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Doc Filmmakers: You Don't Need to Premiere at Sundance to Win an Oscar, But Most Nominees Debuted There

Photo of Bryce J. Renninger By Bryce J. Renninger | Indiewire December 13, 2013 at 12:39PM

The changes in the Academy's documentary rules may have made it easier for the year's top documentaries to get some recognition come Oscar time. (Before, the small group of nominators were accused of having taste that seemed not to correspond with generally agreed upon quality and popularity.) So where do these high quality films premiere? This year, a staggering ten of the fifteen shortlisted films debuted at Sundance.
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"The Cove," "Inside Job," "Undefeated" and "Searching for Sugar Man"

The changes in the Academy's documentary rules may have made it easier for the year's top documentaries to get some recognition come Oscar time.  (Before, the small group of nominators were accused of having taste that seemed not to correspond with generally agreed upon quality and popularity.)  So where do these high quality films premiere?  This year, a staggering ten of the fifteen shortlisted films debuted at Sundance.

Data nerds, we crunched the numbers, and over the past five years, 26 of the 60 shortlisted docs got their start at Park City, with the Toronto International Film Festival coming in at a distant second place with 8 world premieres getting shortlisted.

When it comes to taking home the trophy, two Sundance titles ("The Cove" and "Searching for Sugar Man") took home the top title in the past four contests, while a SXSW title ("Undefeated") and a Cannes debut ("Inside Job") also won.

Shortlisted Films:

Sundance: 26
TIFF: 8

Tribeca: 4

Venice: 3

SXSW: 2

Hot Docs: 2
IDFA: 2
Full Frame: 2
Cannes: 2
Jerusalem: 2
not a festival: 2
CPH:DOX: 1

Seattle: 1

Berlinale: 1
Cleveland: 1
New Zealand: 1

Nominated Films:
Sundance: 11
Tribeca: 2
Venice: 1
CPH:DOX: 1
Cannes: 1
Berlinale: 1
TIFF: 1
Jerusalem: 1
SXSW: 1

Oscar-Winning Films:

Sundance: 2
Cannes: 1
SXSW: 1

And here are the complete list of 2010-4 Oscar nominees, with nominees italicized and winners bolded:

2010

"The Beaches of Agnes" = Venice
"Burma VJ" = CPH:DOX

"The Cove" = Sundance

"Every Little Step" = TIFF
"Facing Ali" = Seattle International Film Festival
"Food, Inc." = TIFF
"Garbage Dreams" = SXSW
"Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders" = Venice
"The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers" = TIFF

"Mugabe and the White African, Andrew Thompson and Lucy Bailey, directors = Hot Docs
Sergio, Greg Barker, director = Sundance
Soundtrack for a Revolution, Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman, directors = Tribeca
Under Our Skin, Andy Abrahams Wilson, director = Tribeca
Valentino The Last Emperor, Matt Tyrnauer, director = Venice
Which Way Home, Rebecca Cammisa, director = Tribeca

Venice: 3
TIFF: 3
Tribeca: 3
Sundance: 2
CPH:DOX: 1
Seattle: 1
SXSW: 1
Hot Docs: 1

Nominees:

Tribeca: 2
Sundance: 1

Venice: 1
CPH:DOX: 1

2011

“Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer" = TIFF
“Enemies of the People” = IDFA
“Exit through the Gift Shop” = Sundance

“Gasland” = Sundance

“Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould” = TIFF
“Inside Job” = Cannes

“The Lottery” = Cleveland International Film Festival
“Precious Life” = Jerusalem Film Festival
“Quest for Honor” = Sundance Film Festival
“Restrepo” = Sundance Film Festival

“This Way of Life” = New Zealand International Film Festival
“The Tillman Story” = Sundance
“Waiting for ‘Superman” = Sundance
“Waste Land” = Sundance

“William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe” = Sundance

Sundance: 8
TIFF: 2
IDFA: 1
Cannes: 1
Cleveland: 1
Jerusalem: 1
New Zealand: 1

Nominees:

Sundance: 4
Cannes: 1

2012

"Battle for Brooklyn" = Hot Docs
"Bill Cunningham New York" = Sundance
"Buck" = Sundance
"Hell and Back Again" = Sundance
"If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front" = Sundance

"Jane's Journey" = not at a festival
"The Loving Story" = Full Frame
"Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory" = TIFF
"Pina" = Berlinale

"Project Nim" = Sundance
"Semper Fi: Always Faithful" = Tribeca
"Sing Your Song" = Sundance
"Undefeated" = SXSW

"Under Fire: Journalists in Combat" = not at a festival?
"We Were Here" = Sundance

Sundance: 7
not at a fest: 2
Hot Docs: 1
Full Frame: 1
TIFF: 1
Berlinale: 1
Tribeca: 1
SXSW: 1

Nominees: 

Sundance: 2

Berlinale: 1
TIFF: 1
SXSW: 1

2013

"Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" = Sundance
"Bully" = TIFF
"Chasing Ice" = Sundance
"Detropia" = Sundance
"Ethel" = Sundance
"5 Broken Cameras" = IDFA
"The Gatekeepers" = Jerusalem International Film Festival

"The House I Live In" = Sundance
"How to Survive a Plague" = Sundance

"The Imposter" = Sundance
"The Invisible War" = Sundance

"Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God" = TIFF
"Searching for Sugar Man" = Sundance

"This Is Not a Film" = Cannes
"The Waiting Room" = Full Frame

Sundance: 9
TIFF: 2
IDFA: 1
Jerusalem: 1
Cannes: 1
Full Frame: 1

Nominees:

Sundance: 4


Jerusalem: 1

2014

"The Act of Killing" = TIFF
"The Armstrong Lie" = Venice
"Blackfish" = Sundance
"The Crash Reel" = Sundance
"Cutie and the Boxer" = Sundance
"Dirty Wars" = Sundance
"First Cousin Once Removed" = NYFF
"God Loves Uganda" = Sundance
"Life According to Sam" = Sundance
"Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer" = Sundance
"The Square" = Sundance
"Stories We Tell" = Venice
"Tim's Vermeer" = TIFF
"20 Feet from Stardom" = Sundance
Which Way Is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington = Sundance

Sundance: 10
TIFF: 2
Venice: 2
NYFF: 1

This article is related to: Sundance Film Festival, Documentary, Festivals, SXSW