Oscar History

The Film Experience™ was created by Nathaniel R. Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. All material herein is written and copyrighted by Nathaniel or a member of our team as noted.

Powered by Squarespace
Don't Miss This!

Oscar Trivia Madness
Oldest Years in Which All Oscar Nominees Are Still Alive


Comment Fun

What did you see this weekend?

"Summer 1993. Just beautiful." - Sarah

"I saw Hereditary and honestly thought it was a masterpiece. Fun that it's so divisive." - Philip H

"The best movie I saw this weekend was on PBS' Man with the Orange Shirt a great romantic gay film" - Jaragon


Keep TFE Strong

We're looking for 500... no 470 Patron SaintsIf you read us daily, please be one.  Your suscription dimes make an enormous difference. Consider...

I ♥ The Film Experience


What'cha Looking For?
« The many faces of Tom Hanks | Main | Link Flood »

Documentaries: Officially Too Much of a Good Thing?

Glenn here. After decades of trying to attain the same critical and cultural awareness as feature films, it appears documentaries are now suffering from a case of too much of a good thing. We’re in a day and age where documentaries are so common that it’s impossible for the Academy’s documentary branch to keep up. Apparently 151 docos have been submitted - an average of three a week! - for this year’s Oscars and just like Diane Keaton, something’s gotta give. 

Last year the Academy set up a secret online forum of sorts for documentary branchmembers so they could post recommendations of titles to help whittle down the number of contenders. “Nobody’s recommended that anthopological documentary about North Atlantic fishermen? Fine, I’ll just watch Blackfish.” I like the idea in concept, but Leviathan was highly acclaimed so what then? Admittedly, it would be nice if they devised a year-round system that didn't require voters to watch a glut of 150 films in just a few months. It certainly can't be doing the films any favours. And yet they’ve fought hard for docos to get cinema releases and to have a prominent place at the Oscars and in the general discussion of film so, really, maybe they shouldn’t be complaining?

I can’t imagine this year’s mystery Oscar forum ignoring the likes of Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell (already shipped to voters), Gabriela Cowperthwaite's Blackfish, music docos like Morgan Neville's Twenty Feet from Stardom (the year's highest grossing non-comedy/pop concert doc) and Greg Camalier's Muscle Shoals, Joshua Oppenheimer's controversial The Act of Killing, Teller's Tim's Vermeer, American Promise by Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson (reviewed at NYFF), Martha Shane & Lana Wilson's After Tiller, Alex Gibney's The Armstrong Lie, Eroll Morris' The Unknown Known, Rick Rowley's Dirty Wars, Zachary Heinzerling's Cutie and the Boxer and Roger Ross Williams' God Loves Uganda to name a bunch. It is too much to ask they check out the four-hour At Berkeley? See how great this category is nowadays? This branch has the exact opposite problem to the animated film category!

It's easy to assume certain titles they won't pay attention to at all, but which audiences should be adviced to seek out. They're rarely attracted to cinematic figure fronted docs like Sophie Huber's Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction, Jeffrey Schwarz's I Am Divine or Rodney Ascher's Room 237 about Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.. Nor do they care for the many niche fashion docos that are released every year like Matthew Miele's Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's or Fabien Constant's Mademoiselle C. How about festival hits, the eligibility of which remains in limbo with us until a formal list is announced. There's Stephen Silha, Eric Slade & Dawn Logsdon's Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton, Jehane Noujaim's The Sqaure (reviewed at NYFF) and Rathy Panh's astonishing The Missing Picture, which will also compete for Cambodia in the foreign language category. 

I could go on and on. These were just the high profile titles. Then there are the small titles that inevitably weasel their way into the category based on the strength of their filmmaking. Remember the Weinstein’s won for Undefeated despite it making little impact at the box office. Are you looking forward to this year's documentary race? I think it's always going to be exciting when there are so many high profile, high quality efforts. I expect the critics prizes are going to go fairly evenly between Stories We Tell and The Act of Killing, but what are your favourites of 2013 so far?

Furthermore, the Academy have announced the eight documentary shorts that will compete at next year's awards. They are:

  • CaveDigger, Karoffilms
  • Facing Fear, Jason Cohen Productions, LLC
  • Jujitsu-ing Reality, Sobini Films
  • Karama Has No Walls, Hot Spot Films
  • The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, Reed Entertainment
  • Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall, Prison Terminal LLC
  • Recollections, notrac productions
  • SLOMO, Big Young Films and Runaway Films

Any eagle-eyed readers seen either of them?

