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New Yorkers find treasure in the trash in "Redemption," an Oscar-nominated documentary short film. Courtesy Shorts International
Movie review: Documentary shorts offer five intriguing stories
Review » Oscar nominees cover art, illness and poverty.
First Published Feb 07 2013 02:10 pm • Last Updated May 21 2013 11:32 pm

In looking for common threads among the five Oscar nominees in the documentary-short category, a few similarities emerge:

• All five clock in at more than a half-hour each, with the shortest, "Kings Point," running 31 minutes.

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Oscar Nominated Short Films 2013: Documentary

Five interesting looks at life, from a homeless artist to plucky cancer patients.

Where » Tower Theatre.

When » Opens Friday, Feb. 8.

Rating » Not rated, but probably PG-13 for thematic elements and language.

Running time » 184 minutes total; some of the shorts are subtitled.

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• Four were made for HBO, and the fifth, "Inocente," was made by a filmmaking couple who have worked for the cable channel.

• Four were filmed in the United States (the other, "Open Heart," takes place in Rwanda and Sudan).

Otherwise, the five films are unique slices of life that are worth the three hours it takes to view them all.

"Inocente" may be the most vibrant, an inspirational portrait of a 15-year-old San Diego teen who paints bright and colorful canvases — to counteract the harsh realities of her homeless life with her immigrant mother and three younger brothers. ("Inocente" is directed by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine, whose "Life According to Sam" debuted last month at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.)

"Kings Point" could be considered the most sentimental, as it’s a fond and funny look at elderly ex-New Yorkers talking about their lives in a Florida retirement community. Director Sari Gilman dedicated the movie to her grandmother Ida, a resident of Kings Point who died in 2009.

"Mondays at Racine" may be the most tear-jerking, as director Cynthia Wade takes us inside a Long Island beauty salon that once a month provides its services free to women cancer patients. The stories the women tell of their ordeal, and the support they feel from the salon’s owners and fellow customers, are heartbreaking and life-affirming.

"Open Heart" is the most graphic — especially if you’re squeamish about surgical footage. Director Kief Davidson follows a group of eight children from Uganda, all suffering from life-threatening rheumatic cardiac disease, who travel to Sudan and the only cardiac-surgery center in Africa. (By the way, Utah Film Center director Geralyn Dreyfous is the film’s executive producer.)

But "Redemption" is easily the most fascinating of the five films. Directors Jon Alpert and Matthew O’Neill expose a secret economy on the streets of New York City, made up of people who sort through trash to collect bottles and cans in order to cash in the 5-cent deposit on each one. The wide array of characters in "Redemption," and the touching reasons they endure their work, make this shrewdly observational movie a winner.


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