Review of short films nominated for the 2022 Oscars: small stories, big ideas
With three out of five nominees, Netflix almost takes center stage in this year’s short documentary category, but one of those three stands out. “Audible,” directed by Matt Ogens, observes the Maryland School for the Deaf high school football team, focusing on one player, Amaree McKenstry. His final year is eventful beyond the grill, as he navigates a tentative relationship and reconnects with the father who left him.
McKenstry says that while he can’t hear the cheers, he is able to feel the vibrations of the race. Players approach football from a different perspective. (“A lot of hearing teams don’t want to play us,” the coach says. “And most coaches don’t like losing to deaf coaches.”) Ogens, without overdoing it, finds ways to attract the television viewers. other senses, looking for tactile moments, like teenagers dancing to booming basslines or crew members slamming locker doors and flipping a switch as they kick in to return to the field.
School memories also permeate “When We Were Bullies.” In the early 1990s, filmmaker, Jay Rosenblatt, had a chance encounter with a former fifth grade classmate from the 1965-66 school year. Both had recalled an incident where they and others ganged up on an ostracized student. Years later, haunted by having been a bully, Rosenblatt searches for other classmates and their 92-year-old teacher. Not everyone remembers the dust, and Rosenblatt consciously leads the film into a dead end. Still, “When We Were Bullies” plays with structure and animation in a way that makes it lift.
Less empathetically successful is “Lead Me Home,” a documentary about homelessness shot in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle from 2017 to 2020. It’s just too diffuse at that length; few of its 15 featured subjects emerge with clarity, although there are heartbreaking moments, such as when a mother explains why she is shopping and cooking dinner for her children. instead of accepting meals. The many aerial shots of encampments inadvertently draw attention to the distant perspective of filmmakers Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk, whose excessive use of time-lapse photography and unfortunate deployment of Coldplay’s “Midnight” suggest he it is easier to lyrize poverty than to explore it.
‘Three Songs for Benazir’, from directors Gulistan and Elizabeth Mirzaei, follows an expectant father in a camp for displaced people in Kabul who aspires to join the Afghan National Army, but others are convinced his place is in the fields of poppy. A poignant epilogue set four years later confirms a pessimistic fate, while hinting at a great unrealized feature that might have been.
Finally, the New York Times Op-Doc “The Queen of Basketball,” directed by Ben Proudfoot, spotlights Lusia Harris, who passed away in January. In close-up, she recalls her career as a pioneering basketball player, the first woman to be officially drafted by an NBA team. Released before Harris’s death, the film now serves as a simple yet moving memorial, interweaving Harris’ memories with clips from key games and titles. Ben Kenigsberg