Oscar Documentaries 2018 | Video Reviews

Another year, another wealth of award-worthy documentaries to consider. A few Netflix-exclusives were unavailable for preview, but we’ve got two features and a short film that seem perfect for most library video collections. Weigh in with your thoughts, and see which way the academy goes when the ceremony airs on Sunday, March 4.

Abacus: Small Enough To Jail. 88 min. Steve James, dist. by PBS, shoppbs.org. 2017. DVD ISBN 9781531702205. $24.99. SDH subtitles. ECON/LAW
Documentarian James (Hoop Dreams; The Interrupters) here tells the story of New York City’s family-owned Abacus Federal Savings Bank, the only bank prosecuted after the subprime mortgage crisis. The Chinese American founder and his family talk on camera about how in 2009 they discovered loan irregularities made by several bank officers, whom they then fired before notifying their regulator. The local district attorney’s office opened an investigation that led to a fraud indictment of the officers and the bank despite it having one of the nation’s lowest mortgage default rates. The film follows the case’s five-year duration through excerpts from court testimony, artist renderings, and news footage, plus on-screen discussions by experts, attorneys, jurors, and the Sungs. What make this film so riveting are its insights into the Chinese American community, extraordinary access to the family, and the spirit of the founder, his wife, and daughters. Verdict All viewers will find meaning in this sympathetic portrayal of a small bank against what appears to be the legal system’s grasping for a scapegoat rather than taking on banks considered “too big to fail.” [Nominated for a 2018 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.—Ed.]—Lawrence Maxted, Gannon Univ. Lib., Erie, PA

Edith + Eddie. 29½ min. Laura Checkoway, dist. by Kartemquin Films, editheddie.comSales@kartemquin.com; 773-472-4366. 2017. DVD $295. Public performance. SOC SCI
Love turning to lawsuit is at the crux of this Best Documentary Short Film IDA Documentary Awards 2017 winner and Oscar nominee. Edith Hill and Eddie Harrison were 96 and 95, respectively, when they married in Virginia, claiming the title of the oldest interracial newlyweds. But now Hill’s daughters’ are involved in an ongoing dispute over what they see as their mother’s best interests, which would make Hill a ward of the state and separate the couple. The court-appointed guardian decrees that Hill should move into her Florida-based daughter’s home over the objections of the couple themselves and Hill’s daughter who lives in Virginia. Promising the couple that they can talk daily and that Hill would be returning in “two weeks,” the guardian implies that Hill doesn’t recall what transpired during her previous Florida visits and that only she knows what Hill needs. When Hill fails to return at the end of the second week, Harrison collapses. Excellent audio quality, consistent volume, legible subtitles, and true color enhance this film’s impact, presenting an accurate, heart-rending portrayal of a broken elder-care system that denies the elderly basic human rights and self-respect. Verdict An insightful, powerful indictment of current U.S. elder-care law. Of interest to those working with the elderly, legal professionals, social workers, think tanks, and caregivers.—Laurie Selwyn, formerly with Grayson Cty. Law Lib., Sherman, TX

Last Men in Aleppo. 104 min. In Arabic w/English subtitles. Feras Fayyad, dist. by Grasshopper Film, grasshopperfilm.com. 2017. DVD $99.95; acad. libs. $395.
Public performance. INT AFFAIRS
The Syria Civil Defense (SCD), known internationally as the White Helmets, rose as a volunteer rescue force during the 2012 escalation of the Syrian civil war. By 2013, SCD was responding to artillery and air attacks on civilian targets throughout Syria. This film focuses on the group’s responses to increased Russian bombing of Aleppo in 2015. With the city under attack, even the White Helmets feel defeated and wonder whether to continue their work or try to flee to Turkey. Actual SCD members talk about their volunteer lives, their families, and their motivations while doing dangerous, gruesome rescue work, searching bombed-out buildings for survivors and recovering body parts. The death and destruction are harrowing: a stark reminder that civilians have become major targets in modern warfare. While the United States becomes increasingly isolationist, this excellent film is a plea to help the freedom-seeking people of Syria before they are bombed out of existence. VERDICT An appeal to America to reassume its moral leadership in world affairs by supporting those Syrians abandoned by their Arab neighbors and the West. [Nominated for the 2018 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.—Ed.]—Cliff Glaviano, ­formerly with Bowling Green State Univ. Libs., OH


Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  4. Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media, per our Terms of Use.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind