2019 Oscars Look: Best Documentary Short


Welcome to our annual Oscar Look series, formally known as “Oscar Circuit” – our deep dive look into each and every category that will be presented at the upcoming Academy Awards.  Each writer of AwardsCircuit.com will tackle a different category, offering up their own perspectives on those specific races.  If you miss a piece, click on the tag titled Oscar Look 2018. You can also see the official Oscar Predictions for that particular race by clicking on the link here or at the bottom of each article.  Make sure to include your own predicted winners in the comment section too!

And the Nominees are:

  • “Black Sheep” (United Kingdom)
  • “End Game” (United States)
  • “Lifeboat” (United States)
  • “A Night At The Garden” (United States)
  • “Period. End of Sentence.” (United States)


“Black Sheep”

Nominees: Ed Perkins and Jonathan Chinn
Oscar Scene: Cornelius physically transforms himself from victim to assimilated bully

The most unsettling and ultimately best of the documentary short subjects, “Black Sheep” dismantles the illusion that racism is solely an American problem. We’re privy to the harsh upbringing of Cornelius Walker, a young Nigerian boy in the United Kingdom whose family moved from London to Essex in 2000 following the murder of an 11-year old black child. Walker relives these memories via testimonial close-up, captivating us with raw vulnerability as he shares his vexing past.

Cornelius was raised in a strict household that sometimes took the form of physical abuse. His father was a menacing disciplinarian who ingrained Cornelius with the edict of protecting oneself by promoting fear. Walker’s neighborhood was sheer hell: the local kids pummeled Cornelius with violence and deeper-cutting racial epithets. Surviving meant assimilating and emulating everything Cornelius despised about the community he was forced to co-exist with. The indignity of stripping away who you are to fit in is oftentimes a tragic step taken to mitigate the daily assault of bigotry. Unfortunately, a documentary this insightful about the racial and cultural erasure of young people of color will likely be deemed “too depressing” by the older-skewing AMPAS voting body.

“End Game”

Nominees: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
Oscar Scene: Mitra’s mother weighs the decision of either donating her daughter’s organs to science or rejecting the autopsy

With two Oscar wins for documentary feature, Rob Epstein has the competitive advantage of already being a winner. The added bonus of partnering with Netflix on this project certainly helps the producer-director pair, especially since the streaming service failed to make the final “Best Documentary Film” cut with “Shirkers.” The main source of reluctance for predicting this as the slam-dunk winner is how limited in scope it is.

There are several palliative care patients featured, but only one dominates the running time, making it seem as though the directors favored one subject and her respective family above the rest. When it comes to terminal illness, that sort of preferential focus is not going to sit well with viewers. The film also doesn’t differentiate the notion of hospice and the alleviation of pain provided at San Francisco’s Zen Hospice Project, where filming takes place. While the footage captured is emotionally authentic and eye-opening, “End Game” would serve its cause better as a long-form Netflix series or feature-length documentary.


Nominees: Skye Fitzgerald and Bryn Mooser
Oscar Scene: Finally hearing the refugee confessionals

While at first appearing as an infomercial for German nonprofit group Sea-Watch, this documentary short about an altruistic coalition of coast guards and seafarers turns out to be anything but self-serving. The late Captain John Castle – whose memory this film is dedicated to – leads his crew miles out into the Mediterranean Sea to rescue migrants fleeing captivity from Libya by boat. The documentary works because it unfolds in stages, unpacking the deeper necessity of the mission the more we learn about such desperate means of departure. Escaping rape, human trafficking, and the overwrought corruptness that landed them in prison, these refugees would rather take the chance of drowning (one in eighteen lifeboats meet this fate according to statistics) than be at the mercy of their barbaric oppressors any longer.

“Lifeboat” pierces the heart by begging us to acknowledge the freedom we’re afforded by comparison, and use this privilege to unconditionally support those deprived of such inalienable rights. Given the immigration debate that all nations are currently wrestling with, this documentary provides the evidence required to be on the right of history with the issue. The Academy should reflect this resounding conclusion with an overwhelming vote for this nominee.

“A Night At The Garden”

Nominee: Marshall Curry
Oscar Scene: The Nazi party representative decrying anyone non-white Gentile as anti-American

“A Night at the Garden” could easily be a promotional teaser for Amazon Prime’s “The Man in the High Castle.” Marshall Curry’s chilling archival footage depicts a 1939 Nazi party rally in Madison Square Garden. Its German-American ambassador gives a hate-ridden speech promoting a white-Gentile supremacy agenda in America that’s cheered on by the thousands in attendance. At one point, a brave soul attempts to disrupt the evil convention but is intercepted by the police, who make a mockery of him as they lead him away from the dais. With one of the shortest running times in the category’s history, this is an easy watch for an Academy member rushing to complete their ballot. Moreover, its subject matter is so disturbing that many will likely overlook the lack of difficulty in the direction itself.

“Period. End of Sentence.”

Nominee: Rayka Zehtabchi and Melissa Berton
Oscar Scene: Learning about how inspirational the sole female police officer is to women in the village

This short film about Indian women transforming into entrepreneurs while providing dignity previously denied by men is a blessing of female empowerment. The directors exude academic respectfulness towards their recorded subjects, stepping back and observing their lives being upended for the better. Not only are these women living just outside of Delhi receiving funds to create a sanitary napkin enterprise, but they also begin eroding the stigma surrounding menstruation in their community.

Viewed as taboo, a woman’s period is now granted a platform for discussion, hopefully educating ignorant male minds about its attentive requirements. Hearing that the only female cop in town has the most reputable position a woman has achieved in the village will take some back, but ultimately encourages these girls to pursue a life befitting their capabilities. If anything, “Period. End of Sentence.” could have gone further in watching these women disrupt the male status quo, their successful business hopefully not the exception to the rule.

WILL WIN: “Lifeboat”

POTENTIAL SHOCKER: “A Night At The Garden”

SHOULD WIN: “Black Sheep”


Who do you foresee winning the Academy Award for “Best Visual Effects”? Let us know in the comments below!

Also, please sure to check out our Official Oscar Predictions Page!