Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

For the Year's Best Documentaries, It All Began With the Casting

Photo of Paula Bernstein By Paula Bernstein | Indiewire December 13, 2013 at 9:31AM

Some of the most memorable characters in film this year were real people.
4
"The Punk Singer"

A feminist punk singer who becomes mysteriously ill, a humble secretary to the world's most famous rock band, a father who learns that his daughter is not his biological child and a long-married couple of Japanese-American artists were among some of the most memorable characters in film this year – and they were all playing themselves. 

These personalities appear in "The Punk Singer," "Good Ol' Freda," "Stories We Tell" and "Cutie and the Boxer," part of a new wave of character-driven documentaries that rely on dynamic real-life "stars." Some are still in theaters, but they are also available to rent or download online (we've included links to the films where applicable).

To acknowledge the role of the subject in documentary films, for the first time this year Cinema Eye, the organization behind the annual nonfiction awards ceremony Cinema Eye Honors, compiled a list of "The Unforgettables," a new category that pays tribute to the notable faces of documentary film.

The idea for the list itself was inspired by documentary filmmaker and critic Robert Greene, who called on Cinema Eye to create an award for Best Performances in Non-Fiction Film.

Read More: Alex Gibney's IDA Speech on Why He's Drawn to Abuse of Power

"Many of the best documentaries play with the idea of performance and with representations of reality, and helping viewers understand why this is a crucial aspect to documentary cinema can only help elevate the form," Greene wrote. 

Sarah Polley on the set of "Stories We Tell."
Sarah Polley on the set of "Stories We Tell."

Among the faces they honored were Freda Kelly, the Beatles secretary ("Good Ol' Freda"), Michael Polley ("Stories We Tell") and Ushio and Noriko Shinohara ("Cutie and the Boxer"). In all, the organization honored 17 people (and one bull orca -- Tilikum, in "Blackfish") who appeared in 15 documentaries. 

"The ways in which we use real people – beyond interviews – and the amount to which they cooperate in that process certainly changes what nonfiction films can be," said Cinema Eye Founding Director AJ Schnack.

Of course, there have always been character-driven documentaries with films like "Grey Gardens," "Grizzly Man," and more recently, "The Queen of Versailles" that brought compelling characters to the forefront. Without the complicity and collaboration of documentary subjects, these films likely wouldn't exist. But the fact that these subjects seemed almost participants in the storytelling process only made their stories more compelling.

"Over the last few years, with films like 'Man on Wire' and "Exit Through the Gift Shop,' there has been more of a focus on performance in highly constructed documentaries," said Schnack. "The way in which performance is used (in these films) is more expected now – especially compared to traditional ideas of what documentaries are."

This article is related to: The Punk Singer, Stories We Tell, Cutie and the Boxer, Blackfish, I Am Breathing, The Act of Killing, Good Ol’ Freda, Cinema Eye Honors, Cinema Eye , Documentary






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More