Netflix didn’t earn any Oscar nominations in the Documentary Feature category Tuesday, but it made up for that with documentary shorts.
The streaming platform claimed three of the five nominations for Best Documentary Short Subject, between Audible, Lead Me Home and Three Songs for Benazir.
Audible, directed by Matt Ogens and executive produced by Nyle DiMarco, tells a coming-of-age story of Amaree McKenstry, a high school senior at the Maryland School for the Deaf in Frederick.
“It took about 12 years to get this film made — which means to get it to a group of people that understood it and were willing to support it and make it, and that was ultimately Netflix,” Ogens told Deadline today. “I believed in the film so long and these kids at Maryland School for the Deaf that just through thick and thin, rain or shine, I just kept pursuing it for a dozen years.”
The film follows McKenstry as he competes on the high school football team; two of the other main characters in the documentary are MSD cheerleaders—McKenstry’s girlfriend Lera Walkup, and Jalen Perry.
“We tried to really make it an immersive film, an audio-visual experience,” Ogens said. “I spent a lot of time with Amaree and his friends, learning from them about how they see the world, rather than it being an observational film from my point of view. I really wanted to be a conduit to help them tell their story.”
Lead Me Home, directed by Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk, explores homelessness through the lens of people in several West Coast cities including Los Angeles. Three Songs for Benazir, directed by Elizabeth Mirzaei and Gulistan Mirzaei, focuses on a young couple trying to build a life together in Kabul, Afghanistan despite extremely difficult circumstances.
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For the family of Lusia “Lucy” Harris, today’s Oscar nominations announcement produced a mixture of joy and sadness.
The Queen of Basketball, the short documentary about Harris, earned Academy Award recognition less than three weeks after the hoop star’s sudden passing at the age of 66. Director Ben Proudfoot traveled to Greenwood, MS to screen the film for Harris’ loved ones on Saturday, the day of her memorial service.
“I spoke with everybody in Lucy’s family this morning,” Proudfoot told Deadline. “In the wake of Lucy’s passing less than a month ago, there is a mix of grief — wishing she was here to see it — but also, a sense of peace that after almost 50 years of her story going less recognized than it should have been, it is a major milestone and yet another accomplishment for Lucy.”
In the 1970s, Harris led Delta State University to three national championships, scored the first bucket in the women’s Olympic basketball competition, and she became the first woman officially drafted by an NBA team. Yet over time those achievements were forgotten, until Proudfoot’s film restored her legacy.
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The documentary, part of the New York Times Op-Docs series, has recorded about 1 million views to date. Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, who came on board as an executive producer of the film, has helped spread the word about a player he calls the GOAT.
“I’m very proud of the craft that we put into the film, but I think people are responding to Lucy and her story and her charisma and her accomplishments,” said Proudfoot, who earned his second consecutive nomination in the documentary short category, after last year’s A Concerto Is a Conversation. “Our undertaking has always been to close the gap between how important and significant Lucy’s life story is and how many people knew about it. And this morning, we just took a giant leap in closing that gap, because the world is going to have a chance to know her story.”
When We Were Bullies managed to earned a nomination in the category despite having no distribution, unlike every other film it’s up against. Jay Rosenblatt wrote and directed the film that took him on a personal journey – “track[ing] down his fifth grade class and fifth grade teacher to examine their memory of and complicity in a bullying incident 50 years ago.”
“The style of the film, it’s very handcrafted,” Rosenblatt noted. “I had an amazing, amazing animator working with me who does analog stop-motion animation — not computer animation. So, when I say handcrafted, I really mean it. I edited it myself, I shot some of it, I produced it, directed it. So, it’s very much a crafted film.”
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Rosenblatt set his alarm to catch the nominations announcement from his home in San Francisco.
“I did [get up early] – 5:18 in the morning,” he said. “But, I tell you, I did not have a good night’s sleep. I was probably awake for about four of the six hours I was in bed.”
With an Oscar nomination secured, filmmakers honored today can turn their attention to other things, like what to wear on Oscar night March 27.
“The good thing for guys is I can always rent something,” Rosenblatt observed. “I don’t know if I’ll be purchasing.”
Nonfiction filmmakers often don’t have a lot of resources at their disposal and, thus, are forced to be frugal. Fortunately for Proudfoot, he got a tux for last year’s Oscar ceremony.
“I’m a short documentary filmmaker — I’m using the same tuxedo,” he told Deadline. “I’m very excited that I’m going to get at least one more use out of it.”
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