As always, this year’s Oscars shortlist for documentary short subject is a compelling roster of incisive journalistic portraits of urgent world issues. Topics covered this year include immigration, homelessness, civil rights, and the January 6 insurrection. Awards dominator Netflix came out ahead, with four films on the list: “Audible,” Camp Confidential: America’s Secret Nazis,” “Lead Me Home,” and “Three Songs for Benazir.”
“Audible” follows a deaf high school athlete throughout his senior year, and is executive produced by Peter Berg and deaf actor and model Nyle DiMarco. One can always count on at least one Holocaust film to make the cut, and this year’s is “Camp Confidential,” about Jewish-Americans who worked as Army translators and hosts for Nazi scientists. Netflix also has “Lead Me Home,” a cinematic portrait of homelessness on the West Coast, and “Three Songs for Benazir,” about an Afghani refugee living in a displaced persons camp in Kabul.
As online distribution remains one of the best ways to get eyes on a short film, both The New Yorker and The New York Times have steadily become influential in the short film space. With six shortlisted films across the three shorts categories, The New Yorker has two documentary contenders: “A Broken House,” which follows a Syrian artist reimagining the home he cannot visit, and “Águilas,” which follows a volunteer group that searches for migrants who go missing crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
In “Day of Rage,” The Times cut together thousands of cellphone videos, police body cam recordings, and internal police audio to piece together the January 6 attack on the capitol. With over 6 million views online, “Day of Rage” goes into voting with some of the strongest name recognition for which any short film could hope. The paper’s documentary arm Op-Docs also made the cut with a considerably more uplifting story: “The Queen of Basketball” tells the story of Lusia “Lucy” Harris, the first and only woman to be drafted in the N.B.A. From director Ben Proudfoot (a nominee in the category last year for “A Concerto Is a Conversation”) and with Shaquille O’Neal as an executive producer, the film has strong chances as well.
Founded by Laura Poitras and Charlotte Cook, independent studio Field of Vision is also a power player in the documentary sphere, for both features and shorts. This year it has “The Facility,” a powerful real-time chronicle of life in an immigration detention facility during the pandemic. Oscar-winning “Citizenfour” director Poitras also has a new film of her own in contention, “Terror Contagion,” which exposes the activities of private Israeli company NSO, the developer of a spyware program that has been used by various governments to track journalists and human rights advocates.
Listed in alphabetical order. No film will be considered a frontrunner until we have seen it.
“Camp Confidential: America’s Secret Nazis”
“Day of Rage”
“Lead Me Home”
“The Queen of Basketball”
“Three Songs for Benazir”
“A Broken House”
“Coded: The Hidden Love of J. C. Leyendecker”
“Lynching Postcards: Token of a Great Day”
“Sophie & the Baron”
“When We Were Bullies”