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Oscars Shortlist for Documentary Features - 2013

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With the Academy of Motion Picture's announcement of its shortlist of fifteen nonfiction films that are being considered for the 2013 Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, film lovers world wide are waiting to see which five films will be named as actual nominees. That announcement is on January 10, 2013. Meanwhile, here's the shortlist:
  • Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry - Directed by Alison Klayman - In Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, first time filmmaker Alison Klayman chronicles the daily life of the renown Chinese artist as he uses his work and his notoriety to draw attention to his grievances against the current Chinese government. Ai Weiwei is a charismatic leading character, and Klayman uses her full access to present an insightful assessment of what the artist/activist is all about. Read my full review.
  • Bully - Directed by Lee Hirsch - Following several school kids who've been the victims of bullying by their peers, filmmaker Lee Hirsch takes the bull by the horns, so to speak, against the physical and emotional assaults that make victimized kids afraid to go to school.
  • Chasing Ice - Directed by Patrick McGrady - National Geographic photographer James Balog goes on a quest to gather physical evidence of global warming by chronicling glacial retreat. He stations thirty time lapse cameras in positions overlooking glaciers in Alaska, Montana, Iceland and Greenland, and the photographs retrieved from them do show that the ice is retreating at an alarming rate. Filmmaker Patrick McGrady shows some of the hardships Balog faced in positioning the cameras and finding ways to keep them functional through harsh weather. There are interviews with glacial experts who interpret the photographs and other data. Read my full review.
  • Detropia - Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady - With their extraordinary sensitivity for detail and drama, filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady focus on a diverse group of Detroit citizens, following them through their daily routines that reveal the inner workings and underpinnings of a city caught in the crisis of urban decay. Once prosperous Detroit is now in the throes economic hardship caused by the loss of manufacturing jobs, foreclosure and subsequent abandonment of thousands of homes and industrial complexes and administrative bankruptcy. This documentary could be about any city in the United States, but the filmmaker's specific choice of iconic Motown and their lyrical style of presentation gives this film a heart throb that really resonates with audiences. One of my favorite films of 2012. Read my full review.
  • Ethel - Directed by Rory Kennedy - Profiling and paying tribute to her mother, Ethel Skakel Kennedy, now in her 80s, filmmaker Rory Kennedy provides rare insider glimpses into the Kennedy clan during moments of triumph and tragedy. This is a moving and entertaining biodoc made by a loving and talented daughter.
  • 5 Broken Cameras - Directed by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi - With the collaboration of Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi, a Palestinian villager named Emad Burnat chronicles developments in his life and town. Beginning with the birth of his fourth son, Burnat begins filming daily events, including his charming son's memorable moments and his neighbors' protest demonstrations against the construction of a separation barrier in their town of Bil'il. The film's chapters are defined by the introduction of a new camera, after the camera already in use has been shot or smashed by soldiers breaking up the demonstrations. The film is a uniquely personal, creative and affecting presentation of a harrowing situation.
  • The Gatekeepers - Directed by Dror Moreh - With unprecedented access, Israeli filmmaker Dror Moreh interviews six former heads of the Isreali counter terrorism agency, Shin Bet, and reveals dark truths about Israel's military rule in the occupied Palestinian territories. The chiefs are chillingly candid and what they report about their missions and techniques is shocking. The background they provide sheds light on the ongoing challenges of negotiating peace between Jews and Palestinians. Read my full review.
  • The House I Live In - Directed by Eugene Jarecki - In The House I Live In, filmmaker Eugene Jarecki presents a comprehensive and critical study about America's so-called War on Drugs. The film is packed with information. Jarecki uses archival footage to show that politicians ranging from Nixon to George W. Bush have exploited the War on Drugs as a campaign platform, and then set policies for punishment that are unjustifiably harsh. There are on camera interviews with criminologists who present compelling arguments about why the War on Drugs isn't and cannot be effective. Historians and other experts point out that the War on Drugs has given the powers that be license to exert racial control. Jarecki follows people whose lives have been destroyed by mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related crimes. Furthermore, he shows that the War on Drugs has not only failed to reduce drug addiction and drug-related crime in the United States, it has actually created a huge and prosperous anti-drug enforcement industry that entire communities now depend upon for employment. Solidly constructed and compelling, The House I Live In is a call for citizens to demand reform.
