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DocGeeks » News » Oscar documentary shortlist announced (Trailers)

Oscar documentary shortlist announced (Trailers)

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced which 15 documentaries have made it onto the Academy’s shortlist  in the running for the Documentary Feature Oscar, among them is recent IDFA Audience Award winner Searching for Sugar Man.

The final five nominees are yet to be announced but the directors of these fifteen documentaries can pride themselves with being shortlisted out of a total one hundred and twenty-six films which originally qualified in the category. It is now down to the members of the Academy’s Documentary Branch to cut this selection down even more.

The shortlist films, in alphabetical order, are:

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry by Alison Klayman

Art and activism become one when we talk about Ai Weiwei. He shows no fear, as to show fear is to give up, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t frightened. Thanks to first-time director Alison Klayman’s film we now know the in’s and out’s of the man who will no doubt be written down in the history books as one of the world’s most important artists of the 21st century. (Full review here)

Bully by Lee Hirsh

Harvey Weinstein’s hit documentary Bully examines school bullying by means of following five children and their families over the course of a school year.

Chasing Ice by Jeff Orlowski

Acclaimed photographer James Balog was once a sceptic about climate change. But through his Extreme Ice Survey, he discovered undeniable evidence of how quickly our planet was changing. For several years his quest for the truth was filmed by Jeff Orlowski, who ensured footage from the survey became Chasing Ice, a  jaw-dropping feature full of indescribably stunning footage. (Full review available Friday 7 December)

Detropia by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady

Grady and Ewing have created a documentary on the city of Detroit and its woes, which are emblematic of the collapse of the U.S. manufacturing base.

Ethel by Rory Kennedy

A documentary on Ethel Kennedy that provides an insider’s view of a political dynasty, including her life with Robert F. Kennedy and the years following his death when she raised their eleven children on her own.

5 Broken Cameras by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi

The award winning 5 Broken Cameras is the poignant tale of a small Palestinian village’s struggle for freedom when encroaching Israeli settlements threaten to engulf their land. Seen through the eyes of the local farmer and director Emad Burnat, the film gives an intimate and unique insight into the villagers’ ongoing perseverance in their struggle for liberty against all odds. (Full review here)

The Gatekeepers by Dror Moreh

Six former leaders of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, open our eyes on what is happening with their country’s war on terror.

The House I Live In by Eugene Jarecki

Is the war on drugs really working? If so, why don’t we have less drugs trade, less drugs addicts and less related crimes? Also, what was the true motivation behind this “war” to start with, was it really stemming from a government’s concern about the welfare of its citizens? New documentary The House I Live In explores all these issues and much more. (Full review here)

How to Survive a Plague by David France

This doc delivers the story of two activism groups whose activism and innovation turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition. Despite having no scientific training, these self-made activists infiltrated the pharmaceutical industry and helped identify promising new drugs, moving them from experimental trials to patients in record time.

The Imposter by Bart Layton

1994, San Antonio, Texas, a 13-year old Nicholas Barclay disappears without a trace. His family is left distraught, broken and scared. Who has taken their beloved son, is he still alive? Then, just over three years later, miraculous news is delivered; their boy has been found – in Spain. But instead of the end of this horrific ordeal, this is merely the beginning of the film’s story… (Full review here)

The Invisible War

It won the prestigious Audience Award at Sundance 2012 and is currently in the running for an equally appreciated IDA award; this flawless investigation by Oscar and Emmy nominated director Kirby Dick reveals that some servicemen who are working to prevent evil acts of terrorism from reaching American soil, are in fact themselves guilty of accomplishing acts that are equally as brutal, and on their own comrades. (Full review here)

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God by Alex Gibney

In his latest documentary, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, Oscar winning director Alex Gibney  (Taxi to the dark side) delves into the horrific scandal of child sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.

Searching for Sugar Man by Malik Bendjelloul

Malik Bendjelloul’s debut feature Searching for Sugar Man definitely has all the ingredients for a great documentary: the story is one you have never heard of, it is leading you to places you had never imagined it would take you and it reveals something to you which you didn’t know existed. In fact, the whole story is so unbelievable that it simply has to be true. (Full review here)

This Is Not a Film by Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and Jafar Panahi

Renowned Iranian director, Jafar Panahi, received a 6-year prison sentence and a 20-year ban from filmmaking and conducting interviews with foreign press due to his open support of the opposition party in Iran’s 2009 election. In this documentary, which was secretly shot on an iPhone and a modest DV camera by Panahi’s close friend Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and smuggled into France in a cake for a last-minute submission to Cannes, Panahi shares his day-to-day life as he waits for a decision on his appeal.

The Waiting Room by Peter Nicks

Through Nicks we get to see what happens behind the doors of an American public hospital struggling to care for a community of largely uninsured patients.



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Alexandra Zeevalkink is a Dutch-born journalist living in London who founded DocGeeks in August 2011 in order to have a legitimate excuse to watch every documentary under the sun. She freelances for various publications and writes mainly about documentaries and the film production industry. When she is not blogging or watching films, she enjoys theater, photography and reading loads of books. She is always on the look out for potential partnerships with other creative minds.

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