I love documentaries and I love shorts but I barely watch films that fit both categories, which means that what I have to say about both genres come from a small sample size. The aesthetics especially in documentary shorts feel too pretty and sophisticated. And I used to like such trends, but either the subgenre is losing the rawness that I’m starting to miss. Maybe the shorts that the Academy nominated are going to prove me wrong.
Pretty is a word that I use to describe Audible, depicting the students and sometimes the parents who are all members of a community in Maryland. What sets that community apart is that all of the students are deaf. This is one of the shorts that smooth out its edges both aesthetically and in its approach to its subject matter, even if yes, the subjects here can get pretty heavy. I do find it interesting that I focus on the parents here who have their own terrible pasts. Had I been in the director’s chair I would have been meaner to those parents but there are rewards for being nice. This is a Netflix production, Nyle DiMarco and Peter Berg serve as executive producers.
Simplicity is key sometimes. This is a lesson that I need to remember, and the same goes for documentary filmmakers. The people behind another Netflix acquisition, Lead Me Home, could have just picked a city and a year or either. But instead they decided to capture the epidemic of homelessness in three American cities in the West Coast. And the result feels like they’re casting too wide of a net.
Although I don’t feel like narrowing down the focus is a solution here. Its idea of making viewers empathize with homeless people is to show them trying to read a book. The then accompanies those visuals with late era Coldplay songs. Yes, I’m coming off like a bougie boy with an icy heart here. Just for context, I did consider running away from a complex situation and considered homelessness as a ‘solution’. And now I need roommates to build a savings account that keeps not growing for some reason. Not the same thing, I know. But this short’s approach to homelessness is not it.
“A peaceful community in the heart of the Mississippi Delta” is one of the places viewers see in The Queen of Basketball since it was the temporary home of the titular subject, Lusia Harris. During the 1970s, Harris chose to go to Delta State, a university restarting their women’s basketball program. She dominated both on the university level and the Olympics in Montreal. Larry Bird who? The short uses archive footage to bring the grit I look for in a documentary while using a swelling classical score that uplifts us.
Queen also uses contemporary interviews and a few scenes in Harris’ (who ended up becoming Harris Stewart) life to bring a modern yet joyful poetry into the mix. This is a New York Times production. Their shorts are a hit and miss but this one’s a hit. Shaquille O’Neal serves as an executive producer, and I hope the Academy doesn’t Shaq’t a Fool and give this short the W. (I hate myself).
People are people wherever they are, that’s the lesson viewers learn in Three Songs for Benazir. They have the capacity to love, they have barriers they need to cross. The documentary short’s subject is Shaista Khan, a young man, possibly a teenager who shows his love for his wife by singing to her. His other way, like most sane family men, involves finding ways to provide for her and her unborn child. He prefers to do that by signing up for the army – this was when Afghanistan was still a republic. But most people in his small town harvest poppies, which is what his family prefers him to do.
I don’t know how weird this is to write but there’s enough political subtext here in a documentary that’s inherently political. The directors here are the same due behind Laila at the Bridge, a full length documentary that I probably should have been nicer to. Other people who have seen this criticize this documentary for being to short, which is bizarre. My only would have been me wanting more Benazir in this short. Regardless, the through line between this and Laila is heartbreaking despite of it being obvious.
The story in When We Were Bullies span many years, as adults who went to the same P.S. The director recording voiceovers of themselves as they reminisce. But the memories are about the way they used to bully one of the kids with whom they went to school. It’s not necessarily the vile display of narcissism that people in iMDb or Letterboxd say it is. Or maybe it is because the narcissism here doesn’t come with the same brashness so I can’t detect it.
Nonetheless, the director’s collage aesthetic is here to show the deceptive innocence of these kids as well as the kid who was the bullying victim, Dick. Dick exists here as a blank profile because of his absence here, only making a presence through written correspondence that the director narrates. He then tries to fill that vacuum with his fellow alumni of how they couldn’t befriend the bully. The Baby Boom generation, one of the best generations ever, couldn’t stand up for the weak. This is why the Americans lost the War in Vietnam. Eff Brooklyn.
Watch the 2022 Oscar Nominated Short Films at TIFF.
- Rated: PG-13
- Genre: Biography, documentary, Short, Sport
- Release Date: 2/25/2022
- Directed by: Ben Proudfoot, Elizabeth Mirzaei, Gulistan Mirzaei, Jay Rosenblatt, Jon Shenk, Matthew Ogens, Pedro Kos
- Produced by: Elena Filippini, Geoff McLean, Jay Rosenblatt, Stefano Tealdi
- Studio: Actual Films, Breakwater Studios The New York Times, Film 45