‘Showfolk’ is a Shoo-In for the 2015 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short

Tribeca Film Festival

It’s too early to be making Oscar predictions. It’s especially too early to talk about Best Documentary Short, a category that is generally regarded as impossible to predict at least until the eight-film shortlist is announced. That won’t happen for months.

Yet sometimes a short comes along that seems so obviously a candidate that it behooves us to throw caution to the wind and start prognosticating. Showfolk, which had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, is a documentary about the Motion Picture and Television Fund retirement community.

This is a red flag for every awards watcher. The Academy gets criticized for being an institution made up of members who are predominantly old and white. Last year’s winner, The Lady in Number 6, is an insufferably schmaltzy portrait of a charming elderly woman. The vast majority of the population of the MPTF home is also white and obviously getting on in years. It is entirely possible that many of the residents are actually Academy members.

It helps that the film isn’t bad, either. Director Ned McNeilage has crafted a lovely, if perhaps too formulaic, profile of a few of the home’s most charismatic citizens. There’s Monica Lewis, an actress and jazz singer who was the voice of Chiquita Banana in the classic television ads. Ruthie Tompson, nearly 100 years old, was a painter at Walt Disney’s animation studio.

McNeilage also profiles a composer, a vaudevillian, a studio accountant and a guy whose job was to arrange all of the plants on set. What brings them all together is a love of the movies and a gratitude that they were able to spend their lives working in Hollywood. There’s nothing the Academy likes more than movies about movies.

As for how it makes it to the shortlist, that’s the tricky part. Showfolk didn’t win anything at Tribeca. It will need to win a festival award to qualify, one of the 34 on this list. Alternatively it could have a week-long run in Manhattan or Los Angeles, but that would be harder to pull off.

If it does qualify, however, a nomination seems likely. If it is nominated it has a very good shot at winning. The Best Documentary Short category requires that an Academy member prove they’ve seen the films before voting. The commonly held wisdom is that, logistically, retired members have more time to attend screenings. Maybe the MPTF will even arrange a bus.

Check out the film’s trailer below and make note of it for your ballot in 10 months.

Daniel is a freelance critic living in Brooklyn. His writing has appeared at Nonfics, The Film Experience, The Brooklyn Rail, Indiewire, and Dok.Revue.