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Economy

A peek at the 2022 Oscar-nominated documentary short films

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're reaching peak award season, with the Oscars now only a week away. Soon the nominees will make their way down the red carpet at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, hoping to bring home one of those coveted little gold statues. At the same time, ABC, the network hosting the awards show, is hoping to increase the number of viewers tuning in or at least hold on to their shrinking television audience. To do that, they've eliminated whole categories from the live broadcast, including the documentary short films.

NPR's Mandalit del Barco is with us to talk about why this is happening and what this means for the nominees. And she's also going to tell us about some of the nominees. She's with us now. Mandalit, thanks so much for joining us.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Of course. Happy to be here.

MARTIN: So before we get into the films, I do want to talk about the news surrounding some of the categories not a part of the Oscars broadcast this year. How come?

DEL BARCO: Right. Well, so the winners will be presented on stage an hour before the telecast, but their speeches are going to be edited down, and the truncated clips are going to flash sometime during the telecast. Now, the Oscars producers say they're hoping that this will somehow boost TV ratings, which have been falling for not just for the Oscars, but all the big awards shows. And - but, you know, bumping those categories from the main show has created a huge backlash in Hollywood, and there's now a petition asking them to reverse the move. Degrading and a slap in the face is how some put it.

MARTIN: All right. Well, let's give these nominees a bit of shine. Let's talk about some of the nominees that the TV audience will not see. The short documentaries category represents a wide spectrum of real-life topics. So walk us through these films.

DEL BARCO: OK, so one of those Oscar-nominated documentaries is called "Audible," and it centers on a Maryland high school football player who's deaf. Amaree McKenstry-Hall tells his story in American Sign Language, and we see him and his teammates defend their winning streak, and they also mourn the death of a friend. There's another beautifully shot documentary called "Lead Me Home," and it looks at homelessness in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "LEAD ME HOME")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I've always had that desire to get off the streets. It's just been hard. I'm not trying to bother anybody.

DEL BARCO: So we hear them, you know, talking about their own stories, and the homeless issue has - is so huge around the country. And, you know, there's another contender for the Oscars. It's called "When We Were Bullies." And in this one, filmmaker Jay Rosenblatt re-examines a really cruel incident he was part of when he was in fifth grade. He interviews his former classmates and his teachers, and he takes a hard look at himself, too.

And then there's the documentary called "Three Songs For Benazir." It follows a couple living in a refugee camp in Kabul, Afghanistan, and they're under constant surveillance from the U.S. military. The filmmakers of this are married, too. Elizabeth Mirzaei's family is from Ukraine, which is, of course, now under siege from Russia. And her husband Gulistan fled the Soviet military invasion of Afghanistan. And this is what he told NPR about this film.

GULISTAN MIRZAEI: The story about my country - usually about war, violence. I want to tell a love story and show something people have never seen from my country before.

MARTIN: Well, these just - they all sound remarkable. I hate almost to ask this, but are there any favorites in this category who might take home the Oscar?

DEL BARCO: Well, yeah, there's one that I haven't mentioned yet, and there's a lot of buzz for it. It's called "The Queen Of Basketball," and it's a documentary about a trailblazing athlete, Lusia Harris - Lucy Harris. And in the 1970s, she helped her college team win three national championships. She competed at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. And the following year, she was the first and only woman officially drafted to the NBA.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "THE QUEEN OF BASKETBALL")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Someone from New Orleans Jazz calling, looking for Lucy. We want you to come and try out for the team. And I said no to the NBA.

DEL BARCO: Lusia Harris died in January, but she did get to bask in a standing ovation when the film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.

MARTIN: That was NPR's Mandalit del Barco in Los Angeles. Mandalit, can't wait to see how it all comes out. Thank you so much for joining us.

DEL BARCO: Sure. I'll see you at the Oscars.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.