‘The 2021 Oscar Nominated Short Films’ Review: Major Issues in Brief

‘The 2021 Oscar Nominated Short Films’ Review: Major Issues in Brief

‘The 2021 Oscar Nominated Short Films’ Review: Major Issues in Brief

‘The 2021 Oscar Nominated Short Films’ Review: Major Issues in Brief

A different intergenerational exchange takes place in “A Concerto Is a Conversation,” a New York Times Op-Doc directed by Ben Proudfoot and the composer Kris Bowers (a piano double on “Green Book,” which he scored).

Bowers describes a concerto as a conversation between a soloist and an ensemble. On the occasion of the premiere of one he wrote, he interviews his grandfather. Horace Bowers Sr. hitchhiked across the country from Jim Crow-era Bascom, Fla., settling in Los Angeles. He built a successful business by obtaining mail-in loans. (When he applied in person, he says, he’d be denied because of the color of his skin.) The movie frames the men in alternating close-ups, speaking into the camera: They’re talking straight to us, from the heart.

The most action-packed entry is the journalist Anders Hammer’s “Do Not Split,” which captures the 2019 protests in Hong Kong from within the tumult. The film interviews protesters about their motivations and shows them in action, with the camera right in the middle of tear gas and flames. (A pulsing, “Tenet”-like score adds unnecessary embellishment.) The images of protesters wearing facial masks to protect their identities unavoidably evoke the pandemic, which arrives chillingly near the end: The streets, once filled with demonstrators, sit deserted.

“Hunger Ward” draws attention to the threat of famine in Yemen by observing two heroic medical workers, both women: Aida Hussein Alsadeeq, a doctor, and Mekkia Mahdi, a nurse, who do their best to keep alive, and raise the spirits of, malnourished children.

But the most stylistically adventurous nominee is “A Love Song for Latasha” (on Netflix), from the experimental documentarian Sophia Nahli Allison. Latasha is Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old killed in Los Angeles in 1991. The outrage over her shooting by a grocer is often cited as a factor in the 1992 riots.

Hardly purist in its approach to nonfiction, the film mixes interviews and constructed footage. Employing a variety of visual modes, it at times adopts the look of a VHS camcorder. When Tasha’s friend Tybie O’Bard shares memories of learning of the death, “Love Song” makes a wrenching shift to abstract animation. That’s a bold gambit for a documentary, and unexpected enough that it might portend a winner. BEN KENIGSBERG

The 2021 Oscar Nominated Short Films
Not rated. In English and several other languages, with subtitles. In theaters and on virtual cinemas. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.

Running times:

Live Action: 2 hours 10 minutes

Animated: 1 hour 39 minutes

Documentary: 2 hours 16 minutes


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