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Artist Ra Paulette creates massive works in New Mexico sandstone, as chronicled in the documentary "Cavedigger." The film is one of five nominated for an Oscar in the Documentary Short Film category. Courtesy Shorts International
Movie review: Short documentaries speak the truth in small doses
Review » Five Oscar nominees cover a variety of topics.
First Published Feb 06 2014 04:12 pm • Last Updated Feb 06 2014 05:02 pm

Short documentaries, like the five nominated for Academy Awards this year (and compiled in a program playing at the Tower Theatre), are hard nuggets of truth — small stories with big impact.

Because the five films clock in at nearly three hours, the program is split into two parts — three in one section, two in the other.

At a glance

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Oscar-nominated documentary shorts

Five true stories, covering topics such as art, aging and violence.

Where » Tower Theatre.

When » Opens Friday.

Rating » Not rated, but some are probably R for violence and language.

Running time » The program is divided in two parts: Part I is 88 minutes; Part II is 78 minutes.

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The lightest of the five is "Cavedigger," director Jeffrey Karoff’s charming look at artist Ra Paulette, who obsessively digs massive and ornately carved caves in the soft sandstone of northern New Mexico. It’s a fun portrait of an artist whose vision often outruns his clients’ expectations.

Jason Cohen’s moving film "Facing Fear" chronicles a hate crime 25 years ago, when a young skinhead beat a gay teen nearly to death in Los Angeles. It interviews both men now, after they met years later at L.A.’s Museum of Tolerance, in a touching examination of forgiveness.

The strongest of the five is "Karama Has No Walls," in which filmmaker Sara Ishaq interviews survivors of the 2011 massacre of protesters in Yemen’s Change Square. Two of those interviewed are cameramen, whose bloody footage forms the backbone of this hard-hitting film.

The last two shorts, paired in the second section of the program, touch on aging in different ways.

"Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Ryan" takes us inside the Iowa State Penitentiary, and specifically the hospice where inmates care for terminally ill prisoners in their dying days. The simple, stark scenes of lifers tending to other lifers shakes a lot of assumptions about prison life and makes a quiet point about the rising number of elderly inmates in America’s prisons.

Last, "The Lady in No. 6" is TV presenter Malcolm Clarke’s slightly saccharine portrait of pianist Alice Herz Sommer, who at 109 was (at the time of filming) the oldest living survivor of the Holocaust. Sommer, sprightly and active, talks about her love of music — and how music, she believes, saved her life time and again.

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