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Streaming Services Strike Big on the Shortlist for Best Documentary Short

A few stars of the short film world lead the 2023 Oscar contenders for the Best Documentary Short Film.

38 At The Garden

“38 at the Garden”

Courtesy of HBO

This article contains IndieWire’s preliminary Best Documentary Short predictions for the 2023 Oscars. We regularly update our predictions throughout awards season, and republish previous versions (like this one) for readers to track changes in how the Oscar race has changed. For the latest update on the frontrunners for the 95th Academy Awards, see our 2023 Oscars predictions hub.

We will update these predictions throughout awards season, so keep checking IndieWire for all our 2023 Oscar picks. Nominations voting is from January 12 to January 17, 2023, with official Oscar nominations announced on January 24, 2023. The final voting is March 2 through 7, 2023. And finally, 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.

The State of the Race

Although the shortlist has only just arrived, it is much easier to catch up on what the contenders are this year for Best Documentary Short than one would think. The newest player to really dominate the category is MTV Documentary Films, which produced three films that made the shortlist for this category. Chalk that up to the hiring of Sheila Nevins, the new head of MTV Documentary Films, who produced countless award-winning projects during her long tenure at HBO.

All three projects are currently streaming on Paramount+, but as of right now, Tanaz Eshaghian’s “As Far as They Can Run” is the best prospect from the Paramount Global brand, a heartrending film about three disabled young adults being recruited to Pakistan’s Special Olympics training program. “The Flagmakers,” a Disney+ doc co-directed by Sharon Liese and 2008 Best Documentary Short Oscar winner Cynthia Wade is another example of an Academy Award veteran reentering a familiar race. The film provides a much more complex, meaningful answer to the simple question of “Who makes our American flags?”

The last project packing serious star power from within the Short Film community is Frank Chi’s “38 at the Garden,” an HBO doc about the cultural impact of “Linsanity” produced by recent Best Live Action Short Oscar winner Travon Free. The fact that the 2022 Academy Award winner for this category was “The Queen of Basketball” could bode well for the crowd pleaser centered on former New York Knicks player Jeremy Lin, at least in terms of getting a nomination.

But figuring out the winner for the Short Film categories, often the ones casual Oscars viewers are least informed about, is not all about pinning down what projects have the most popular names behind it. There is a lot of great technical filmmaking to be commended too. For instance, “Haulout” and “Nuisance Bear,” two nature docs that both happen to be distributed by the New Yorker, are projects with very original concepts, scenes that make viewers question how the filmmakers got the shot, and some important things to say about the impending global issues of climate change—a cause often covered in documentaries recognized by the Academy.

There is more to be watched from other platforms like Netflix, PBS, and the New York Times, especially since the release of the shortlists are when people outside of the Academy really jump onto paying attention to the Best Documentary Short race.

Contenders are listed in alphabetical order, below. Only films we have seen can be deemed frontrunners.

“As Far as They Can Run”
“The Flagmakers”
“Nuisance Bear”
“38 at the Garden”

“American Justice on Trial: People v. Newton”
“Angola Do You Hear Us? Voices from a Plantation Prison”
“The Elephant Whisperers”
“Happiness Is £4 Million”
“Holding Moses”
“How Do You Measure a Year?”
“The Martha Mitchell Effect”
“Shut Up and Paint”
“Stranger at the Gate”

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