Sunday, March 5, 2023

'The Martha Mitchell Effect,' 'Stranger at the Gate,' and 'How Do You Measure a Year?' — three Oscar-nominated short documentaries

I ended 'The Elephant Whisperers' and 'Haulout' - two Oscar-nominated short documentaries for World Wildlife Day with a program note: "Factual America has a video about the other three nominees for Best Short Documentary, which I promise to share. When I do, I'll probably handicap their odds." Here's that video, Oscar Nominations 2023 | Three Short Docs, Three Compelling Stories.

The Martha Mitchell Effect Martha Mitchell, wife of John Mitchell, Attorney General of the US under President Richard Nixon, was not afraid to speak ‘truth to power’. She was so influential that President Nixon would go on to say that without her, there would have been no Watergate scandal.

Despite her important role, Mitchell has, in the years since Watergate, become a forgotten figure. Co-producer of The Martha Mitchell Effect, Judith Mizrachy states that this is a result of a successful gaslighting campaign against her. The film aims to give Mitchell the credit she is due.

How Do You Measure A Year?
Jay Rosenblatt started filming conversations with his daughter, Ella, when she was just two years old. He continued to do so every year on her birthday until she turned 18. In How Do You Measure A Year? we see those conversations evolve as Ella goes from being a ‘toddler to [a] young woman’.

How Do You Measure a Year? represents Jay’s desire to learn and help Ella grow up, to empower her, and, as Jay says, help her to be herself.

Stranger at the Gate
A US Marine returns home from active service filled with hatred towards Muslims. He builds a bomb, intending to blow up his local mosque. But then, he meets the Muslims who worship there. They treat him with kindness and love. And that’s after they discover what he intended to do.

For director Joshua Seftel, Stranger at the Gate comes out of his wider The Secret Life of Muslims project, which is his attempt to counter the hatred Muslims received after 9/11. Stranger is an extraordinary story of friendship, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Joshua notes how divided people have become today but also how we can ‘build impossible bridges between each other’ so that strangers may become friends.
Last year was Martha Mitchell's year in media. Not only is she the subject of this short documentary, she was the subject of her own Emmy-nominated limited series on Showtime, where Julia Roberts played her. Unfortunately, it won no Emmys, which I why I didn't mention it in 'The White Lotus' leads limited series nominees at the 2022 Emmy Awards. Darn.

While I don't write about my children much here, I do have two daughters and a son, so I think I would appreciate "How Do You Measure a Year?" It's just a shame that it's not available to stream at home. Speaking of which, it's a common theme among archival documentaries like "Summer of Soul," "Good Night Oppy," and "Fire of Love" that they got their starts while filmmakers were staying at home during the pandemic.

My reaction to how the congregants on the Muncie mosque treated the ex-Marine who wanted to kill them in "Stranger at the Gate" is to quote my favorite Bible verse, Romans 12:20, itself a quote of Proverbs 25:21 and 25:22: “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.”  The movie shows it can work.

Now for the handicapping. Based on the number of awards and nominations, "Haulout" has the most with seven wins and seven nominations, followed by "How Do You Measure a Year?" with two wins and seven nominations, "Stranger at the Gate" with two wins and three nominations, "The Elephant Whisperers" with four nominations, and The Martha Mitchell Effect with three nominations. Based on that criterion, "Haulout" should be favored, but nearly all of those honors are from European film festivals, which do not have the same electorate at the Academy Awards. As I repeat in nearly all my awards show coverage, electorates matter. The same is true of "How Do You Measure a Year." That written, I think it would be favored if distribution were equal, as this is Jay Rosenblatt's second Oscar nomination, so the Academy voters know him. Those who went to the theaters to watch his documentary may vote for it. What will work against his winning is that Netflix has been spending money on its nominees, "The Elephant Whisperers" and "The Martha Mitchell Effect." I know; I've been seeing Netflix's promoted tweets about the two films. Also, both "Haulout" and "Stranger at the Gate" are on YouTube, and so are easily watched at home. The lack of a distributor may hurt "How Do You Measure a Year?"

That's part one of the Sunday entertainment feature. Stay tuned for the highlights of last night's "Saturday Night Live" episode, which will serve as part two.

Previous entries about the 2023 Academy Awards

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