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Oscar short documentary nominees talk about their films

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When the Oscars take place on March 27, one of this year’s directors among the nominees for Best Documentary Short will receive their Oscar in a pre-recorded ceremony, with their acceptance speech edited into a TV broadcast for the purpose. to reduce the show to less than three hours.

Although the filmmakers told TheWrap at its annual Oscar documentary presentation at the Landmark Los Angeles that they were appalled by the move like so many others at the Academy, they feel optimistic about the future of the shorts. documentary footage as projects become more accessible.

“Short film has the lowest barrier of entry to any form of filmmaking,” said Ben Proudfoot, director of “The Queen of Basketball.”

“As we think about making the film industry more diverse, more viable, more international… I think short film is the most exciting corner of cinema. Frankly, regardless of how television is produced, the growth of this part of the industry will happen anyway,” added Proudfoot.

Proudfoot was one of six nominated filmmakers who spoke to TheWrap’s Steve Pond on Tuesday about their work. For Proudfoot, this is his second straight year as part of TheWrap’s Oscars showcase, as he was also nominated last year for his profile of “Green Book” composer Kris Bowers in the short doc “A Concerto Is a Talk”.

In a way, Proudfoot found it easier to make ‘The Queen of Basketball’ because basketball hall of famer Lusia Harris was happy to tell her story of how she became three. national champion, the first woman to score in an Olympic basketball game. , and the first woman drafted by a professional basketball team. And though archival footage was hard to come by at first, Harris’ alma mater, Delta State University, released hundreds of photos and film reels from the athlete’s career for Proudfoot to scan. for his movie.

Rather, the challenge came from within, as the filmmaker focused on making a film worthy of Harris’ legacy.

“It’s this amazing story and it tells it so well, and I had this treasure trove of archival footage and I thought, ‘Oh man, now I have to put this story together,'” he said. he declares.

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While “The Queen of Basketball” was filmed quickly in the summer of 2020 during the pandemic, Matt Ogens shot his documentary, “Audible,” just before COVID-19 started spreading around the world.

Filmed in his hometown of Frederick, Maryland, Ogens followed students at Maryland School for the Deaf just before homecoming weekend, with a particular focus on soccer star Amaree McKenstry as he bounced his teammates after their team’s first loss to another Deaf team in 16 years, while coming to terms with his estranged father and dealing with the suicide of his close friend Teddy.

“Audible” is the result of 12 years of filming at school, where Ogens’ mother worked as an ASL interpreter. Although Ogens met many inspiring students, it wasn’t until he met Amaree and his classmate Jalen Whitehurst that he realized he had found the story he wanted to tell.

“I knew I wanted to make a movie that was more than a sports documentary,” Ogens said. “I had interviewed football players, cheerleaders and coaches and all of a sudden Amaree started talking about Teddy and then Jalen started talking about Teddy. story because it was something they and their classmates still had to deal with. At the end of the movie, when Amaree and her friends are at the cemetery, it’s been two years to the day since Teddy committed suicide. .

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“Three Songs for Benzair” was also a film that had been brewing for many years. Married filmmakers Elizabeth and Gulistan Mirazei had been living in Afghanistan and making documentaries there for eight years when in 2017 they met Shaista and Benzair, a young couple deeply in love while living in a displacement camp after losing their homes in because of the war between the United States and the Taliban. For several months, the Mirazeis filmed the couple’s loving moments as Shaista was forced to choose between his wife and family and his desire to join the Afghan National Army.

“We wanted to do an underrated story about Afghanistan,” said Elizabeth Mirazei. “We see so many stories of war and oppression and we were so captivated by the story of this couple who had nothing but hope in their hearts. Just seeing them together drowned out the war and we were completely in the moment with them.

From poverty in the Middle East to poverty on the West Coast, “Lead Me Home” was Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk’s attempt to examine the escalating homelessness crisis in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. from the ground. While the documentary takes a look at task force discussions and heated debates at city council meetings, much of its runtime is devoted to those living on the streets in cars, tents and shelters, showing their struggle to survive and their experiences dealing with underfunded and overstretched people. social services.

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“We wanted to break down the walls and talk with these people who are our neighbors and tell their stories,” Kos said.

“We all live our lives with a strange contradiction that this crisis is all around us…but we ignore it because we have to do it to get on with our lives,” Shenk added. “We’ve been forced into this corner where we almost have to create this wall and dehumanize rough sleepers, so Pedro and I decided we had to do the opposite of what we do every day and turn to these people and speak for them.”

“Audible,” “Lead Me Home,” and “Three Songs for Benzair” are all available to stream on Netflix, and “The Queen of Basketball” is available on The New York Times YouTube channel.