The five Oscar-nominated documentary shorts will play at the M.V. Film Center on Friday, March 4. They offer compelling views of a sometimes grim world.
The first, directed by Matt Ogens, describes the Maryland School for the Deaf’s football team and coach. It’s fascinating to watch this awardwinning high school team communicate with sign language. Just as interesting is to watch them use their other senses to understand what’s going on. For instance, the drum beat vibrations they understand as cheering.
The film follows Amaree McKenstry, who became deaf after a bout with meningitis. He has cochlear (hearing) implants, but rather than use them to deal with the challenges of being part of the team, he employs them to listen to music on his headphones. Teddy, one of his closest friends, died by suicide, and Amaree says he plays and wins for him.
With a winning streak of 42 games, the team lost the last one, which would have taken them to the tournament finals. Despite this loss, a player signs, “This loss will not define us as a team.”
‘Lead Me Home’
Directed by Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk, this documentary about the homeless begins with the fact that in the past five years, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle have all declared a state of emergency regarding homelessness. A San Francisco street scene shows a tent inhabitant emerge, roll up his tent and get on his bike, so not all the homeless are depicted as vagrants. In another case, a woman ends her job as a cleaner and heads to a shelter. A car whose windows are covered with sheets illustrates where some homeless call home.
A young woman, petting her dog, describes her situation with tears, and she is just one of the people who are interviewed about their state of homelessness. San Francisco city council members discuss the issue, as well as the increase in housing costs that directly affects the homeless. Half a million Americans experience homelessness on any given night. It’s a sad and disturbing short.
‘The Queen of Basketball’
In extreme close-up, viewers meet the late Lucia Harris, who became one of the greatest living women basketball players. Harris died after the film was made.
At 6 feet, 3 inches, she was taller than anyone else on her Mississippi high school team. Director Ben Proudfoot describes her career at Delta State, where she began college in 1973, the same year Title IX was passed. She made history there as the only Black player on the team.
At Delta State, she helped her team win 51 games, and three consecutive national trophies. In 1975, she was elected Delta State’s first Black homecoming queen. Playing at the first Olympic women’s basketball competition, she became the first woman to score a basket in Olympic history. Harris declined an offer to join the NBA men’s team because “I didn’t think I was good enough.”
Confined to a wheelchair by rheumatoid arthritis, she died at age 66, a relative unknown. Her son Christopher said, “I think all my mom wanted after her career was over, aside from raising her kids, was to be remembered for what she did.”
‘Three Songs for Benazir’
Directed by Gulistan and Elizabeth Mirzaie, this documentary describes the life of Shaista, a young Afghan newly married to Benazir and living in a camp for people displaced by war in Kabul. Shaista wants to be the first in his tribe to serve in the Afghan National Army, but because he’s illiterate, he must enlist with help from his family, but they refuse.
His father urges him to work in the poppy fields, but he chooses instead to make bricks for sale, not a profitable business. Helicopters overhead are a sign of disturbing American surveillance, and Shaista also worries about the dangers of the Taliban. The three songs he sings to his wife Benazir provide this film both with its structure and the poignancy of his life.
‘When We Were Bullies’
A bullying incident from the past haunts Jay Rosenblatt, the maker of this film. Rosenblatt contacts members of his fifth-grade class as well as the class’s teacher in an attempt to find out if and what they remember of the 1965 incident, in which a group of class members, including boys and girls, attacked and humiliated a fellow classmate.
The film begins with Rosenblatt climbing over a fence in order to get into Brooklyn’s P.S. 194 schoolyard. In the process of exploring what happened, Rosenblatt uses a number of lively cinematic devices, including animation, collage, manipulation of still shots, and examination of film footage. The result of this investigation of bullying is to provide the filmmaker with a deeper understanding of his role in the incident.
The Oscar-nominated live-action shorts play on Saturday, March 5. The animation shorts play again on Thursday, March 10.
Information and tickets for the Oscar-nominated Documentary Shorts, as well as for the Oscar-nominated animation and live-action shorts, are available at mvfilmsociety.com. Information about films playing at Edgartown Cinemas is available at entertainmentcinemas.com/locations/edgartown.