesterday we celebrated the day Paul arrived in America as a refugee from Vietnam, exactly 40 years ago, and today we’re celebrating an Oscar nomination. I am deeply grateful to Paul and Millie Cao for giving me access to their community over six years of filming. At their dance studio, we see Eastern Europeans teaching Latin dance to people from the Chinese community in suburban Los Angeles, reminding us of the beauty of America’s rich cultural diversity in a moment challenged by anti-immigration policies and sentiment.
"I am so grateful to the Academy for recognizing this film, and deeply honored to be in the company of such incredible filmmakers. We share this honor with The New York Times Op-Docs and Concordia Studio without whose support we couldn’t have made this film."
Watch Walk Run Cha-Cha here
This is the full statement from In the Absence director Yi-Seung Jun and producer Gary Byung-Seok Kam reacting to their Oscar nomination:
This is incredible news, and we are honored and excited to receive this nomination.
IN THE ABSENCE is about a ferry sinking disaster which occurred on 16 April 2014 in South Korea. 304 passengers and crew members, including more than 250 high school students were killed. The victims' families are still in severe pain, because the story has not ended. Because their beloved ones could have been saved, and the people who are responsible for the tragedy have not been brought to justice yet.
When we started to make this film, the victims' families asked us for only one thing: to share the story with as wide an international audience as possible. We are pleased that we can keep the promise we made to them, and being nominated for an Academy Award will help us share the story more widely.
Working together with Field of Vision was a great experience, and we are truly grateful for every effort our Field of Vision colleagues made to make this film possible. We also would like to express our appreciation to the Korea Communication Agency, which also supported this project from the beginning, and to the 416 Documenting Group who shared the valuable footage with us.
We made this film not to win prizes, but to share the story. The truths of the disaster have not been fully disclosed yet. Many things have to be solved, and many questions have to be answered.
We hope that more and more people around the world will share this story, letting victims' families know that the world is with them.
The year 2019 was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Korean cinema so it is especially meaningful for us to be a part of the proud moment of film history of Korea.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.