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (10)

I've seen Blackfish and Stories We Tell. Really liked both.

October 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

Documentaries are my favorite genre and luckily this has been a very strong year, with The Act of Killing being the best movie released this year in any genre and the groundbreaking Stories We Tell as a close second.
Then we have great ones such as Blackfish and Cutie and the Boxer. I wish the Pussy Riot documentary were eligible because it was also very strong. "20 feet from stardom" was entertaining, but not very well put together.
Also, my favorite feature film had a very strong documentarian feel to it, Short Term 12.

October 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMr. Goodbar

The Act of Killing is one of the most interesting docs of the century and my vote for "Film Most Likely to Be Screwed By the Academy This Year."

As far as the process goes, I bet the Doc Branch develops committees like the foreign language branch next year.

October 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Stories We Tell is my favorite film so far this year. I can't wait to hear Nat's thoughts on it.

Also, there's a scene in 20 Feet from Stardom that is among the best I've seen this year—the playback of "Gimme Shelter" to Merry Clayton as she listens on. The looks on her face are so revealing. Gave me chills.

I so hope Act of Killing can get nominated as well, but I just have a feeling that this branch will screw us over as they often do and leave out either Polley or Oppenheimer. Or, God forbid, both.

October 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJordan

I've genuinely curious to see if the Academy disqualifies Stories We Tell. It just seems like something they'd do, you know?

Mr Goodbar, are we comfortable calling documentary a genre? Or is that just opening up a can of worms?

October 10, 2013 | Registered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Like I said before, The Act of Killing and Stories We Tell are my top choices that I see no other doc (except maybe The Missing Picture- thanks, Nathaniel) topping either.

I enjoyed 20 Feet to Stardom but felt it could've delved more into the throes of trying to move from backup to solo artist in addition to the context of sexuality, gender, and race components of the music industry. The directors just seemed to shrug and go, 'Many try, few win'. But yes, the mono playback to Merry Clayton's vocal in "Gimme Shelter" is one of my favorite moments in cinema this year.

I also saw A Band Called Death. It got compared to Searching For Sugarman due to the whole undiscovered, maligned Detroit artists getting reappraisal. I have to say, it worked as a good hook for me to look up the band and purchase their record compilation but as a sustaining documentary it was a chore to get through and felt like it exhausted its impact within the first hour. I'd have at least kept the talking heads of musicians who discovered them in the second-half and explore just how they came across Death. And like 20 Feet from Stardom, filmmakers shy from the racial component and expectations that this group of three black man are not supposed to be this proto-punk rock band.

"I've genuinely curious to see if the Academy disqualifies Stories We Tell. It just seems like something they'd do, you know?"

Hmmm..... I mean if Exit Through the Gift Shop can be nominated.... It does remind me a bit of Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg and I am not even factoring the Canadian aspect of it all. Stories We Tell has this wry exploration of seeking the truth and using memory and how that truth through non-fictive cinema can be complicated in a number of ways. I have to give Polley credit for being so honest, frank, self-aware and open with her approach to it.

October 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

Yes, I think it can be classified as a film genre, since its characteristics are somewhat restricted to a specific type of storytelling, that of documenting reality with whatever resources are available. That is why Stories we Tell and The Act of Killing are both so fascinating. They push those boundaries in such surprising ways, yet it is done in such a creative and surprising fashion that they don't become a gimmick or a distraction. I also think there are sub genres within the documentary genre, such as nature, political or biographical documentary..

October 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMr. Goodbar

Stories would've been disqualified by now. I was so happy to see it was eligible after they released the 150ish names of eligible docs last week.

October 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJordan

The Act of Killing floored me like no other film (so far) this year. And it's Important in so many ways, not the least for its novel and disarming take on documentary-making. I also saw Stories We Tell -- which was slight but sweet -- and Leviathan -- which I wanted to like but was just disorienting.

October 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPJ

Where is this list of 151 documentary feature submissions? I've looked everywhere and can't find any such list. I also can't find the list of 40 documentary shorts that were deemed eligible. Are these lists only for AMPAS members only? Kinda like how the Grammys only allow members to view the list of eligible tracks and albums?

October 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBette Streep

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>