A different intergenerational exchange takes place in “A Concerto Is a Conversation,” a New York Times op-doc conducted by Ben Proudfoot and composer Kris Bowers (a piano dub 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 the one he wrote, he interviews his grandfather. Horace Bowers Sr. hitchhiked across the country from then-Jim Crow Bascom in Florida to Los Angeles. He built a successful business by obtaining postal loans. (When he applied in person, he says, he would be turned down because of the color of his skin.) The film frames the men in alternate close-ups, speaking to the camera: They speak directly to us, from the heart.
The most action-packed entry is from journalist Anders Hammer “Do Not Split,” who captures the 2019 Hong Kong protests in turmoil. The film questions protesters about their motives and shows them in action, with the camera in the midst of tear gas and flames. (A thrilling score, similar to that of “Tenet” adds unnecessary embellishments.) Images of protesters wearing face masks to protect their identities inevitably hint at the pandemic, which comes horribly towards the end: the streets, once filled with protesters, are 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 stay alive and boost the morale of, malnourished children.
But the most stylistically adventurous 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 at being gunned down by a grocer is often cited as a factor in the 1992 riots.
Barely purist in its approach to non-fiction, the film mixes interviews and constructed images. Using a variety of visual modes, it sometimes takes on the appearance of a VHS camcorder. When Tasha’s friend Tybie O’Bard shares 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 to portend a winner. BEN KENIGSBERG
The short films nominated for the 2021 Oscars
Unclassified. In English and several other languages, with subtitles. In theaters and virtual cinemas. Please review the guidelines outlined 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