#PresentAll24: Five Highlights From Oscar Short Doc History

By Pat Mullen

Wonder why #PresentAll24 is trending on Twitter? Oscar fans are up in arms over reports that The Academy intends to remove several “minor” categories from the broadcast. Apparently, the show will axe the presentation of six to eight awards from the live broadcast in an effort to bring the presentation under a running time of three hours to please a wider audience. Winners for these categories will be announced during commercial breaks with edited shout-outs appearing later in the show. (But really, we all know it’s going to be a long show and tune in every year.)

Presumably, the categories to go will be things like sound mixing and sound editing, along with the trio of shorts, which few people see aside from Oscar enthusiasts. However, it is a disservice to the filmmaking community to diminish the achievements of people who work hard in the craft and technical departments or filmmakers who genuinely stand to benefit from the exposure afforded by the broadcast. Being a part of the live show is a major boost for the winners and encourages fans in the room to discuss the nominees and debate them, rather than simply hear a sound bite. Every category matters.

Moreover, as Oscar lovers know, the shorts, especially Best Documentary Short Subject, are often the categories that make or break an Oscar pool and separate the strong from the weak. (Get a cheat sheet on this year’s nominees here.) They present nail-biting moments of excitement for the people who tune in out of genuinely love for the movies/awards season. They’re also just as likely to provide some of the highlight moments for onscreen representation and some of the most memorable, and powerful speeches from the show. Take, for example, Terre Nash, thanking the U.S. Department of Justice for decrying her film If You Love this Planet as propaganda or the moment that Roger Ross Williams became the first ever African American director to win an Academy Award for directing and producing a film with Music for Prudence — and had the moment cut short when the film’s classless producer Elinor Burkett booted him from the microphone. These are moments make the broadcast worth watching. To miss the excitement of sharing the films with friends and debating the winners, or to learn who won from people live tweeting from the room during commercial breaks, simply changes the experience.

Here are five moments from the history of Best Documentary Short winners that remind us why every category deserves its spot in the Oscars’ live broadcast:

At the 68th Annual Academy Awards Oscar, Holocaust Survivor Gerda Weissmann Klein, subject of winning short doc One Survivor Remembers, joined director Kary Antholis and reflected on her experience in one of the Oscars’ moment emotional speeches: “I have been in a place for six incredible years where winning meant a crust of bread and to live another day.”

Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry won the Oscar won Best Documentary Short for Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 at the 87th Oscars in 2015. Just as the band began playing them off, Perry used the opportunity to speak to her experience losing a son to suicide and encouraged open conversations about mental health. The band stopped, recognizing the importance of her words.

In 2016, we called Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s speech best in show when she won for A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness and offered inspiring words about empowering women: “This is what happens when determined women get together…To all the brave men out there, like my father and my husband, who push women to go to school and work and who want a more just society for women. Last week – this week the Pakistani Prime Minister has said that he will change the law on honor killing after watching this film. That is the power of film.”

Director Sean Fine and producer Andrea Nix Fine brought their subject, artist Inocente, up to the stage when they won in 2013 for their portrait of the young woman, who was struggling to realize her dreams while homeless at age 15.

“And most of all, we want to thank this young lady who was homeless just a year ago. And now she’s standing in front of all of you. And she’s an artist and all of you are artists, and we feel like we need to start supporting the arts. They’re dying in our communities. And all of us artists, we need to stand up and help girls like her be seen and heard. It’s so important. Thank you.”

The first tie at the Oscars came during the ceremony of 1932 when Frederic March won for his performance in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and beat Wallace Berry’s turn in The Champ by a single vote. A frenzied judged decided to give Beery an award anyway and, until 1950, no true tie surprised Oscar audiences. That year, the short docs stormed the party with A Chance to Live and So Much for So Little garnering the exact same number of votes. The irony? The winners didn’t get to make acceptance speeches! Will the short docs ever enjoy full respect from the Academy?