A different intergenerational exchange takes place in “A concerto is a conversation” a New York Times Op-Doc directed by Ben Proudfoot and composer Kris Bowers (a piano double on “Green Book”, which he composed).
Bowers describes a concerto as a conversation between a soloist and an ensemble. On the occasion of the premiere of one of his writings, he interviews his grandfather. Horace Bowers Sr. has hitchhiked across the country from the days of Jim Crow, Bascom, Florida, to settle in Los Angeles. He built a successful business by getting loans in the mail. (When he applied in person, he says, he was turned down because of the color of his skin.) The film frames the men in alternate close-ups, speaking to the camera: they speak to us directly, from the heart. .
The most action-packed entry is from journalist Anders Hammer “Do not divide” which captures the 2019 protests in Hong Kong from inside the uproar. The film questions the protesters about their motives and shows them in action, the camera in the midst of tear gas and flames. (A thrilling “Tenet”-like score adds unnecessary embellishments.) Images of protesters wearing face masks to protect their identities inevitably evoke the pandemic, which creepily comes towards the end: The streets, once filled with protesters, are deserted.
“Hunger district” draws attention to the threat of famine in Yemen by observing two heroic medical workers, two women: Aida Hussein Alsadeeq, a doctor, and Mekkia Mahdi, a nurse, who do their best to stay alive and boost the morale of the children malnourished.
But the most stylistically daring nominee is “A Love Song for Latasha” (on Netflix), by experimental documentary filmmaker Sophia Nahli Allison. Latasha is Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old girl who was killed in Los Angeles in 1991. Outrage over her shooting by a grocer is often cited as a factor in the riots of 1992.
Barely purist in its approach to non-fiction, the film mixes interviews and constructed sequences. Using a variety of visual modes, it sometimes takes on the appearance of a VHS camcorder. When Tasha’s friend Tybie O’Bard shares her memories of learning about death, “Love Song” takes a heart-wrenching turn to abstract animation. It’s a bold bet for a documentary, and unexpected enough that it portends a winner. BEN KENIGSBERG
The short films nominated for the 2021 Oscars
Unclassified. In English and several other languages, with subtitles. In theaters and on virtual cinemas. Please consult Guiding lines described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies in theaters.
Live action: 2 hours 10 minutes
Animated: 1 hour 39 minutes
Documentary: 2 hours 16 minutes