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Academy Awards 2013 - The Nominees for Best Documentary Oscar

The Five Finalists Competing for 2013 Oscars

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Announced on January 10, 2013, the list of five nominees competing for this year's Oscar for Best Documentary Feature include two Israeli films about ongoing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, one about sexual abuse in the U.S. military, another about the army of AIDS activists who fought to halt the epidemic, and a stand-alone music documentary about a little known Detroit singer and songwriter who, unbeknown to himself, had become a chart topper in South Africa.

The Nominees

The titles, in the order in which the films have just been described, are:

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Room For More

This is a great list of films, but it's downright painful that other shortlisted films such as Detropia and This Is Not A Film have been left out. If there is room for ten narrative features on Oscar's annual Beat Film roster, why not consider ten documentaries? Surely, the increase in audience interest in nonfiction film, the wide range of fascinating stories told in such varied styles warrants greater recognition for the form.

Documentaries Are First Rate Cinema

It's irksome, indeed, that the Academy continues to treat documentaries as second class cinema -- even after the recent revision of rules and requirements that a documentary must meet in order to be eligible for Oscar consideration ostensibly opened the field for a broader spectrum of nonfiction films.

Equal Exposure

Numbers are not the only way in which the Academy slights documentaries.

In the long awaited, much anticipated, heavily publicized television broadcast of the announcement of Oscars nominees on January 10, documentaries weren't even mentioned in the line up. To find out which films made the final five, it was necessary to seek out the information online. That omission is disrespectful to documentary filmmakers and audiences, alike.

Who's Who

Furthermore, when you find the information on line, you see that with four of the five nominated documentary features, the Academy has designated the actual nominees as 'to be determined.'

With documentaries, as with narrative features, the award is given to the film's producer(s).

For 5 Broken Cameras, co-directors Burnat and Davidi, who are listed in the film's credits as producers, are specified as Best Documentary Feature nominees. But the film's credits include two additional producers, who are not nominees. However, with The Invisible War, where the Academy uses that 'to be determined' listing, the film's credits name 12 producers, while Kirby Dick -- a documentarian with as distinctive a point of view and style that of any fine narrative auteur -- is listed as Director and Writer. It will be interesting to see whose name is etched into Oscar gold, should The Invisible War win the Best Documentary race.

All In One

The Academy's listing of 'to be determined' in place of the names of those whose skills collectively produced a film good enough to garner a Best Documentary nomination is an indication of just how screwed up the Academy's attitude towards nonfiction film continues to be. It's less than satisfactory that the Academy presents an all-in-one Best Documentary Oscar instead of recognizing the individual arts and skills -- cinematography, editing, and music, among others -- that contribute to the film's superior qualities. But couldn't they figure out whom to honor as the responsible all-in-one(s) before they issue their list?

It seems that nothing has changed -- despite the new rules, no matter that more and better documentaries keep making gains in audience popularity and that the envelope of documentary style is being pushed in stunning and fascinating ways. Nor does it seem to matter that acclaimed narrative directors (Scorsese and Demme, for example) and lauded actors (Leonardo DiCaprio, George Clooney and Don Cheadle, to name three) are applying their skills to nonfiction filmmaking, the Academy, of which they are all members, continues to treat documentaries as a lesser art form.

Admittedly, it's unrealistic to expect the Academy to expand its already lengthy program of awards to include greater consideration of nonfiction film by presenting Oscars for cinematography, editing and other skills. Apparently it's up to documentary-oriented awards presentations -- such as the Cinema Eye Honors and the IDA Awards -- to do that.

Documentary Shorts

Of course, the Academy does present a second Oscar for nonfiction film, for the Best Documentary Short. The five documentary shorts nominated for the 2013 Oscar for Best Documentary Short are, in alphabetical order:

  • Inocenti - directed by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine
  • Kings Point - directed by Sari Gilman and Jedd Wider
  • Mondays at Racine - directed by Cynthia Wade and Robin Honan
  • Open Heart - directed by Kief Davidson and Cori Shepherd Stern
  • Redemption - directed by Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill

Npte that the Academy has designated all of the actual nominees for Best Documentary Short. The inconsistency is baffling.

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