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Arts and Entertainment

Your Guide To The Oscar Nominees For Best Documentary Short

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The nominated documentary shorts hit theaters tomorrow, so here's your guide in case you've got a ballot or an Oscars pool. (And if you haven't already, catch the programs for the Oscar-nominated live action shorts and animated shorts.)

"The Lady In Number 6: Music Saved My Life" | Directors: Malcolm Clarke and Nicholas ReedAlice Herz-Sommer is the oldest Holocaust survivor, still playing the piano every morning in her London apartment at the age of 110. "The Lady In Number 6" looks back at her eventful life, going all the way back to her upbringing in Prague, where she hobnobbed with the likes of Franz Kafka and Gustav Mahler. As an accomplished classical pianist, her talents spared her and her son the worst of the Holocaust. They were sent to the concentration camp Theresienstadt which the Nazis used as a "model community" to hide their atrocities. It's a miraculous story of an endearing woman that gets bogged down by the worst tendencies of documentaries (enough with the soft focus framing!) and a lack of narrative focus.

"Karama Has No Walls" | Director: Sara IshaqA gripping compilation of on-the-ground footage from the protest that sparked the Yemeni Revolution, "Karama Has No Walls" feels like a companion piece to the nominated documentary The Square. Both are reports from the heart of the Arab Spring, although The Square takes place in Egypt. It is a vital work that documents an important and tragic event (50 protesters were killed by government forces that day), so criticizing it feels blasphemous. But where it exceeds in noteworthiness, it falls short in creating any sort of context for the events we witness, almost robbing it of its inherent pathos.

"Facing Fear" | Director: Jason Cohen"Facing Fear" is the story of Matthew Boger who at the age of 13 was nearly killed by a gang of neo-Nazi skinhead punks because of his sexual orientation. Years later he encounters one of those skinheads (now rehabilitated) by mere chance and has to cope with forgiveness and reconciliation. "Facing Fear" is unfortunately too undercooked in its short running time, hardly cracking the surface of a compelling subject and also held back by conventional filmmaking (as so many documentaries are).

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"CaveDigger" | Director: Jeffrey Karoff"CaveDigger" poses the most interesting questions and dilemmas out of this batch, depicting the conflict between artistic impulses with real-world restrictions. Ra Paulette is a man in New Mexico who dedicates his life to his unique pursuit of digging large-scale, decorated caves by hand, with a quixotic dream to complete his self-proclaimed magnum opus. He must wrestle this dream with the realities of self-sufficiency, family life and the demands of benefactors. His work would have been far more appealing to me had it not been steeped in the aesthetics of hokey Southwest spiritualism.

"Prison Terminal: The Last Days Of Private Jack Hall" | Director: Edgar BarensDirector Edgar Barens seems to posit that convicted murderers are worthy of mercy and dignity that they never afforded their victims, though he does so without any exploration in "Prison Terminal." Jack Hall is a decorated WWII vet and former POW who is sentenced to life in prison, and at the age of 83 is ready to complete his sentence. His final days are spent in hospice care on prison grounds, where he is tended to by fellow inmates, including others also convicted for murder. "Prison Terminal" is set to premiere on HBO on March 31.

The Oscar-nominated Documentary Short Film program opens tomorrow at Laemmle's Royal Theatre (West LA) and will also play at Laemmle's Playhouse 7 (Pasadena), Claremont 5 (Claremont), and NoHo 7 (North Hollywood) over the weekend. Because of the total running time, they are split into two separate programs. The films will become available on iTunes/Amazon and pay-per-view/video-on-demand on Feb. 25.