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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Saturday, February 08, 2020

entry arrow3:00 PM | Short Takes on the Oscar-Nominated Documentary Short Subject, 2019

With Bong Jon-hoo's Parasite and Seung-jun Yi's In the Absence, we truly see a Korean ascendance in world cinema -- and both have so much alike, to be honest, including their unsparing critique of contemporary Korean society. In this documentary short, we navigate through that via the ineptness that attended the botched rescue of the ferry MV Sewol, which sank off the coast of South Korea in 2014, killing hundreds of passengers, mostly high school students in a field trip. It's a gripping and unsettling fly-on-the-wall documentary, and we are made to witness the hours tick by as the ship sinks slowly, while its passengers patiently await rescue, to their deaths.

I don't want to say much about Kristine Samuelson and John Haptas' Life Overtakes Me, except that in this documentary, about refugee kids in Sweden falling into a form of sleeping sickness bordering on coma triggered by PTSD over their plight, something feels and smells fishy.

Perhaps the most feeling-precious of this year's bunch of documentary short subject nominees is Laura Nix's Walk Run Cha-Cha, a love story about Vietnamese refugees re-bonding over ballroom dancing in New York in their senior years. You see, they used to be lovers in Vietnam, but were soon separated by the vagaries of war. Meeting once more in America, they try to rekindle their romance by dancing. Awwww. It's cute, but it's shallow -- and not even the sentimental production number at the end can truly save this film.

Carol Dysinger's Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl) is your standard "people in perilous places" documentary, and while its narrative arc and subject matter -- about a school that pains to teach Afghan girls basic school subjects, plus skateboarding -- no longer surprise us, it doesn't disappoint in putting heart to the heroism it depicts.

In Sami Khan and Smriti Mundhra's St. Louis Superman, we see a strange hybrid of black lives, politics, and rapping. It mostly works, and I like it, but this film was not made for me.

VERDICT: In order of preference, Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You're a Girl) > In the Absence > St. Louis Superman > Walk Run Cha-Cha > Life Overtakes Me

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