Short films worth watching in the New York Times Op-Docs series


Still from HARDLY WORKING © Total Refusal


Since 2011, the New York Times has been publishing a monthly collection of freely accessible nonfiction short films in its online edition called Op-Docs. The collection, which now includes almost 400 short films, consists mainly of US productions. Two new additions in July and August, though, come from Austria and Germany and also transcend the boundaries of conventional documentary filmmaking.


In July, the NYT published an English version of HARDLY WORKING by the Austrian filmmaker (and gamer) group Total Refusal. The 20-minute short film was shot entirely within the game Red Dead Redemption 2 and shows looped NPCs (non-player characters) at ‘work’.


This week the German short film BACKFLIP by Nikita Diakur was added to the Op-Docs series. In the film, the director tries to teach his avatar to do a backflip with the help of a computer and AI software.


Op-Docs is curated and produced by the video department of The Times Opinion. Times Opinion was originally conceived as a way to complement the newspaper’s news section with filmed commentary and opinion on important issues of the day. For the first ten years, these were mostly commissioned films produced for the NYT by well-known filmmakers and journalists, often of an investigative nature. Legendary examples include the two films[1] about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, in which Errol Morris explores issues of cinematic fact-checking and conspiracy theories.


Many of Op-Docs’ films have won awards, sparked debate and helped filmmakers advance their careers. Laura Poitras, for example, was introduced to Edward Snowden through an Op-Doc feature. In recent years, the series has moved away from commissioned films and has increasingly included completed short films that correspond to the editors’ curatorial concept.


[1] In the short films “November 22, 1963” (2013) and “The Umbrella Man” Morris interviews Josiah “Tink” Thompson, the author of “Six Seconds in Dallas,” the former philosophy professor turned private investigator, about the long unseen frame #313 and Thompson’s discovery of the man with an umbrella at the assassination site in the Zapruder 8mm film, respectively.