ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATED 2022 Documentary Shorts

Documentaries are by far the most undersung filmmaking genre — no doc has ever won an Oscar for Best Picture — and short documentaries have the worst of the lot. Some of these filmmakers have spent years and years filming their subjects, then whittle their hundreds of hours of footage into a publicly-palatable half-hour. It’s a shame that the Academy are pushing this group of nominees to the sidelines for the 2022 broadcast because these filmmakers — even when they make something that doesn’t quite cohere — invest so much time and work and emotion and empathy into their subjects.


AUDIBLE is the latest from filmmaker Matthew Ogens, best known for his documentary CONFESSIONS OF A SUPERHERO which followed around a set of Los Angeles costumed superheroes, but it’s also produced by Peter Berg, of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS fame. Like FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, AUDIBLE focuses on a high school football team, but this is an all-deaf team from the Maryland School for the Deaf. While the doc dives into how they communicate on-and-off the field, it excels at emphasizing the empathy and a specific kind of bonding that is rarely found in even the closest of social groups. Its use of subtitles, and insistance on displaying them, is also worth banging the drums for.


From longtime documentary workers Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk, LEAD ME HOME is an affective look at the homeless situation in tech-boom cities, notably San Francisco and Oakland, where tent cities are now very visible, as captured by their drone footage and contrasted by all of the modern construction work.

One of the more heartbreaking stories is that of Patty, who solely has her dog to keep her sane and safe from an abusive partner, and there are a litany of publicly posted signs stating ‘No dogs allowed’ in any space she would otherwise be able to use to bide the night.


“Have you ever heard of Lucy Harris?” That’s the question posited from Ben Proudfoot (THE OX) and it’s a good one, as she was a revolutionary basketball player in a pre-WNBA era. Presented in a very face-forward Errol Morris way, this is an effortlessly pleasing doc that imbues Harris’ charms while also detailing how limited options for sport careers were for women — honestly, still probably are — even those courted by the Jazz.

“Long and tall and that’s not all.”


A disheartening, slightly faltering, look at Shaista, an under-educated Afghanistan trying to escape from the opium trade by enlisting in the army. While well-shot and well-shaped by Elizabeth and Gulistan Mirzaei, especially when it comes to capturing the surveillance state that Shaista percieves, it leaves you wanting something a bit more thanks to a rather perfunctory end. Sadly, sometimes that’s just how spending years with a subject will work out.


The documentary that dares to ask the question: “What if bullies were the victims all along?”

It’s a doc from prolific short film director Jay Rosenblatt that wants to examine mob mentality, youths’ desire to fit in — even if it means violence — but instead pivots to slight interviews and then almost completely writes out the actual victim. The hand-crafted animations used to set, and reset, the tableau of the bullying incident that incited the impetus for the film inject some liveliness into the film, but then leans far too heavily on it.

Despite the Academy’s sidelining of these works, you can still see them in the theater, as these shorts are currently playing in the Chicagoland area at the WILMETTE THEATER, 1122 Central Ave, Wilmette, IL 60091, USA!


You can tell that the Oscars are returning to some semblance of normalcy when they start inexplicably removing airtime for the remaining less-glamorous categories. Case in point: the Academy recently announced that the winners in a number of categories, including editing as well as the three shorts categories (Animated, Live Action, and Documentary), would no longer be announced live during the primary broadcast. As noted by many film professionals, this feels like a betrayal by the Academy, that they’re whittling away what’s supposed to be a celebration of everything that makes cinema unique to make room for more stars, singers and half-baked skits.

It’s an especially egregious sin concerning this year’s Live Action Short nominees, as the short films are mostly a banner crop of emotionally affecting works:


ALA KACHUU is from German-Swiss filmmaker Maria Brendle and opens with Sezim (Alina Turdumamatova), a young Kyrgyz woman living in a small rural town, arguing with her mother, trying to convince her to allow her to head to Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, to take an exam that could garner her a higher education scholarship. Her mother is dead set against it, espousing that Sezim find a husband instead, and forbids her to take the exam, especially underscoring her personal disdain for the woman Sezim would be staying with.

Sezim is undeterred and opts to run off to take the exam, to stay with her independently minded friend and get a job at a bakery. She glows as she eases into this new life, one of personal responsibility and individuality, and even learns how to drive a car.

While locking up the bakery at the end of the day, she gets a call from her friend, happily noting that her exam results are in! And then Sezim is grabbed by several young men, thrown into a car, and instead of living her best life as a free woman in the city, she’s forcibly married to her kidnapper, a man who doesn’t shy away from the fact that he wanted to abduct her co-worker, not herself.

Brendle tells this horrifying, but all too common, tale with an energetic verve that tugs at the viewer, while also leaning hard on visual burdens. It’s a hard watch, but one worth putting yourself through.


