As always, this year’s Oscar nominees for documentary short subject is a compelling roster of incisive journalistic portraits of urgent world issues. Topics covered this year include the housing crisis, life in present day Afghanistan, a pioneering Black woman athlete, a deaf high school, and bullying. In a marked shift from previous years, the 2022 films skew heavily towards more human stories with strong narrative leanings. None of the hard-hitting investigative pieces from the shortlist, like contenders from Laura Poitras and Field of Vision, made the cut. Unsurprisingly at this point, awards dominator Netflix came out ahead, with three films on the list: “Audible,” “Lead Me Home,” and “Three Songs for Benazir.”
“Audible” follows a deaf high school footballer and his classmates throughout their senior year, and is directed by Matt Ogens and Geoff McLean and counts deaf actor and model Nyle DiMarco as a producer. Netflix also has Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk’s “Lead Me Home,” a cinematic portrait of homelessness on the West Coast that humanizes the crisis while giving a sense of its immensity. The plaintive and intimate “Three Songs for Benazir” follows a charismatic young Afghani refugee living in a displaced persons camp in Kabul, and hails from Afghani filmmaker Gulistan Mirzaei and his wife Elizabeth Mirzaei.
As online distribution remains one of the best ways to get eyes on a short film, The New York Times has steadily become influential in the short film space. 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. The film hails 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.
Using a mix of collage animation, interviews with former classmates, and his own self-reflections, San Francisco-based filmmaker Jay Rosenblatt explores a bullying incident from his childhood in the deeply personal “When We Were Bullies.” Appearing on camera as an intrepid guide and narrator, a coincidence leads the filmmaker to examine his own complicity in events from nearly 50 years ago. Featuring script supervision from experimental Caveh Zahedi, “When We Were Bullies” is the only true indie to make the cut.
Listed in alphabetical order. No film will be considered a frontrunner until we have seen it.
“Lead Me Home”
“The Queen of Basketball”
“Three Songs for Benazir”
“When We Were Bullies”