Oscar-Nominated Short Documentaries

Showing at Northwest Film Forum, Fri., March 10–Thurs., March 16. Not rated. 75 and 60 minutes.

The Oscar came early on Sunday night, of course, for such a minor category. Yet these four nominated shorts have a cumulative impact far greater than the inane feature-length winner, March of the Penguins, which seals the world's problems in feathers and ice. The lesser three nominees deal with serious and familiar issues: the lingering aftereffects of the Hiroshima A-bomb (The Mushroom Club); the aftermath of genocide in Africa (God Sleeps in Africa); and the violence and famine in Africa chronicled by a Pulitzer Prize–winning photographer (The Death of Kevin Carter: Casualty of the Bang Bang Club). They're all worth seeing in a medicinal, PBS sort of way; the NWFF splits the quartet into two programs to make them more digestible.

Surprisingly, the best film short won: A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin. Those who fall on the wrong side of a generational and media divide will ask, "Norman who?" Corwin, still alive at 95, was a superstar of '30s and '40s radio (probably the apex of its influence) until his leftie populism went out of favor—along came TV and McCarthy, and he became one of those Hollywood paleo-liberals, paying the bills by writing screenplays like Lust for Life.

Note concentrates on Corwin's zenith, not his long sunset. His was the heyday of FDR-style liberalism, when progressives proudly ruled the media. (He was a colleague of Edward R. Murrow.) The doc draws its name from his famous—to listeners who remember it—CBS broadcast celebrating V-E Day on May 8, 1945, and the excerpts here are pretty thrilling. (The nonagenarian even has his own Web site, www.normancorwin.com, for downloads and more info.) Walter Cronkite, Studs Terkel, Norman Lear, Robert Altman ("It just burns in my memory"), and others recall the impact of the poet-journalist's program. A sampling of his other shows includes the celebrity voices of Orson Welles, Jimmy Stewart, and Edward G. Robinson. The latter, in a broadcast celebrating our Bill of Rights, plays an inmate wrongly held in jail, who warns, "None of this gestapo stuff!" I'll bet there are plenty of folks at Guantánamo who would agree with him today.

 
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