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Shannon Continues Her Oscar Analysis: Documentaries

Two of my favorite categories are the Oscar Nominated Documentaries, Feature Length and Short. I am the woman who was quoted last year as saying publicly, “F--- the Octopus!” Because I was adamant that Crip Camp or The Mole Agent should have taken the statue. Sigh. The F---ing Octopus won. I feel like very few people actually see these films, so it all comes down to what got the most exposure. This year, it may play out well. Here are my reviews for both categories.

***There is one wild card, one freaking movie I didn’t get to see because it didn’t get a distribution deal until the last minute, so I will actually get to see When We Were Bullies after the Oscars have had their ceremony. Until then here are my reviews…..

Feature Length Documentary

Attica A- (Original Review Feb 20, 2022)

This documentary walks you step by step through the Attica prison uprising and it’s tragic and horrific ending. This is a tough one. It’s like watching a car accident in slow motion, you want to jump into the movie and change something, anything, for a better outcome. The film creates hope in us even though we know it is foolish. It is graphic and disturbing. I was a little girl living in upstate New York when this happened, but I never, ever saw the images…until now. I have no words. This is a great doc, telling the true story of a terrible chapter in our history.
Ascension C- (Original Review Feb 20, 2022)
Documentary- Imagine a Baby Einstein video about the workforce in China. We are treated to colorful video of factories, businesses, conferences…no one narrates, there are no interviews, we never know anyone’s name or how they came to be where they are. There are no titles or lower thirds, we only know what we can glean. We just get to observe labels being put on bottles, game testers, nipples being painted on sex dolls, butlers being trained, etc., over and over. It’s not uninteresting, it’s like a Baby Einstein video…it’s mind numbing. If I’m honest I am really disappointed this is nominated for best doc. There were sooooooo many other films that deserved this spot! Play this when you have insomnia. Bleh.
Flee A-
This is a Danish Documentary that is told mostly through animation. It is based on the true story of a man whose family fled Afghanistan in the 80’s and became refugees. If you feel like you are having a rough day, put yourself in the shoes of a young boy who is realizing he is gay, needs to get out of Afghanistan and flees to Russia. Yeah, that’s some serious . The animation with the actual audio from interviews makes this a compelling watch. Hearing the toll fleeing takes on a child’s life makes this a hard, but required watch. Interestingly enough, this film will likely be nominated in the animation, documentary and foreign language categories, and although I think it deserves noms in each of those categories, I think there are better films that will steal the awards.
Summer of Soul A
I don’t even know where to start or end. This is Questlove Jawn's first turn as a filmmaker, and it is genius. This feature length documentary focuses on the Harlem Cultural Festival, six weeks of summer in 1969 when some of the world’s top stars performed on an outdoor stage in Harlem and changed the world. Never heard of it? Join the club! The entire event was recorded but has never been seen…until now. Questlove takes you there…literally and figuratively. OMG! If you love music, if you love the 60’s, if you love good storytelling, or if you love a story of achieving against all odds…you will be swept away. Honestly! The performances are divine, but equally amazing are the interviews Questlove does, where all we see are the faces of the interviewees as THEY watch the footage! It sounds weird, but watch Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. watch The Fifth Dimension perform "The Age of Aquarius." It’s good stuff. And Mahalia Jackson…don’t even get me started! My favorite thing in the world is to watch someone performing on stage when the joy of performing transcends everything…that is church to me. If you can watch Sly Stone sing "Everyday People" and not believe in God, and God-given talent- I have nothing for you. So, yeah, I LOVED this film….and/but I don’t want to give any spoilers…but I feel the need to say…the ending of this film is by far the most controversial, thought-provoking, stop you and make you question EVERYTHING ending of the season. Do watch it, tell me what you’re thinking/feeling.
Writing With Fire A New Review
My blood pressure almost couldn’t take this amazing feature length doc about the courageous female journalists of the India newspaper, "Khabar Lahariya." I could not sit to watch this film; I had to stand and pace while watching. I have seen articles about this film that have called the women fearless. That is a lie. Their fear is palpable. The glory of this film and what these women are doing is that they ARE FEARFUL, and they do it anyway! That is true courage. Kudos to the filmmakers who bring us into the inner sanctum of this circle of brave woman, and allow us to see how they are mentoring, sacrificing, and pushing the limits of the fourth estate. This film is inspirational, riveting and well worth your time.

Short Documentary

This is hard category. You have to get in, tell the story and then get out…quickly. It is a genre that is fraught with pitfalls, some of this year’s nominees struggled with the format.
Audible B
I was happy thinking this short doc was going to be about a deaf football team overcoming challenges to be able to be competitive. Initially the movie lulls you into thinking this is the subject. It’s not. Slowly, but surely, the real story is revealed and unfortunately, for me, it felt there wasn’t enough time left to fully tell “the real story”. I was left with questions and concerns and a feeling like it was more important for the filmmakers to create a sensation than it was to tell the story. It left me a little irked and a lot sad.
Lead Me Home B+
Hide the sharp implements because this is a depressing and devastating look at the realities of homelessness. It features beautiful, artful filmography telling a story that is hard to look at and impossible to make peace with. The message is powerful, but the format is simply too brief.
The Queen of Basketball A

This is a gorgeous short doc about Luisa “Lucy” Harris, a transformative women’s basketball star. It is told almost exclusively through live interviews with Lucy herself. I can only say that as a little white girl in the 70’s my mother would turn on the TV anytime we had the opportunity to watch Lucy play, so I didn’t know a world in which a black woman couldn’t be a star athlete. Watching this doc and hearing her story was a privilege I never thought I would have. I am humbled by what she gave so many of us. Her grace, her sense of humor, her quiet humility and stone-cold confidence is just sublime. Don’t miss this one.
Three Songs For Benazir B
Painful…I can’t think of another way to describe this short. Ugh. Frankly it pissed me off in its futility. I couldn’t help wondering what they hoped to capture when they started filming. The film follows Shaista, a young married man living with his family and his bride in a refugee camp in Kabul. The film details his desperate attempts to better his situation and the reality that there are limited choices for him. Devastating…there’s another word for you. Ultimately, we get to see Shaista a few short years later and *spoiler alert* he does not miraculously win the Lotto and there is no Hollywood ending. It’s unrelentingly heart breaking.
When We Were Bullies……Review coming in April!
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