Some rule changes for eligibility as well as other factors could shake up the precedent for the Academy to award the high-profile documentaries, but the subject matters of these films are going to be quite familiar to you.
Best Documentary, Features
- “5 Broken Cameras”
- “The Gatekeepers”
- “How to Survive a Plague”
- “The Invisible War”
- “Searching for Sugar Man”
Two Israeli documentaries are in the mix this year in a category that’s more dominated by world cinema than usual. In that kind of a situation, a draw is usually the way to go. 5 Broken Cameras sounds much more emotionally compelling as it is a film by Israelis that documents a Palestinian man’s peaceful protest efforts against the Israeli Defense Force. The Gatekeepers is a more political film that has made waves because in it, members of the Israeli secret service speak candidly about their approach in Israel’s war on terror.
Also on a global scale is the one financially successful doc on this list, Searching for Sugar Man, which is about singer/songwriter Sixto Rodriguez, who became a South African sensation but for a long time was presumed to be dead. Two fans embark on a quest to find out what happened to him to set the stage for this documentary, which has won numerous film festival awards.
How to Survive a Plague is an AIDS documentary about two activist groups whose efforts helped get the pharmaceuticals made that allowed for AIDS to be a livable condition and The Invisible War is a doc from Kirby Dick (“This Film is Not Yet Rated”) about cases of rape in the military, undoubtably a taboo subject.
The safe thing to do from a prediction standpoint is go with the popular documentary. However, Academy members received screeners of all of this year’s docs, so hedging bets with the popular pick isn’t as good an idea as it used to be because voters used to only see what was most readily available. I really think “Plague” or “Invisible War” could pull the upset, but I don’t know which, so I have to be safe.
Prediction: Searching for Sugar Man
Best Documentary, Short
- “Kings Point”
- “Mondays at Racine”
- “Open Heart”
I hate saying it every year, but every year the Academy holds true: the winners of this category are always shorts that involve women or children, and usually include a foreign country (most often Africa). Go wikipedia the list of past winners and read what they’re all about — I’m telling you.
That gives the frontrunner spot to Open Heart, a short about Rwandan children who leave their families in order to undergo high-risk heart surgery in Sudan. Talk about heartstring pulling. On the opposite end of the age spectrum you have Kings Point, a film about seniors in a retirement home, that if voters are liking “Amour” for Best Picture/really feeling the whole depression of age motif, could get more votes than usual.
Offering serious competition to “Open Heart” would be Mondays at Racine, a look at a Long Island beauty salon that dedicates a day of the month to women struggling with cancer. Director Cynthia Wade has already won an Oscar in this category for the 2007 film “Freeheld” about a New Jersey detective who is dying but can’t leave anything to her life partner. The emotional card is very strong here.
Also, Inocente tells a story of a 15-year-old undocumented immigrant who uses her art to persevere through bleak circumstances, while Redemption is an up-close look at the men and women in New York City who “can” for bottles and cans in order to redeem them for money to survive.
It feels terrible sorting through these likely excellent documentaries in such a superficial manner, but the Academy has shown its tendencies and it would be a surprise for anything but “Open Heart,” “Mondays” or “Inocente” to win.
Prediction: Open Heart