For this year's program of Oscar-nominated short documentaries, you'll get your money's worth. Each of the five films is 40 minutes long (there will be an intermission). And you may want to pack an industrial-sized handkerchief. That's not to say these films don't celebrate the human spirit, and the fortitude of those who struggle (and sometimes succeed), but there's no escaping that this year's selections all have roots in the downbeat.
Inocente. "Just because I'm homeless doesn't mean I don't have a life." Fifteen-year-old Inocente has a troubled home life, shifting from shelter to shelter in San Diego. But the bubbly teen finds joy and release in art, particularly the colorful, large-scale paintings that depict her dreams. Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine's film finds the heart in Inocente's struggle, as she ties her hopes to an arts program. In English, and Spanish, with subtitles.
Mondays at Racine. Once a month, Long Island's Racine salon opens its doors to women with cancer. Besides providing beauty "pick-me-ups," the salon functions as an informal support center. In Cynthia Wade's film, the women — including one who's in her second decade of living with cancer, and a young mom, newly diagnosed — give candid interviews, sharing how the illness affects their marriage to the feelings of distress at losing outward signs of femininity.
Open Heart. In Rwanda, eight gravely ill children are picked to receive free heart operations at a hospital 2,500 miles away in Sudan. Filmmaker Kief Davidson travels with these frail and under-sized children as they embark on a journey both exciting and terrifying. They leave behind hopeful, if shell-shocked parents. One dad says he doesn't know where Sudan is, and numbly agrees when told if his child dies there, the body will not be returned. In English and various languages, with subtitles.
King's Point. Retiring to sunny Florida sounds grand, but Sari Gilman's film looks at some of the emotional costs for a group of seniors, living for decades at the King's Point retirement village. Loneliness, boredom and a reluctance to form lasting relationships leave some less than satisfied with this isolated "paradise."
Redemption. In New York City, redeemed bottles and cans earn five cents each. Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill film looks at a variety of folks who make their living scavenging through New York's garbage (there is a surprisingly fraternity). Long shots up Gotham's canyons traversed by tiny people pushing shopping carts piled high with bags of cans recall a nature documentary about other lowly, unseen and yet useful shifters of debris. In English and various languages, with subtitles.