12 Documentary Shorts Everyone Should Watch


Does everyone who works at Vimeo sit around watching movies all day?

The tightly curated Staff Picks section of their website does nothing to disprove this theory. I’m not mad, though, because they’ve sifted through hundreds of their favourite films and culled them down to seven categories of finalists for the Staff Picks Best of the Year Awards, which means I only had to spend four out of five working days this week watching the entire roster of finalists. Haha, just kidding people reading this who pay my wages. It only took me three. Enjoy the 12 films selected in the ‘Best of Documentary’ section below, including category winner Alone, below.

My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes

Don’t let the catchy title fool you—this short film goes a whole lot deeper than the bottom of a dusty cardboard box of porn. Mixing archival footage, stop-motion animation, audio interviews with family members and narration by David Wain, director Charlie Tyrell’s attempt to get closer to his distant father years after his passing is an honest account of a man quietly trying to break free from a destructive cycle. Regretful, funny, and ultimately uplifting, My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes is a reminder that the things we inherit from our parents go far beyond dirty VHS tapes and boxes of stuff—it’s just up to us what we do with the baggage.

I Have a Message For You

A piece of advice—it’s better if you don’t cry at work. I’m glad, therefore, that I watched this smash derby of emotions at home, because it’s one of the most unforgettable, heart-wrenching stories I’ve ever heard. Going too in-depth with director Matan Rochlitz’ film about Holocaust survivor Klara will most certainly spoil some of the neck-snapping twists and turns that unfold throughout, so I’ll just say if you watch any movie on this list, make it this one. Also, 8 minutes and 8 seconds in—goddamn Matan, you’re good.

American Psychosis

I’m convinced this film doesn’t belong in the documentaries category, but as Vimeo currently doesn’t do a ‘Best of Horror Films,’ it’ll have to do. Watching this film reminds me of the time my older sister told me to close my eyes and ‘put your hands in the bowl.’ It was full of pickled onions, but she told me they were eyeballs, and the terror I felt then is equal to that of listening to Chris Hedges riff on modern-day consumerism, totalitarian corporate power and living in a culture dominated by pervasive illusion. The Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, author and activist pulls no punches in the 15-minute reality shock, and it’s uncomfortable, necessary viewing. If you’ve ever questioned how a boiled ham in a wig came to be running one of the world’s most powerful nations, this is for you.

Little Potato 

Growing up in Russia sounds tough. Growing up gay in Russia sounds pretty much impossible. Little Potato follows the journey of a mother and her gay son’s struggle to survive in Vladivostok at the hands of an abusive system and violent men, followed by their escape to America through a mail order bride website.

Ivry

Yes, it’s another film about boxing. No, you shouldn’t scroll on past director Jake Oleson’s Ivry. This 9-minute short (shot entirely on 16mm film), set in Chicago’s turbulent South Side, follows amateur boxer Ivry Hall as he trains for an upcoming tournament, passing hard-fought wisdom onto his boxing protégé in the process. “When I was 12-years-old, I had about three tattoos,” he says. “I already had, like, three guns, I’d been locked up twice, I sold drugs… I got shot at, shot at people.” After the death of his parents and losing most of his peers to jail, suicide, or gang violence, Ivry realised his choices were leading him to a similar fate. This candid, gritty portrait of a young man determined for a better future is one of the most inspirational and gracefully shot documentaries you’ll watch so far this year, and you should go ahead and hit the play button right now.

Skip Day

Taking a fly-on-the-wall approach, director Ivete Lucas and Patrick Bresnan document a day in the life of high school seniors on the cusp of adulthood. Discussions of friendships, futures, relationships and college play out on the beach, mixed almost imperceptibly with ingrained racism from white beachgoers.

Cucli

Ramon is a truck driver who spends most of his life alone on the road, returning to his elderly parents’ house on the weekend to rest. Three years after the death of his beloved wife, Ramon finds an injured white dove in the cellar of his parents’ house which he slowly nurses back to health. Cucli is not only a story of an unlikely pair of friends, but the transformative power of companionship after death. Directed by Xavier Marrades, this cinematic short is one of the most flawlessly shot in the list of best documentary contenders.

I Was a Winner

Apart from a brief flirtation with Crash Bandicoot on PlayStation in primary school, I’ve never really understood the whole gaming thing. But it’s a very real thing with real-life consequences, and I Was a Winner is an unnerving look at the slippery slope of gaming addiction that everyone needs to see. Instead of the tried and tested talking head interviews for his three subjects, Swedish director Jonas Odell cleverly lends their voices to  avatars who wander through fictional animated worlds, relaying their experiences with the all-consuming ‘hobby.’ If you’re under the impression that gaming isn’t a real addiction like drugs or alcohol, listen to one of the gamer’s tell you about the scariest day of his life being when he found out his wife was pregnant because of how a baby might affect his playing (“The most beautiful things in my life—my children—I saw as a nuisance”) and then try and convince me otherwise.

Concussion Protocol

‘Violent ballet’ is the term used in Concussion Protocol’s synopsis, and that couldn’t be more on the money. Directed Josh Begley creates a montage of every bone-crunching concussion during the NFL’s 2017-2018 season, and it’ll send shivers up your thankfully still intact spine.

The Wild Inside

Sweeping aerial shots of wild horses being tracked and corralled in the Arizona desert introduce us to cinematic short, The Wild Inside. Director Andrew Ellis makes it impossible to miss the story’s symbolism —as part of the Wild Horse Inmate Program, inmates in the Arizona state-prison system working to break wild horses as they prepare for their own release.

A View From the Window

What does the average school day look like when you and all of your friends are deaf? Directors Chris Filippone and Azar Kauai do an incredible job of drawing viewers into a tactile world where kids are still kids, no matter what their limitations may be.

Alone – WINNER, STAFF PICKS DOCUMENTARY OF THE YEAR

“During courthouse hearings, the sheriff brings the inmates around back. It’s hours of them sitting in a hot bus with only breaks to use the bathroom, but I’m always there to see him. Just to wave.” Aloné Watts (her own name a harsh reminder of her lonely existence) lives every day with the pain of not knowing how many years her incarcerated fiancé will be serving behind bars. Director Garrett Bradley’s short film Alone is a painful reminder of the far-reaching effects that jail has on loved ones beyond the prison wall.

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