Reviewing the 2021 Documentary Short Nominees

Few categories are less-seen than the Oscar nominees for Best Documentary Short.  To further your Oscars experience, I have watched all five of the nominees and will review and rank each one.  By the way, each one of these is free to watch and takes less than two hours between all five.  Go watch them (links included in the reviews).

Nominees Matthew Ogens and Geoff McLean
Watch on Netflix

Football player Amaree McKenstry-Hall and his Maryland School for the Deaf teammates attempt to defend their winning streak while coming to terms with the tragic loss of a close friend.

While the story was intrinsically fascinating and unique, something about the presentation felt inauthentic. Played more like a short film than a documentary. I am not accusing the filmmakers of staging a number of these scenes, but I never felt something truthful coming through.

Score: 3.0/5.0

Lead Me Home
Nominees Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk
Watch on Netflix

Filmed over a four year period in Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, the film follows a number of homeless individuals struggling to find get a roof over their heads, while attempting to navigate their circumstances while striving to be considered human.

Sobering and above all, frustrating. The gigantic problem of homelessness in the United States is put under a spotlight, with intercut scenes of lavish and gaudy apartment construction. While the politics are mostly sidelined, the exorbitant costs just to live in certain cities is clearly focused. Each subject is treated with dignity and respect, while never being pitied. Well conceived and thought-provoking.

Score: 4.0/5.0

The Queen of Basketball
Nominee Ben Proudfoot
Watch on YouTube

Luisa Harris was the best female basketball player in the world. Following three straight National Titles and an Olympic medal, she was the first woman drafted by an NBA team to play with the men. But, you have probably never heard of her.

While the story itself is worth telling, the secret sauce is the interview with Harris herself. She is an absolute delight as she tells her story with humility and honesty. She doesn’t bemoan her lack of opportunities, but also faces no regret. Proudfoot continues his tradition of high-spirited documentaries after last year’s great A Concerto is a Conversation.

Score: 4.0/5.0

Three Songs for Benazir
Nominees Elizabeth Mirzaei and Gulistan Mirzaei
Watch on Netflix

Shaista is a young Afghan refugee living in a camp for displaced people with his wife Benazir. With Benazir pregnant and his future in limbo, he dreams of being the first from his tribe to join the Afghan National Army.

Bathed in abject humanity, the documentary turns those who otherwise are not seen as human are actually as ordinary as you could imagine. Hopeful, but also realistic. It does suffer a bit from a lack of substance, but the main point was made.

Score: 3.5/5.0

When We Were Bullies
Nominee Jay Rosenblatt (You will need a VPN to view)

When director Jay Rosenblatt searches for a narrator for one of his films, he coincidentally connects with a member of his elementary school class, who vividly remembers a bullying incident from fifth grade. Rosenblatt interviews everyone involved to see what people remember and how it still resonates 50 years later.

Though I’m sure Rosenblatt was well-intentioned, this is a prime example of a turning yourself into the subject of a story. Rosenblatt editorializes far too often and waxes on about what it means for him as opposed to how the actual target of the bullying would be affected. Reeks of self importance. Admittedly, the stop-motion affects that associate school pictures is a fun feature.

Score: 2.5/5.0

My Rankings:

  1. The Queen of Basketball
  2. Lead Me Home
  3. Three Songs for Benazir
  4. Audible
  5. When We Were Bullies

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