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Academy Announces Characteristically Controversial Documentary Feature Shortlist

Academy Announces Characteristically Controversial Documentary Feature Shortlist

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have named 15 films that made the short-list in the Documentary Feature category for the 83rd Academy Awards, whittling the number down from a record 101 that had originally qualified (89 qualified last year).

In what is largely being considered a landmark year for the medium, the Academy characteristically got many things right, and many things wrong. Frontrunners Charles Ferguson’s “Inside Job,” and Davis Guggenheim’s “Waiting For ‘Superman” were joined by the generally favored and worthy likes of Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger’s “Restrepo,” Alex Gibney’s “Client 9,” Josh Fox’s “Gasland,” Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath’s “Enemies of the People,” Lucy Walker’s “Waste Land” and Amir Bar-Lev’s “The Tillman Story.”

Bansky’s “Exit Through The Gift Shop,” which no one seemed quite sure how to measure in terms of its chances (it has an anonymous filmmaker, after all), also made the cut, which was a relatively advanced decision considering the Academy’s archaic history here.

On the other hand, many had foreseen the deserved likes of Laura Poitras’ “The Oath,” Yael Hersonski’s “A Film Unfinished,” Frederick Wiseman’s “La Danse,” and Lixin Fan’s “Last Train Home” getting in, each of which are certainly among the year’s best docs. Other unfortunate omissions included “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” “12th and Delaware,” “Armadillo,” and Werner Herzog’s 3-D “Cave of Forgotten Dreams.”

The 15 films that made the list are listed below in alphabetical order by title, with their director and production company:

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer,” Alex Gibney, director (ES Productions LLC)

Enemies of the People,” Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath, directors (Old Street Films)

Exit through the Gift Shop,” Banksy, director (Paranoid Pictures)

Gasland,” Josh Fox, director (Gasland Productions, LLC)

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould,” Michele Hozer and Peter Raymont, directors (White Pine Pictures)

Inside Job,” Charles Ferguson, director (Representational Pictures)

The Lottery,” Madeleine Sackler, director (Great Curve Films)

Precious Life,” Shlomi Eldar, director (Origami Productions)

Quest for Honor,” Mary Ann Smothers Bruni, director (Smothers Bruni Productions)

Restrepo,” Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger, directors (Outpost Films)

This Way of Life,” Thomas Burstyn, director (Cloud South Films)

The Tillman Story,” Amir Bar-Lev, director (Passion Pictures/Axis Films)

Waiting for ‘Superman‘”, Davis Guggenheim, director (Electric Kinney Films)

Waste Land,” Lucy Walker, director (Almega Projects)

William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe,” Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler, directors (Disturbing the Universe LLC)

The Documentary Branch Screening Committee viewed all the eligible documentaries for the preliminary round of voting. Documentary Branch members will now select the five nominees from among the 15 titles on the shortlist.

The 83rd Academy Awards nominations will be announced on Tuesday, January 25, 2011, at 5:30 a.m. PT in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

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Peter Knegt

@KJTGonzalez and @Tracy Tynan: “Marwencol” was not submitted and was therefore ineligible.

Tracy Tynan

What about Marwencol? Such an excellent and unique doc.

Belinda Gomez

Because Catfish isn’t remotely a documentary, no matter what the ad campaign says.


I’m mystified by the omission of Catfish. Even from this article’s list of “omissions” – what gives?


A good list. We can live without a Joan Rivers doc getting nominated, don’t you think? Last Train Home was wonderful, though, so that’s a shame, though maybe next year?


Where’s “MY RUN” on this list?… it’s one of the most inspirational and best documentaries I have seen this year and have seen dozens!

Below I have pasted some info that I copied from the MY RUN fan page.

MY RUN: “Award-winning”. “Inspirational”. “Powerful”.

Indiewood Pictures in Association with Destiny Pictures presents the 10x award-winning and critically acclaimed inspirational documentary MY RUN, narrated by Academy Award winner Billy Bob Thornton.

After tragically losing his wife to breast cancer and struggling to raise three young children on his own, real life super hero Terry Hitchcock seized on an idea. He wanted to accomplish the impossible: run 75 consecutive marathons in 75 consecutive days to bring attention to the incredibly difficult lives of single-parent families. He ran in spite of freezing rain and unbearable heat, in spite of chest pains and bone fractures that wracked his 57-year-old body. He just kept running – each day, every day – strengthening an unbreakable bond between father and son— not stopping until he broke the finish line tape in Atlanta. The film is produced and directed by Tim VandeSteeg and produced by Mark Castaldo.

MY RUN TRAILER: – watch the trailer

FACEBOOK: – see what the fans are saying!



This is actually pretty good, considering the past exclusions of The Thin Blue Line, Roger & Me, Hoop Dreams, Fast Cheap & Out of Control. Any list of final that includes, say, three of the following–Client 9, Exit through the Gift Shop, Gas Land, Inside Job. The Tillman Story, and Waiting for Superman–I’ll be happy with, and Waste Land is very nice bonus. Though there’s no question that the Herzog and Wiseman should DEFINITELY have been in there, and Marwencol, which I just heard about on Elvis Mitchell’s show. (I confess I haven’t seen the Joan Rivers doc).

Keil Shults

That’s true, I forgot about Boxing Gym.

Glad to hear that Tabloid wasn’t eligible until next year, though. Dying to see it.


“Marwencol” seems to be missing as well.


Where is “A Small Act”?

Eric D. Snider

I see that now… Thanks to Google, I answered my own question!

A stealth qualifying run. And then it didn’t make the list anyway. Doh.


It was qualified by IFC Films, to be eligible for this year’s race.

Eric D. Snider

Ah, I see how LAST TRAIN HOME could be eligible, since it opened Sept. 3. How could CAVE be eligible, though, even with the extension to Sept. 30? It *still* hasn’t played theatrically anywhere, has it? What am I missing?

Peter Knegt

Actually, there’s a bit of a loophole there:

“The eligibility period begins on September 1, 2009, and ends on August 31, 2010. An extension of the eligibility period to September 30, 2010, may be granted only if the film has legal contracts with exhibitors guaranteeing that it will complete both qualifying commercial runs before the extension deadline. All paperwork (including legal contracts if applicable) must be completed and received by the Academy no later than 5 p.m. PT on Wednesday, September 1, 2010.”

I have confirmation that CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS and LAST TRAIN HOME were indeed eligible, and am pretty certain that’s the case for the other films you note, except TABLOID. Will confirm them when I hear back.

Eric D. Snider

For docs, the eligibility period runs Sept. 1, 2009 to Aug. 31, 2010. The movie has to play in New York AND L.A. during that time. “Last Train Home” didn’t open until Sept. 3 (so it’s eligible *next* year). “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” “Tabloid,” “Armadillo,” and “12th and Delaware” haven’t played theatrically at all yet and thus aren’t eligible yet.

Peter Knegt

Tabloid wasn’t eligible, as far as I know.. but Cave definitely was. One of many bizarre omissions…. Which in my opinion are worst represented by The Oath & Last Train Home not being here.

Keil Shults

Why are Tabloid and (to a lesser extent) Cave of Forgotten Dreams not in there?

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