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?