  • How to Survive a Plague - Directed by David France - How to Survive a Plague chronicles the role activists played in stopping the rampant spread of HIV AIDS and sure death sentence it imposed on those afflicted in the United States by demanding that the U.S. government and health care system focus on the epidemic as their number one health priority and find viable treatments that would prolong the lives of HIV AIDS patients. As a result of the protests organized by the GLTB community, policies were rewritten and thousands of lives were saved. This film documents this very important chapter in the history of the GLBT movement in the United States, and the end of the ever-expanding death-dealing epidemic that had been devastating the GLBT community for a decade. The film is also a very moving tribute to the many who were lost to HIV AIDS before effective treatments were found and made available. On my list of favorite films of 2012. Read my full review.
  • The Imposter - Directed by Bart Layton - With its cache of unexpected twists and bizarre plot developments, this crime documentary has an unreal feel. A young man who's in trouble with the law in Europe escapes by assuming the identity of a young boy who disappeared from his family's Texas home, and convinces everyone -- including family members and international authorities -- that he's the boy who's been missing for three years. The story is revealed through re-enactments: an actor playing the imposter looks straight into the camera and explaining what he did and why. The reenactments include family reunions, situations in which 'the imposter' interacts with officials, sleuthing forays and other pivotal points in the plot. Mixed in are actual interviews, shot in close up, with 'the imposter's' mom, sister and brother-in-law. This is a true story that's worthy of becoming a Hitchcock narrative, but in this nonfiction production, it feels suspiciously like an impostor.
  • The Invisible War - Directed by Kirby Dick - Making known staggering statistics, filmmaker Kirby Dick investigates the frequent incidence of sexual assault of women and men while they are serving in the U.S. armed forces, most often perpetrated by their superior officers who are never held accountable by the administration. As shown in the film, victims who report having been raped are humiliated and their military careers are halted. An extremely important and well-made investigative documentary. On my list of favorite films of 2012. Read my full review.
  • Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God - Directed by Alex Gibney - An investigative documentary about pedophilia in the Catholic Church, and official policy towards the issue.
  • Searching for Sugar Man - Directed by Malik Bendjelloul - This wonderful music documentary follows South African fans of Rodriguez, an American songster who became more popular than Elvis Presley in South Africa during the 1070s, but remained unknown in the U.S., as they seek to discover details of the artist's life and separate truth from myth. The film has an unusually happy ending, in which Rodriguez gets the recognition he deserves and the world is reintroduced to his exceptionally good music. The film is a reverberating inspiration that underscores the importance music plays in people's lives. Read my full review.
  • This Is Not a Film - Jafar Panahi - There is some important political background to this brilliant documentary that claims in its title that it is not a film. It made by internationally acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who was arrested by his government in July, 2009, and charged with planning to make a film against the ruling regime. At the time, a group of prominent international film producers, directors and actors -- including many Americans -- joined with human rights activists from around the world to demand Panahi's release. In May 2010, Panahi, claiming that he was being mistreated in prison and that his family was being threatened, was released on $200,000 bail. At his hearing in November, Panahi was sentenced to six years in jail, and banned for 20 years from making or directing movies, writing screenplays, granting interviews to the press or leaving Iran. So, while under house arrest, the brilliant Panahi made this -not-a-film to record his situation and delve into delve into his own state of mind. A rare, clever and brave stand against censorship, and an absolutely gripping film. It showed widely at festivals last year, and was one of my favorite films of 2011. Read my full review.
  • The Waiting Room - Directed by Peter Hicks - Filmmaker Peter Hicks chronicles a 24-hour period in the waiting room of Highland Hospital in Oakland, California, showing how patients who do not have medical insurance and cannot afford private medical treatment are cared for by the dedicated but understaffed and overworked team of doctors, nurses and administrators toiling in the employ of the public health care system. It's a painful eye-opener, and it's on my list of favorite films of 2012. Read my full review.
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