2022 Oscars – Documentary Shorts

by Ronan Moore and Brandon Yunker

Audible:

I remember high school football games as explosive, cacophonous events. Being in the marching band, there was rarely a second where I wasn’t surrounded by noise. That said, even though I’ve slightly damaged my hearing (wear proper ear protection, folks), I could never imagine living in a world where the only way you are capable of interfacing with sound is by feeling it. When you see these kids living in that every day, it is bound to make you think about a few things.

Audible follows the football team at Maryland School For The Deaf, and I want to say that it’s not around until the 10-minute mark until we hear a word spoken, and even longer until there’s genuine narration like one is usually expecting from a documentary. Because of that, the time we get in the interviews with the teammates feels much more intimate, especially when it comes to creative sound design that does a lot to simulate what a deaf football player’s experience might be like on the field.

We closely follow Amaree for the majority of the runtime, getting to know his history and his struggles, as well as his strengths. Through sign language, he speaks intelligently and thoughtfully about the people in his life, much more so than a lot of people I’ve met over the course of my life. Whether he’s talking about the relationship he’s slowly building back up with his once-absent father, or reflecting on his late friend Teddy, Amaree’s perspective on things is, in all honesty, one I wish to adopt.

I’ll admit, I never really went to football games willingly – I was required to as part of my school’s marching band. I was invested in the game maybe once or twice a season. Now, I’m here wishing I’d gotten to know people better. The skill and determination that this Maryland team exudes is one every viewer can learn from. Though Audible doesn’t shy away from saddening and difficult material, it proposes an inspiring spitfire attitude towards life. No matter what adversity you face in life, if you have the courage to keep going forward, you can accomplish incredible things.

When We Were Bullies:

Jay Rosenblatt has been in the filmmaking game for a while. He has experience with crafting an interesting presentation around a story. I’ll give him credit for the unique aesthetic he manages to accomplish over the course of this film’s runtime. But as you get further and further into this film, you start to realize something about Rosenblatt himself: he’s a jerk.

 When We Were Bullies tells the story of a bullying incident where an entire fifth grade class ganged up on a kid named Richard (referred to as Dick throughout the documentary) and savagely beat him for something that wasn’t his fault. Rosenblatt actually interviews another man named Richard, who was the person that was actually responsible for what Dick had allegedly done. As Rosenblatt reaches out to more of his classmates, they all express some regret for the events that had occurred.

Rosenblatt even interviews the teacher of his class, who remarks that this film could end up being ‘tedious’. I have to say, she wasn’t wrong. Rosenblatt’s aesthetic was not intriguing enough that I wasn’t wishing I wasn’t doing something else with my time. That is, until the closing minutes roll around. Because of Dick’s declining of an interview about the event that was more than likely quite traumatic for him, Rosenblatt takes the opportunity to make the film about himself and his classmates. He expresses a strange pride in pointing out that we’ll never get to hear from Dick, and despite filling his last minutes with sympathy pleas for the people who bullied Dick, he ends it with an apology that couldn’t feel more hollow.

We all love when a film shocks us with something we didn’t expect to witness, but I have to make an exception to that rule. I was unexpectedly disappointed by the lack of growth displayed in Rosenblatt’s conclusion about the events that transpired. Every second he spent pontificating on how the sympathy should be directed toward the bullies, the more I balked at my screen at the blatant ignorance of someone else’s feelings. If I can urge you to do anything with this article, it’s to have some sympathy for your fellow human beings. You may not be perfect, but I can promise you this, readers: you’ll be a better person than Jay Rosenblatt.

The Queen of Basketball

Good documentaries allow us to meet people from all walks of life and to explore as much of their lives as they are willing to share. The Queen of Basketball allows us the privilege of getting to know one of the greatest basketball players ever in Lusia Harris. Harris was a pioneer in women’s athletics, winning three national championships, an Olympic silver medal and the only woman to ever be drafted by an NBA team. 

The documentary follows Lusia’s life as the daughter of sharecroppers to legendary athlete to coach and mother. Her story is told through her own words, allowing us to be charmed by her personality and her spirit. The film is well edited, flowing between archival materials and interviews with Lusia. The film touches upon several aspects of who she was, and what a remarkable person she was. The film explores how she connects race, gender, and even mental illness as she describes her struggles with her post-basketball life. 

Timing is a tragic element to Lusia’s story. Part of legacy is that she was the “first” for so many things that were not that long ago. She was the only black athlete on the women’s team, she scored the first points in women’s Olympic basketball, and she was the first female inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. But unfortunately for Lusia, the NCAA didn’t it acknowledge women’s basketball until after she graduated. And upon graduating there was no genuine women’s professional basketball league in the United States as the WNBA did not arrive until 1996. Ultimately, the fact that film has been nominated is poignant as its nomination comes after Lusia’s death in January. 

The Queen of Basketball manages to pack in all these issues into twenty-three minutes of conversation with Lusia Harris. And while the film is distressing in exploring how society couldn’t keep up with Harris, in listening to Lusia, one can’t help but feel that she doesn’t let the inequalities that she faced define her spirit and attitude. Despite pondering what might have been, she stands on her own two as a legend for so many people, and as the title states, the true queen of basketball.

Three Cheers for Benazir

Three Cheers for Benazir introduces us to a young and displaced Afghan refugee named Shaista who is at a crossroads. He has just married his sweetheart Benazir and is starting a family with her while he is contemplating joining the Afghan army to bring honor and a stable paycheck to his family as well as pursue an education and the opportunities it provides. 

The film is beautifully shot and plays like a narrative film. In fact, the way that the events unfold as we watch Shaista struggle with the decision almost feels like a narrative. We follow him as he meets with his family and various friends as he begins the process of applying for the military only to face opposition from everyone he knows. By the end of the film, we find out his decision amidst tragic circumstances as his family attempts to keep afloat amidst the turmoil that has engulfed their home for decades.

Three Cheers for Benazir is a film about decisions and their consequences. It is hard to ignore that while Shaista is struggling to decide his future, something not so different from what any young person faces, he must consider the decisions made by all the parties involved in the War in Afghanistan. Like The Queen of Basketball, it is a timely film as it was originally released only months before the fall of Kabul by the Taliban in 2021. The beauty of the cinematography and the intimacy with which we follow Shaista and his family only underscores the sobering account of how a person is to navigate tough decisions with no discernible clear path ahead.

Lead Me Home

It is estimated that there are half a million people who are homeless in the United States on any given night. It affects people from all walks of life, of different backgrounds, of different generations. And you may very likely know someone who has been homeless for a period of their life, whether it was for a substantial amount of time or a brief period. 

Lead Me Home captures the depths of what homelessness looks and sounds like. It features interviews with a diverse collection of individuals who describe some of what they’ve experienced and what they feel they need. The film intercuts between these interviews and cinema verité’ sequences with some of the interviewed subjects as well as volunteers attempting to assist the homeless as well as government officials trying to get a grasp of how to address homelessness. The film takes place in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle over a four-year period and these locations are just as much a subject as the people who are interviewed. The always moving and always breathing cities don’t offer any type of refuge for the subjects as we observe them trying to make tough decision about their day-to-day life. It is sobering to hear their stories and watch them, knowing that there are so many more people like them in a city near you. And while the film clearly tries to bring awareness to this issue, it does so in a way that doesn’t feel heavy-handed and gives us a more nuanced representation of this issue and causing us to think about it in a different way.  

Advertisement

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s