Oscars 2023: Best Documentary Short Predictions

In recent years, Oscars voters have gone for Best Documentary Short Film nominees that tell human-focused stories.
Stranger at the Gate
"Stranger at the Gate"
Karl Schroder

We will update these predictions throughout awards season, so keep checking IndieWire for all our 2023 Oscar picks. Final voting is March 2 through 7, 2023.  The 95th Oscars telecast will be broadcast on Sunday, March 12 and air live on ABC at 8:00 p.m. ET/ 5:00 p.m. PT.

See IndieWire’s previous Oscars Predictions for this category and more here.

The State of the Race

It’s a good time to pay attention to the Best Documentary Short category.

While the recent documentary boom has had its pros and cons, one exciting by-product has been that the contenders in this category have become more accessible than ever. Two of the films are available for free on YouTube, while another two are streaming on Netflix. Only “How Do You Measure a Year?” is still working on finding a simple way to watch it outside the Academy Screening Room (and the upcoming theatrical run of the full gamut of shorts nominees), but that’s hardly a knock against it, as Academy voters are already familiar with its director Jay Rosenblatt: he was nominated in the same category just last year for his short “When We Were Bullies.”

The film chronicles the life of his daughter Ella, showing footage of interviews Rosenblatt did with her on her birthday every year since she was two years old. The success of “CODA” last year would point to the Academy falling in love with father-daughter stories that tug at the heartstrings, but one simple criticism that may prevent “How Do You Measure a Year?” from winning is that it uses a format millions have already seen done before in the annual videos Vanity Fair shoots with Billie Eilish.

Netflix’s “The Martha Mitchell Effect” is in a similar situation, arriving in between two high-profile limited series that also retold the details of how the Watergate scandal played out. Starz’s “Gaslit” specifically had Julia Roberts play Mitchell, the outspoken wife of Nixon’s Attorney General, but the role did not garner as much awards attention as one would imagine. That may help this documentary project though be the definitive retelling of Mitchell’s role, as it does a very good job of piecing together archive footage to create a great refresher on both the scandal, and this fascinating, semi-forgotten figure from recent American history.

In terms of what film has the most momentum, “Stranger at the Gate” recently brought on activist Malala Yousafzai as an executive producer. Saying more about it would be a spoiler, but the project, distributed by The New Yorker, appeals to both true crime fans and those looking for something a little more soulful, as director Joshua Seftel packs twists and turns into the story of a Marine’s plan to attack an Indiana mosque.

On the more environmental end of the spectrum are “Haulout,” about a walrus beach, and “The Elephant Whisperers,” about an animal sanctuary, both have pretty incredible shots of nature. However, the films Academy members have gravitated to in recent years, when voting for Best Documentary Short, are more human-focused.

Nominees are listed below in order of likelihood they will win.

“Stranger at the Gate”
“The Martha Mitchell Effect”
“How Do You Measure a Year?”
“The Elephant Whisperers”

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