When the shortlist of 10 short documentaries remaining in contention for the Oscar came out earlier this month, three New York Times Op-Docs were on it.
“This is beyond my wildest dreams,” Kathleen Lingo, Op-Docs’ executive producer, tells Deadline. “I was emotionally preparing myself not to have anything on the shortlist because it’s such a competitive process, so having three—the thought had never entered my mind that that was a possibility.”
The directors of Tower wrote in the New York Times that their intention was to “make a portrait of humans in doubt.” The doubt comes in as ordinary people stand atop a 10-meter high diving platform, trying to muster the courage to jump.
“The fact that they’re in bathing suits, the stark reality of emotion and the physicality of emotion is just laid bare in such a brilliant way,” Lingo remarks. “I think people really respond to that film because it’s also just so original. No one has seen anything like it.”
Alone, shot in lustrous black and white, focuses on Aloné Watts, a young woman who agrees to marry her boyfriend, despite the fact that he is behind bars.
“Desmond Watson…was arrested in October 2015 on a series of nonviolent charges,” Bradley noted in an essay that accompanies her film on the New York Times website. “He has been in a private prison near their home in New Orleans ever since, in personal and legal limbo as he awaits a trial.”
The director chose not to indicate in the film precisely what charges Watson faces.
“I think the details of his case were the least important because this is a story about the effects of missing people,” she tells Deadline. “In order to illustrate as concisely and clearly as possible in 13 minutes it needed to be on those who were experiencing the results of his absence and less so about why he was absent.”
Pardo’s 116 Cameras documents Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss as she shares her memories for an interactive 3D project launched by the Shoah Foundation at the University of Southern California.
The project will permit generations of viewers far into the future to ask questions of Schloss.
“It was fascinating. I felt like I was filming a film being made, documenting this thing happening,” Pardo tells Deadline.
The director said she chose New York Times Op-Docs over alternative distributors for a variety of reasons.
“I had seen so many great Op-Docs that I loved and from the beginning I just had it in the back of my mind and then when I finished the film I sent it in,” Pardo explains. “I like the idea of being part of that diverse slate they have and also having a built-in audience of the Times…The Times has such a huge reach.”
Lingo said the three shortlisted films fit neatly within the scope of the Op-Docs vision.
“The goal of every Op-Doc is to spark a conversation, but how we define that is very broad,” she explains. “In my mind what unites all three is they provoke a strong emotional response, but how they do that is completely varied.”
Each film selected for New York Times Op-Docs must pass through a rigorous fact-checking process.
“If you were doing a Venn diagram of journalism and art, we’re in the middle of that Venn diagram,” Lingo observes, “trying to allow things that are experimental and emotional and interpretative but also make sure that they’re factually accurate and deeply reported.”
Lingo plans to grow the Op-Docs brand through several initiatives, including VR.
“We’ve done nine virtual reality films—which has been incredibly educational, working in that new storytelling medium,” she notes. There are plans for episodic series and potentially even feature-length films.
“We’re investigating that right now,” Lingo shares. “That would be an exciting next step.”
For now, short films are Op-Docs’ bread and butter. The public can submit pitches through the Times’ website, whether they’re seasoned or unseasoned filmmakers.
At the IDA Awards on December 10, where New York Times Op-Docs won the Best Short Form Series Award, Lingo saluted the contributors who have helped make Op-Docs a success.
“I just really want to give a huge thank you to the filmmakers. It’s really all of you that make us look good,” she said. “And to those of you who haven’t made an Op-Doc yet, get in touch. We’re always looking for new films.”