From 2002 Academy Award Live Short winner Martin Strange-Hansen (for THIS CHARMING MAN/DER ER EN YNDIG MAND) comes this piece about a man who just wants to sing a song for his unseen wife at a bar. At first, it feels like a one act stageplay, almost an exercise in character desire and denial, but then it turns the corner and reveals itself in a way that will clutch at your heartstrings. Especially noteworthy is how the film utilizes breath in ways that won’t cause you to wince in a pandemic way.


PLEASE HOLD, from Mexican-American director KD Davila, is the sort of dystopian depiction of the modern prison system that could easily be a BLACK MIRROR episode, or at least would be if that reality weren’t already here and prisoners weren’t unfairly detained and nickel-and-dimed until they’re bled dry. Starring Erick Lopez (CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND’s Hector), Davila’s use of visual confinement as well as the all-too-real sort of digital interface is particularly Kafka-esque.


THE DRESS is credited as being written and directed by Tadeusz Lysiak, but allegedly he collaborated with actor Anna Dzieduszycka, who plays the lead Julka. Julka is a little person working as a maid in a Polish hotel, someone who is thirsty with desire — as visually expressed by her constant diet of slim cigarettes and booze — and seems to hit it off with a trucker, who schedules a date with her the next time he swings into town.

Dzieduszycka is brilliant in the role, but THE DRESS falters near the end, pivoting to prove an unnecessary point. Despite that, the first two-thirds are a fantastic character study, but you’ll know when you should bail.


Not to be confused with the Raymond Chandler work of the same name, THE LONG GOODBYE is a piece from director Aneil Karia (LOVESICK, SURGE) and penned by Karia and lead Riz Ahmed (SOUND OF METAL, THE NIGHT OF). It made the streaming rounds many moons ago, but deserves to be seen on screens larger than one’s phone as it’s a visual whirlwind of a large British South Asian family enjoying their day together, at least until those outside turn on them.

As with many of these works, THE LONG GOODBYE is not a traditionally fun watch, but it’s an important and engrossing one. Short films can summarize a lifetime we’d never be able to imagine within a fraction of the running time, and it’s a shame that the Academy has opted to relegate them to the sidelines. However, you can still see them in the theater, as these shorts are currently playing in the Chicagoland area at the WILMETTE THEATRE — — 1122 Central Ave, Wilmette, IL 60091, USA!


The Oscar Animated Shorts category can be trying under the best of times, as all too often it’s chock full of overly-sentimental pablum, but thankfully this year’s crop of nominees are supremely intriguing, thoughtful, experimental entries that play with the form. It’s also surprisingly wall-to-wall not-safe-for-work so, if you’re thinking about taking youths to see it, you might want to think twice.

The stand-out piece is AFFAIRS FROM THE ART, from the well-regarded Joanna Quinn & Les Mills; it’s fifteen minutes of a sister/mother/wife observing her very eccentric, very oddball sister, narrating all the way as she also visually impresses her own personal obsessions. Think: a more vibrant, more personal Bill Plympton-ish work, reverberant lines and thrilling mouth animation in a wildly stylized way, while still disclosing a very singular, private story.

Trailer: (NSFW)

Then there is the deeply skewed BESTIA from Hugo Covarrubias, about a Chilean fixer and her dog, all full of ceramic glistening, awkward pauses, and — as you might pick up by the title — it features perhaps the more tawdry sort of ‘downward dog’ you could imagine.

Trailer: (NSFW)

BOXBALLET is one of the two most ‘traditional’ animated short, from Anton Dyakov, as it traffics in the usual sort of physical dynamics of animation: a brusque and formidable bruiser intertwines with a lithe, tiny dancer, accompanied by a rugged ‘Russian brutalism’ aesthetic and a minimal amount of dialogue.

Trailer: (NSFW)

It wouldn’t be an animation category without an obligatory Aardman (WALLACE AND GROMMIT, SHAUN THE SHEEP, CHICKEN RUN) contribution, the second of the ‘traditional’ animated shorts. ROBIN ROBIN is centered around a robin adopted and raised by mice, all framed by a Christmas story. It’s cute; it’s fine; it won’t change your worldview, but it is adorable in the Aardman tradition of wide eyes and plush fur.

Lastly, there’s THE WINDSHIELD WIPER from Alberto Mielgo — best know for his work on LOVE, DEATH AND ROBOTS and SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE. THE WINDSHIELD WIPER is an extraordinarily well-executed but emotionally faltering piece of CGI that hews closer to video game aesthetics than what one would normally consider an Oscar-nominated animated piece. There’s an extended scene with two people standing next to each other in a grocery store, swiping left/right on a Tinder-esque app until they swipe right on each other, but never lock eyes. Yeah, it’s that sort of threadbare meditation on cultural alienation and ennui. However, what it lacks in substance, it makes up for in stylization.

Trailer: (NSFW)

None the less, this is one of the more intriguing Animated Shorts categories I’ve seen in some time, and it’s well-worth venturing out for! If you’re in the Chicagoland area, they’ll be playing at the Wilmette Theatre (1122 Central Ave, Wilmette, IL 60091, USA) come March 10th!