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  • Brandon MacMurray

10 Early Favourites for the 2024 Documentary Shorts Oscar

Updated: Jun 23, 2023



Documentary Shorts


With just 3.5 months left of qualifying festivals before the October 1st deadline some early contenders have made their way into the spotlight of the shorts race. The major summer short festivals of Indyshorts, Palm Springs Shortfest, LAShorts, Hollyshorts and Rhode Island International Film Festival are just around the corner. A few of these have released their selections making the picture even more clear. Unfortunately, the picture won’t be super clear until we find out what the streamers like Netflix and MTV (through Paramount) are pushing but from what we know, here are ten early favourites for the documentary shorts race thus far (in no particular order):

1. Neighbour Abdi by Douwe Dijkstra

As we saw from last years batch of shorts like Holding Moses, Nuisance Bear and How Do You Measure A Year? winning multiple festivals goes a long way to making it onto the final shortlist of 15. Neighbour Abdi already has 3 qualifying award wins under its belt at POFF Shorts, Winterthur International Short Film Festival and Ann Arbor Film Festival. Neighbour Abdi provides a unique view of story-telling and a very creative process that is sure to catch the eye of some voters.

Summary:

How can you understand a violent past? Somali-born Abdi is furniture designer and support worker. He reenacts his life, marked by war and criminality, with the help of his neighbor and filmmaker Douwe. By means of playful reconstructions in a special effects studio, Abdi and Douwe embark on a candid and investigative journey through a painful history, focusing on the creative process throughout.


2. A Chocolate Lens by Gabriel Veras


After qualifying at Cleveland Film Festival, A Chocolate Lens has been steadily moving through the festival circuit this spring playing at Riverrun International Film Festival and Short Shorts Film Festival. The short will continue on to IndyShorts this summer. A Chocolate Lens provides a beautiful portrait of a photographer and his work and has been one of my favourites I have seen of the documentary shorts thus far.

Summary:

"A Chocolate Lens" chronicles Steven Cummings’s photographic journey through a disappearing Black Washington. His approach is simple: use the camera lens to find the power amidst the storm. His images are a love letter to Black people across America.


3. Puffling by Jessica Bishopp

Puffling, which had its world premiere at SXSW went on to qualify at Aspen Shortfest. Since then it has played through Mountain Film Festival, docedge Film Festival, DC/DOX Film Festival and has officially been selected to Rooftop Films Summer Series and to play Palm Springs Shortfest this month. This may be my most anticipated documentary short to watch right now.

Summary:

Every summer 18-year-old Birta and 16-year-old Selma rescue pufflings (young puffins) at night on a remote island off the coast of Iceland. On the cusp of their own journey into adulthood away from their home, Birta and Selma take it upon themselves to counteract the human impact on nature, exchanging night-time parties for puffin patrol.


4. Between Earth & Sky by Andrew Nadkarni


Between Earth & Sky qualified at Big Sky Documentary Festival which has been a big predictor of making the Oscars final shortlist of 15 in recent years. Each of the past four years at least one of the two qualifiers of this festival have gone on to make it and I definitely see a chance of this trend continuing with Between Earth & Sky. The short continues its festival run at Indyshorts this summer.

Renowned ecologist Nalini Nadkarni studies "what grows back” after a disturbance in the rainforest canopy. After surviving a life-threatening tree fall, she must turn her research question onto herself to explore the effects of disturbance and recovery throughout her life.


5. Away by Ruslan Fedotov

Away won its qualifying award at Tampere Film Festival. There have been three documentary shorts qualified so far centred around the Russia-Ukraine war but this one has stuck with me the most. Away continues its festival run this summer at Palm Springs Shortfest. It is has the backing of The New York Times and is available to watch online on their Op-Docs video player.

Summary:

Two 16-year-old Ukrainian refugees in Budapest help at a school for refugee children and make protest art on the streets — triggering political debate among the Hungarian passersby.


6. Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó (Grandma & Grandma) by Sean Wang

After winning both the Jury Award and Audience award at SWSX Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó has continued its course through San Fransisco International Film Festival, Seattle Film International Film Festival and deadcenter Film Festival. Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó is a charming short that will keep a smile on your face as your get to see the friendship that has formed between the directors two grandmothers. Like many others on this list Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó will be continuing its festival run at Indyshorts this summer.

Summary:

Nǎi Nai is my grandma. Wài Pó is also my grandma. Together, they are a grandma super team that dances, stretches, and farts their sorrows away.


7. Oasis by Justine Martin

Oasis got its qualifying win at Riverrun Film Festival where it went up against quite a few of the other short docs on this list and proved it is right up there with the best. Oasis will continue playing through the festival season at Indyshorts.

Summary:

At the dawn of their teenage years, Raphaël and Rémi are twins whose close bond is tested as one of them faces growing challenges related to a disability and grapples with the constraints of childhood. During one last summer surrounded by nature, time appears to stand still.


8. Breaking Silence by Amy Bench and Annie Silverstein


Breaking Silence which qualified at Atlanta International Film Festival is the only short on this list that will be playing both the prestigious IndyShorts and Palm Springs Shortfest. These festival select and bring the best and their winners often end up on shortlists. It makes sense that Breaking Silence is selected and up there in the conversation as one of the best documentary shorts of the year.

Summary:

A portrait of a Deaf activist and his formerly incarcerated daughter, who build new bonds through their experiences in the criminal justice system.

9. Black Girls Play: The Story of Hand Games by Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson

With a very recent win at Tribeca Black Girls Play: The Story of Hand Games has been launched into the conversation of the documentary shorts race. It is set to continue its festival run at Indyshorts this summer. The directing duo of Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson are also in the early conversation this year for feature length documentary with Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project that showed at Sundance.

Summary:

The childhood games played by Black American girls have made a significant and often overlooked contribution to the American cultural landscape, particularly in the area of music and performance. Black Girls Play is a short documentary that illustrates the connection between the safe spaces created through the games played by Black girls and the musical genres that define us as a nation. Black Girls Play tells the story of the critical influence Black girls’ hand games, like Slide, Jig-a-low and Miss Mary Mack, and rope play (double dutch) have had on American popular culture.


10. Forgiving Johnny by Ben Proudfoot


The only short on this list that isn’t currently qualified. But, if you recognize the name Ben Proudfoot it is because he has been a staple in this category for quite a few years now. He was nominated in 2021 for A Concerto is a Conversation and won the Oscar in 2022 for The Queen of Basketball. Despite not qualifying via the festival route, he was able to get both Mink! and The Best Chef in the World qualified for 2023 however, both fell short of the shortlist. If history remains the same I am sure Forgiving Johnny will be qualified and in the conversation come shortlist time in December.

Summary:

Every month, over 10,000 developmentally disabled people are sent to prison in the United States. Most are represented by public defenders--overburdened attorneys provided by the state. In 2021, California opened a complex legal pathway for them to appeal for treatment instead of prison time. Johnny's case is one of the first attempts to do so.

IndyShorts



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ShortStick

The short end of the stick: The inferior part, the worse side of an unequal deal

When it comes to cinema and the Oscars it always feels like short films and getting the short end of the stick. Lack of coverage, lack of predictions from experts and an afterthought in the conversation. With this site we hope to change that, highlighting shorts that stick with you, predictions, and news on what is happening in the world of shorts. 

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