As if announcing NYFCC's winners and the nominations for the Annies on the same day weren't indicative that awards season is officially upon us, the Academy went ahead and released the 15-film shortlist of documentaries in contention for gold. For all the talk about the new voting system, this list seems to be no different that what we've seen in previous years. It has left off several of the year's most acclaimed titles. That being said, there is a vintage crop of five nominees waiting to happen since the inclusions here are, for the most part, all worthy of their spot. What can I say? It has been an absolutely incredible year for documentaries. But let's get to the most shocking snubs.
The Central Park Five, which won best doc at the NYFCC a few hours earlier, is the biggest exclusion. I reviewed the film at TIFF, where I fell for its exposé of institutionalized racism in the American justice system and I'm genuinely surprised that the voters didn't take to it. Queen of Versailles is another major surprise, though lacking the apparent "importance" factor of The Central Park Five, this one is not quite as inexplicable. When I first watched the film, I described it as "an exquisite treatise on everything that's wrong with our society today, shot through the lens of reality television" and I stand by it as one of the year's best films from any genre and medium. Then there's West of Memphis, one of Nathaniel's predictions, which despite massive thematic and structural differences with the Paradise Lost series, is quite possibly the victim of the previous film's success just last year. Further off the field where Marley and Jiro Dreams of Sushi, both of which I loved but expected not to see on today's list.
On the flip side, I'm ecstatic to see the Israeli documentary The Gatekeepers. It is by far the most important film to be released this year and one that I expect to see among the final nominees.
With the current developments in the conflict between Israel and Palestine, The Gatekeepers couldn't possibly be timelier, but the politics of it aside, it's ingeniously conceived and provides an unprecedented level of access and exposure to its subject. (You may remember my glowing review from TIFF.) Another inclusion that had me cheering was This is not a Film, about Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi whose still under house arrest. It made my personal top ten last year after I watched it at the festival and it is the most visionary film on the list. Shot primarily on an iPhone and smuggled out of Iran on a USB stick in a cake - Panahi is banned from any artistic work for 20 years - it is vital viewing for anyone who's interested in the creative process of filmmaking. I don't have high hopes, but it can surely use the added exposure that comes with the potential nomination.
One final personal favourite is Mea Maxima Culpa, Alex Gibney's harrowing look at the systematic ignorance of pedophilia in the Vatican ranks, particularly in the case of the more vulnerable disabled children. Of all the titles I've watched on this list, I will be most surprised to see this one miss the final cut. The audience at my screening left the theatre in tears and I suspect many voters will feel the same. It's worth noting that Michael Moore recently endorsed the film publicly and I've spoken to one other Academy voter who cast his ballot for this film.
The full list of 15 films is listed below:
"Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry," Never Sorry LLC
"Bully," The Bully Project LLC
"Chasing Ice," Exposure
"Detropia," Loki Films
"Ethel," Moxie Firecracker Films
"5 Broken Cameras," Guy DVD Films
"The Gatekeepers," Les Films du Poisson, Dror Moreh Productions, Cinephil
"The House I Live In," Charlotte Street Films, LLC
"How to Survive a Plague," How to Survive a Plague LLC
"The Imposter," Imposter Pictures Ltd.
"The Invisible War," Chain Camera Pictures
"Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God," Jigsaw Productions in association with Wider Film Projects and Below the Radar Films
"Searching for Sugar Man," Red Box Films
"This Is Not a Film," Wide Management
"The Waiting Room," Open’hood, Inc.