The Documentary Branch Screening Committee looked at the one hundred twenty-four pictures that qualified for the Oscar documentary short list, but only fifteen were chosen. Left out again is Werner Herzog, whose "Into the Abyss" seemed straightforward enough for the Academy, while his German colleague Wim Wenders "Pina," which is also the official German Oscar submission, made the cut even though it was shot–but not screened for the branch– in 3-D, just like Herzog's "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" last year, which did not get nominated. The doc branch looks at submissions on screeners because they do not want to force low-budget filmmakers to have to screen their films in 35 mm. Sundance hits "Project Nim" (interview here) and "Buck" (interview here) made the cut.
The doc branch often does not to respond to name directors but rather films that meet their professional and artistic criteria. Also left out in a very competitive year were films by Morgan Spurlock, Frederick Wiseman and Errol Morris, as well as dramatic racing doc "Senna." It's not so surprising that the Academy did not recognize "The Arbor," which is unconventional at best, with actors syncing to real voices. The most shocking omission, however, is Steve James yet again ("Hoop Dreams"). His Chicago doc "The Interrupters" is at 99% on Rotten Tomatoes.
The 15 films are listed below in alphabetical order by title, with their production company:
"Battle for Brooklyn" (RUMER Inc.), "Bill Cunningham New York" (First Thought Films), "Buck" (Cedar Creek Productions), "Hell and Back Again" (Roast Beef Productions Limited), "If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front" (Marshall Curry Productions, LLC), "Jane's Journey" (NEOS Film GmbH & Co. KG) ,"The Loving Story" (Augusta Films), "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory" (@radical.media) ,"Pina" (Neue Road Movies GmbH) ,"Project Nim" (Red Box Films), "Semper Fi: Always Faithful" (Tied to the Tracks Films, Inc.), "Sing Your Song" (S2BN Belafonte Productions, LLC), "Undefeated" (Spitfire Pictures) ,"Under Fire: Journalists in Combat" (JUF Pictures, Inc.) ,"We Were Here" (Weissman Projects, LLC).
Doc voters will now select the five nominees from among the 15 titles on the shortlist, to be announced nominations morning, January 24.