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Spotlight: "In the Absence" and Other Oscar-Nominated Short Docs

By David Schonauer   Thursday February 6, 2020


When disaster strikes, whom should you listen to?

That question lies at the heart of In the Absence, one of the short documentaries nominated for an Oscar this year.

The 28-minute film focuses on a passenger ferry, the  M.V. Sewol, that sank while traveling between the South Korean city of Incheon and Jeju Island, on April 16, 2014. As the vessel listed and began to sink, leadership broke down and passengers were told to “Stay put.”

Too late, he order was given to evacuate. “Most survivors did not recall hearing any such command, and the absence of an orderly and structured escape plan multiplied the losses,” noted The New Yorker last April, when the film was first released.

Short of the Week calls the blow-by-blow documentary, which comes from of Field of Vision, a big name in short documentary filmmaking,  “a gut-punch, an urgent piece of investigatory journalism where the methodical nature of its process barely masks a deeper anger.”

“How many could have been saved if the evacuation had taken place immediately, or if there had been clear procedures and a hierarchy of communication in place?” adds The New Yorker. “What if the people onboard, instead of obeying misguided orders and waiting for instructions that never came, had decided to fend for themselves? South Korean law enforcement and the families and friends of the victims have grappled with these questions in the aftermath.”

While, the captain and 14 other members of the crew were later convicted on charges related to the sinking, the families of the dead are still haunted by questions.

Below is the powerful film. Go here for an interview with the film's director, Yi Seung-Jun, and its producer, Gary Byung-Seok Kam.


Meanwhile, here is a look at the other Oscar-nominated short documentaries this year:


Learning to Skate in a War Zone If You’re aGirl
Carol Dysinger and Elena Andreicheva


Life Overtakes Me
John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson


St.Louis  Superman
Smriti Mundhra and Sami Khan


Walk, Run,Cha-Cha
Laura Nix and Colette Sandstedt

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