That wailing you hear is all the best-documentary aspirants who did NOT make the DOC NYC “Short List.” It’s considered one of several key steps for landing on the Academy doc branch’s eventual short list – which, like the DOC NYC list, also numbers 15.
The stats are impressive: In each of the past three years, the DOC NYC Short List had nine or 10 titles that overlapped with the subsequent Oscar Documentary Short List. For the last five years, DOC NYC screened the documentary that went on to win the Oscar: “Amy” (2015), “Citizenfour” (2014), “20 Feet From Stardom” (2013), “Searching for Sugar Man” (2012), and “Undefeated” (2011).
With such a wide field of contenders, respected festivals wield even more than their usual influence in turning movies into must-sees. Oscar documentary branch voters have to see more than 130 movies released theatrically in 2016; inevitably, the movies nabbing the best reviews and most attention move to the top of the queue. (Technically, each of the 288 members of the doc branch is assigned to watch 20% of the entire list, and encouraged to watch the rest.)
DOC NYC 2016 Short List
“The 13th”(Netflix) Dir: Ava DuVernay
“Amanda Knox” (Netflix) Dirs: Rod Blackhurst, Brian McGinn
“Cameraperson” (Janus Films) Dir: Kirsten Johnson
“Fire At Sea” (Kino Lorber) Dir: Gianfranco Rosi
“Gleason” (Open Road & Amazon Studios) Dir: Clay Tweel
“I Am Not Your Negro” (Magnolia Pictures) Dir: Raoul Peck
“Into the Inferno” (Netflix) Dir: Werner Herzog
“Jim: The James Foley Story” (HBO Documentary Films) Dir: Brian Oakes
“Life, Animated” (The Orchard & A&E IndieFilms) Dir: Roger Ross Williams
“Mapplethorpe: Look At the Pictures” (HBO Documentary Films) Dir: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato
“Miss Sharon Jones!” (Starz) Dir: Barbara Kopple
“OJ: Made in America” (ESPN) Dir: Ezra Edelman
“The Ivory Game” (Netflix) Dir: Kief Davidson, Richard Ladkani
“Trapped” (PBS-Independent Lens) Dir: Dawn Porter
“Weiner” (IFC Films & Showtime) Dir: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg
Some complain that DOC NYC director Thom Powers, who also programs TIFF docs, wields too much power. “Every year, it’s a difficult selection process, but that’s what it means to be called the Short List,” Powers wrote me in an email:
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“I expect to see greater variation among other lists than in the past. There are more strong films, fewer consensus favorites and a large batch of late arrivals. That makes for a harder job of prognosticating, but for a richer spectrum of documentary making. For the DOC NYC Short List, we tried to strike a balance between films that have strong distribution support while making room for smaller titles that stand out for originality. We also sought to emphasize directors who hadn’t been on the list before.”
Included on my Oscar Documentary Frontrunners list are DOC NYC’s “Gleason,” “Into the Inferno,” “Life, Animated,” “O.J.: Made in America,” and “Weiner.” They are frontrunners still. Listed in my Contenders list were shortlisted (and retitled) NYFF opener “13th” (Ava DuVernay), TIFF Netflix entry “Amanda Knox” (Brian McGinn and Rod Blackhurst), Sundance’s “Cameraperson” (Kirsten Johnson), Venice Golden Lion-winner “Fire at Sea” (Gianfranco Rosi), TIFF’s Netflix title “The Ivory Game” (Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani), Sundance HBO film “Jim: The James Foley Story” (Brian Oakes), and Sundance debut “Trapped” (Dawn Porter).
Left off the DOC NYC Short List are Robert Kenner’s Tribeca film “Command and Control,” Morgan Neville’s Toronto 2015 “The Music of Strangers,” Berlin’s “Zero Days” by Alex Gibney, Tribeca’s “Abortion: Stories Women Tell” (HBO), Sony Pictures Classics’ Telluride selection “The Eagle Huntress” (Otto Bell), as well as Sundance’s “Newtown” (Kim Snyder), “Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang” (Kevin Macdonald) and “Tickled” (David Farrier), along with with my Long Shots, TIFF’s “Before the Flood” (Fisher Stevens and Leonardo DiCaprio) and Sundance’s “Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World” (Werner Herzog) and “Under the Gun” (Stephanie Schoechtig), which has been attacked by the NRA.
All DOC NYC Short List titles will screen during the festival with the director or other special guests present for their first screening; all directors and other collaborators will participate on the November 11 Short List Day of panel conversations.