Roughly midway through “Lead Me Home,” a masterful documentary short about the nation’s homelessness crisis, when the onscreen discussion had turned to strategies for finding a shower (one woman confessed to sneaking into motels after the maids had left), I finally got a good whiff of myself. Frankly, I stank. The week had been so crammed with my day job on top of my night job of Oscar marathoning — my annual quest to see every film nominated for an Academy Award in every possible category — that it had been days since I’d showered.
And that was my only excuse for not going out afterward for a bite or even grabbing a photo of me and Barbara of Winchester, one of the three people committed to sitting in darkness on this sunny afternoon to witness all the documentary shorts, which are not in the least bit short.
The halcyon days of spending an entire day holed up with strangers and booze at West End Cinema in D.C. are long gone. That bougie dive used to be the only place in the DMV you could catch the documentary shorts, which would get split into two full-length features, shown back-to-back, over the span of four hours. Since the pandemic interceded and amplified the risks of patronizing tiny arthouse cinemas — historically, the documentaries would prompt impromptu film clubs afterward, with robust yapping and laughing among groups of suddenly fast friends — I’ve resorted to mostly a streaming film diet. Which is sad, because crossing paths with other cinephiles is part of the dang-gone fun.
Barbara of Winchester turned out to be my superhero. You see, three of this year’s documentary shorts are available on Netflix, so I had already done my due diligence and digested “Audible,” “Three Songs for Benazir,” and “Lead Me Home” at home. “Three Songs for Benazir” I’d even watched twice because, after staying up so late streaming movies, I’d fallen asleep my first time watching it on my phone in bed. To cross off this category, I needed only “The Queen of Basketball” and “When We Were Bullies.” In the theater’s description, “The Queen of Basketball” and “When We Were Bullies” were listed first, so in between errands today, I figured, I could buy a ticket, watch those two, then sneak out and not spend too much of my day every day watching movies. Besides, I already had a date planned tonight for dinner and “Licorice Pizza” for dessert.
When buying my Doc Shorts ticket, though, a flash of disappointment: Another patron had already claimed my favorite seat. Oh, well. At least I won’t be alone in the theater for a change (many people are still hesitant to return to the movies, and those braving the experience are mostly seeing “The Batman”; this past week, the late showings of “The Worst Person in the World” and “Cyrano” were empty — more safety for me!).
So today it was Barbara of Winchester in My Favorite Seat, me positioned near the screen, and another lady waaaaaaay up in the back row who were propping up the local cinema economy. The previews end, the reel gets rolling, and whoa. The live-action shorts begin. What?! We all exclaim different levels of confusion and frustration. Me: “I thought this was the documentaries? Hmm. I do need these, too, tho …” Lady in back: “Oh, jeez. They’re running the wrong reel! Is somebody gonna tell them?!” Barbara of Winchester in My Favorite Seat Now Unburdening Herself of a Tub of Popcorn: “Yes. I’ll go do it. Because I’ve bought tickets to all three shorts presentations today, and the timing will all be off if we see these first because they’re the longest.”
Don’t remind me. Gosh, I sure hope they’re in the right order so I can still leave and get stuff done. I watch a little bit of the live-action nominee “On My Mind,” patiently waiting for Barbara of Winchester with the Purple Spiked Hair to return with things all straightened out.
She’s nothing if not effective. And dedicated: Not even I had the stamina to take in all 15 nominated shorts in one day, enduring a six- or seven-hour marathon, plus previews and the two-hour round-trip drive from Winchester. Within moments, the documentary shorts start rolling and, shoot. Wrong order. It goes: “Audible,” “When We Were Bullies,” “Three Songs for Benazir,” “Lead Me Home,” and, finally, “The Queen of Basketball.” But I don’t suffer much. Turns out the third time’s truly the charm for “Three Songs.” I adore it now and predict it may win — although I have a new personal favorite, which I’ll divulge in due time, in my traditional Predictions-Picks Post.
Anyway, Barbara doesn’t agree with me. When I go to thank her afterward, she confesses she almost fell asleep during the one I favor because she, too, has been cramming on movies and doing crazy things like driving from Winchester to Reston for rare screenings. (“It’s not really very far.”) Oh, I know. For an Oscar marathoner, even Philly wouldn’t be far. We share bite-size film analyses, if not a bite and a brew, and she invites me to join a session of her Winchester Film Club, which meets every Wednesday night at the Alamo Drafthouse. Tells me they screened the one film I can’t find anywhere (“Writing With Fire”), the one I desperately need to clinch 100% of my marathoning this year (never attained; current score: 25 of 38 full-length features and 6/15 on shorts). That movie was a must-see, of course, she testifies. I tell her I sometimes blog about this thing we do. She asks if I’ll write about her. I say I may, and she warmly extends her hand.
Which, to someone who had spent the past two years shunning human contact beyond her pandemic bubble and hadn’t showered in three days, seemed a tremendously generous gesture.
And I just might show up at the Alamo in Winchester one Wednesday night to finally get that selfie together. Or maybe I’ll simply go back to my neighborhood theater in a couple of hours to catch the animated shorts — knowing full well Barbara will be there.