Reel Dad: Don’t forget about short documentary films during Oscar season

"A Love Song For Latasha" is available on Netflix.

"A Love Song For Latasha" is available on Netflix.

Netflix / Contributed photo

At Oscar time, while most of the attention goes to feature films, the nominated short films say a lot about the world watching the screen.

While animated and live action shorts may seek to entertain and enlighten, the documentary shorts capture moments that make us think. And, because these films create their worlds in less than 40 minutes, they waste no time in grabbing our hearts and challenging our minds.

The nominees for this year’s Academy Award for Best Documentary Short celebrate the best of this most special art form. They are all available to stream.

A Love Song for Latasha

This harrowing yet uplifting look at the life of a 15-year-old Black girl should win the Oscar. In just 19 minutes, we experience details about the life she experienced, the friends and family she cherished and tragically, the brutal death that ended her life in Los Angeles in 1992 as she shopped for orange juice at a convenience store. What makes the film so meaningful is how filmmaker Sophia Nahli Allison focuses on this girl’s life, rather than her death, helping us learn how a world let her down by making it possible for her to be so vulnerable. Allison uses beautiful imagery, and recaptured videos, to help us experience a landscape impacted by a presence so tragically removed.

Available on Netflix.

A Concerto is a Conversation

If another nominee surprises on Oscar night, this tribute to a loving grandfather should win. In just 13 minutes, composer Kris Bowers captures the essence of his cherished relationship with his grandfather who, at age 91, recalls the challenges he faced as a Black man determined to create a better life for his family. What makes the relationship so special is how grandfather encouraged grandson to pursue his passion for music; what makes the film unforgettable is how that composer’s music resonates through the film as Bowers prepares a piece to be performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Without exaggeration, or unnecessary distraction, Bowers and co-directed Ben Proudfoot celebrate the relationship as well as the impact a hero from a past generation can have on proud descendants.

Available on YouTube.

Hunger Ward

This exploration of the severity of famine in Yemen captures our attention with the intensity of its visuals and the authenticity of its subjects. Shot with the look and scope of a feature film, it follows remarkable health care workers who dare to be brave in a world where horror resonates. The film grabs us from the beginning, never letting us ignore the tragedy the situation creates.

Available on Amazon Prime.


Of the nominees, this film may be the least accessible with its story of a 90-year-old woman who survived the Holocaust and was a part of the French resistance during World War II. Without offering substantive detail about her life, moviemaker Anthony Giacchino relies on the charm and charisma of his subject, a captivating lady on screen. But the film makes us wish we could learn much more.

Available on YouTube.

Do Not Split

While movies have always loved Hong Kong as a setting, this brutal look at the protests of 2019 reveals a culture determined to survive despite the challenges faced. The magic of this place, with its roots in Chinese and British traditions, fades away as citizens challenge the realities of life in the present. Moviemaker Anders Hammer never backs away from exposing brutal truths that life in this locale, so celebrated in the movies, becomes for many.

Available on Vimeo.

The Academy Awards will be announced on April 25.