Three Oscar nominees in the short documentary category discuss making their films When We Were Bullies, The Queen of Basketball, and Audible on this week’s episode of the Factual America podcast.
Ben Proudfoot stopped by to discuss his film The Queen of Basketball, which was produced by Shaquille O’Neal and Steph Curry as part of the New York Times‘ Op-Docs series. It won the Oscar for best short documentary on Sunday, telling the story of the late, great, Lusia Harris, the first and only woman to be officially drafted into the NBA.
“Lusia — she just wasn’t boastful. She didn’t [have] a hubristic bone in her body. She was humble. She saw her talent as a gift. And she was gifted,” Proudfoot said. “She was quick to talk about other players who were just as good or better than her. In other words, she was a good person. She was a humble person. She is somebody that you’d want to be friends with, be neighbors with, etc. And that characterized her just as much as being one of the most dominant athletes of the 20th century.”
Proudfoot added that he wanted to make sure the film captured Harris’ “unique personality, as well as her accomplishments on the court.”
Jay Rosenblatt, director of When We Were Bullies, also paid a visit to the podcast to talk about his documentary, which is all about tracking down the grownup members of his fifth-grade class to see if they remember an incident that happened over 50 years ago.
The film actually exists because of a random turn of events that lead I’m to be reunited with one of his fifth-grade classmates.
“I went to see him because I was looking for a voice-over narrator. I didn’t know who he was. I just had heard his voice in one of my student’s films,” Rosenblatt said. “When he looked at the script, he realized that from these lines that talked about New York street games, stickball, punchball, slapball, these, kind of, aggressive sounding ball games. He said, ‘Are you from New York?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ ‘Where?’ ‘Brooklyn.’ ‘Where?’ ‘Sheepshead Bay.’ We both kept saying, ‘Yes, me, too. Me, too.’ We knew we were the same age. And then at one point, he says, ‘Who did you have for fifth grade?’ We knew we went to the same elementary school. I said, turn the page, and it said at the top of the page [it said] ‘in fifth grade.'”
Richard actually remembered more of the bullying incident that inspired the film than Rosenblatt did.
“This bullying incident was the impetus, the catalyst, for that film. So, 25 to 30 years later, 3000 miles away, we are connecting around this, it was just mind-boggling. No other word for it,” Rosenblatt said.
Director Matthew Ogens also visited the podcast. His short documentary Audible, produced by Netflix, follows football player Amaree McKenstry-Hall and his teammates from the Maryland School for the Deaf as they attempt to defend their winning streak on the turf while simultaneously coming to terms with the tragic loss of a close friend.
“It’s a coming-of-age documentary. Set in a high school, that’s all deaf. And it’s following Amaree, who’s a senior in high school, and his friends in a pretty pivotal moment in their lives, you know, for any of us, graduating high school, you know, is one of those coming-of-age moments, I think compounded for someone that’s deaf, going out, at least metaphorically and literally, out into a larger, hearing world,” Ogens said. “I’m really grateful, and I’m humble, for the kids in my film, for Amaree and all the kids on my film in Maryland School for the Deaf, and the deaf community. To me, that’s what it’s about. And so, this nomination, to me, represents, really, inclusion and representation.”
When We Were Bullies premieres on HBO on March 30. The Queen of Basketball can be streamed on YouTube and through The New York Times. Audible is now streaming on Netflix. Here are some time stamps from the Factual America interview with Kennedy:
00:00 – Introducing the guests and their films.
03:00 – Introducing Jay Rosenblatt and what When We Were Bullies is about.
03:45 – What inspired Jay to make a film about bullying.
05:00 – Different memories people had around one incident of bullying.
09:02 – What it’s like meeting your fifth-grade teacher as an adult.
12:05 – Introducing Matthew Ogens, the director of Audible.
12:35 – How it feels to be nominated for an Oscar.
13:22 – What Audible is all about.
14:00 – How Matt met Amaree and his classmates.
15:24 – The different subjects Audible covers.
18:48 – What Amaree is doing now.
20:10 – What attracted Matt to make a short film and what it’s like working with Netflix.
22:36 – The next documentary Matt is working on.
24:07 – Introducing Ben Proudfoot, the director of The Queen of Basketball.
25:15 – What The Queen of Basketball is all about.
26:18 – Why Lusia Harris is not more well-known in the world.
27:46 – How Ben found out about Lusia and what influenced him to make the film.
29:53 – The way Lusia portrayed herself to the media.
31:28 – What her life was like up until now.
32:19 – Why Ben likes making short documentaries so much.
33:45 – How he gets funding for documentaries.
36:53 – The next projects Ben is working on.
Factual America uses documentary filmmaking to examine the American experience as well as universal topics that affect all Americans. Guests include Academy Award, Emmy, and Grammy-winning filmmakers and producers, their subjects, as well as experts on the American experience. We discuss true crime, music, burning social and political topics, history and arts with the creators of the latest and upcoming documentary films in theatres and on the most popular digital platforms. This podcast is produced by Alamo Pictures, a London- and Austin-based production company that makes documentaries about the US from a European perspective for international audiences.
Main Image: A still from When We Were Bullies courtesy of Factual America.