The Documentary Feature Academy Awards race is always one of the most unpredictable and this year is no different. Indiewire got to speak with all 2012 documentary nominees over the last year; get to know the films and their filmmakers by checking out our profiles below.
Award-winning war photographer Danfung Dennis had no intention of making a film when he embedded himself with troops in Afghanistan in 2009. Accredited as a New York Times photographer, Dennis dropped down in the war zone with body armor, a backpack and a camera to capture the battle from the front of the line. Cut to two years later and he’s a first-time filmmaker thanks to his award-winning documentary, “Hell and Back Again.”
Says Danfung: “I’d mostly been working in conflict zones. I thought it was going to be some kind of big picture piece on where the war was at. But as the experience unfolded with my own experience of coming home, I realized that war isn’t simply about what happens on the battlefield, it’s also about what happens on the home front.”
The making of Wim Wenders’ “PINA” is dramatic enough to be a movie in its own right. From the director’s conversion from dance dismisser to Pina Bausch acolyte, to the 20-year journey toward production that nearly ended with the choreographer’s unexpected death, it’s an extraordinary story. And in 3D, no less.
Says Wenders: “Pina was never a perfectionist. Pina was a perfectionist in a different way. Her perfection was honesty. She wanted each dancer to be completely himself or herself. She didn’t want them to play any parts. The pieces, they develop them together. So Pina always sensed if someone was starting to fake it. That was an amazing process to see. To see them do it, not fake it.”
After debuting at last year’s SXSW Film Festival, Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin’s football documentary “Undefeated” was picked up by The Weinstein Company, famous for their awards campaigns. The film follows a high school football team in Memphis, Tennessee as they attempt to turn around a decades-long losing streak. Lindsay and Martin frame the story around the team’s coach, Bill Courtney, and three of the team’s players: promising left tackle “O.C.,” honors student lineman “Money” and hot-tempered linebacker Chavis.
Says Lindsay: “‘You’ve been fucking nominated!’ [I’m] like, ‘What? What’s going on!?’ As she was explaining to me what happened, I got out of bed, walked over to – somebody gave us this bottle of champagne when we made the shortlist – and I took it out of its case and I’m like, ‘Uh huh.’ I went over to the fridge and put the champagne in the refrigerator and I was like, ‘I’m gonna be drinking you in a little bit!'”
Marshall Curry’s (“Street Fight,” “Racing Dreams”) latest documentary, “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front,” tells the story behind what the FBI has deemed America’s “number one domestic terrorism threat,” radical environmentalist group Earth Liberation Front. In 2005, the FBI arrested Daniel McGowan in a nationwide sweep of the activist organization. Curry (and co-director Sam Cullman) use his arrest as a springboard to examine what led him to join the group and the reasoning behind their extreme actions. The story they weave together is a complex one that won an award at its 2011 Sundance Film Festival world premiere.
Says Curry: “I think that everything has a point of view, whether it’s The New York Times or CNN. This movie has a point of view. It’s complex. It reflects the way our team really sees this story. It is complex not because I have some slavish obedience to ‘he said, she said’ journalism.”
Their controversial conviction of the West Memphis 3 in the mid-’90s spawned three documentaries by Berlinger and Sinofsky and a cause célèbre by the likes of Metallica, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and the Dixie Chick’s Natalie Maines. In 1996, Berlinger and Sinofsky debuted the first installment in a trio of films at Sundance, “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills,” which won best doc by the National Board of Review that year. In 2000 the filmmaking duo made “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations,” which sparked debate nationwide about the West Memphis 3’s innocence. Their latest film, “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” was originally intended as an update on their condition. But just weeks before its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, a break in the case freed the men after new DNA evidence pointed to a reasonable argument of innocence, forcing the filmmakers to update the ending to their acclaimed trilogy.
Says Berlinger: “I’m amazed by the tens of thousands of people who joined this cause. For every Eddie Vedder, there were thousands of other regular people who joined this movement.”
Video from Indiewire’s TIFF Panel With Berlinger and Sinosky: