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The DOC NYC and Oscar Documentary Feature Short Lists: How Close Will They Match Up?

The annual DOC NYC short list plays an influential role in directing award season groups to which films they must see; check out the 15 films that made the cut.

"Free Solo"

“Free Solo”

Nat Geo

DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, has revealed its seventh annual 15-film Short List of likely awards contenders along with its opening-night selection, Telluride and Toronto favorite “The Biggest Little Farm” (2019, Neon), cinematographer John Chester’s poignant environmental portrait of life on a new California farm. The festival runs November 8 – 15.

Thom Powers, DOC NYC’s artistic director as well as documentary programmer for the Toronto International Film festival, oversees curation of the Short List of films that may be in the running for the Academy Award for Best Documentary feature. This year contains a spectrum of funders and distributors, including three from Netflix, three from his own TIFF selection (“Free Solo,” “Quincy,” and “Fahrenheit 11/9”) and two from HBO.

Thom Powers

Historically, most DOC NYC picks do land on the Academy’s official 15-film Oscar Short List. For the past five years, the Short List has had nine to 10 titles overlap, and four to five titles that were Oscar nominated. For the last seven years, DOC NYC screened the documentary that went on to win the Oscar: “Icarus” (2017), “O.J.: Made in America” (2016), “Amy” (2015), “Citizenfour” (2014), “20 Feet From Stardom” (2013), “Searching for Sugar Man” (2012), and “Undefeated” (2011).

“We gave serious consideration to many films we couldn’t fit into this 15,” said Powers. “There are more than 15 great films out there. It’s a struggle each year to reduce it to a short list.”

Notably, seven of the Short List feature selections are directed or co-directed by women, from Alexandria Bombach’s “On Her Shoulders” (Oscilloscope) to Sandi Tan’s “Shirkers” (Netflix), both Sundance debuts. “We’re drawing attention to the highest number of women directors since we’ve done this,” said Powers. “This list also has the most racial diversity, as well as first-time filmmakers.”

Two rookies are Rudy Valdez, whose emotional story about the impact on his family of his imprisoned sister, “The Sentence,” was picked up by HBO at Sundance, and Bing Liu’s equally devastating personal story, “Minding the Gap” (Hulu).

Established auteur brands also carry weight in Powers’ selection. Returning DOC NYC Short List veterans include Morgan Neville (Oscar-winning “20 Feet From Stardom,” “Best of Enemies”), Alan Hicks (“Keep on Keepin’ On”), Michael Moore (“Where to Invade Next”), and Wim Wenders (“The Salt of the Earth”). The Oscar perennial is accepting a lifetime achievement Visionaries tribute on November 8, the first day of the festival.

Jane Fonda'Jane Fonda in Five Acts' film premiere, Los Angeles, USA - 13 Sep 2018

Jane Fonda

Michael Buckner/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

Among the many celebrity biodocs to choose from this year, Powers went with established hits “RBG” (Participant Media/Magnolia) and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (Focus) as well as Netflix’s just-released “Quincy” and ex-PBS American Masters maven Susan Lacy’s “Jane Fonda in Five Acts.”

“Now that she’s at HBO she has greater resources,” said Powers. “It pays off in the film. Jane Fonda is not determined to have a puff piece made about her. She’s been candid about many of her demons, which makes for a rich biography.”

New this year, the festival is debuting its inaugural 2018 DOC NYC Short List: Short Films, selecting 12 potential award contenders for the documentary short category.

As many other awards voters have yet to weigh in, including critics groups, guilds, Cinema Eye Honors, and the IDA Awards, DOC NYC helps to draw attention to must-see nonfiction. Among other titles that could get some award attention are Kimberly Reed’s political expose “Dark Money” (PBS), fashion world portrait “McQueen” (Bleecker Street), and Kevin Macdonald’s “Whitney” (Roadside Attractions).

So check out the influential DOC NYC Short List below as Academy members determine the most important films in their growing screener piles.

“Crime + Punishment”

The Short List:

“Crime + Punishment” (IFC Films / Hulu)
Dir: Stephen Maing

“Fahrenheit 11/9” (Briarcliff Entertainment)
Dir: Michael Moore

“Free Solo” (National Geographic Documentary Films)
Dirs: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi & Jimmy Chin

“Hale County This Morning This Evening” (Cinema Guild)
Dir: RaMell Ross

“Jane Fonda: A Life in Five Acts” (HBO Documentary Films)
Dir: Susan Lacy

“Minding the Gap” (Magnolia Pictures / Hulu)
Dir: Bing Liu

“On Her Shoulders” (Oscilloscope Laboratories / RYOT)
Dir: Alexandria Bombach

“Pope Francis: A Man of His Word” (Focus Features)
Dir: Wim Wenders

“Quincy” (Netflix)
Dir: Rashida Jones & Alan Hicks

“RBG” ( Magnolia Pictures /Participant Media / CNN Films)
Dirs: Betsy West & Julie Cohen

“Reversing Roe” (Netflix)
Dirs: Annie Sundberg & Ricki Stern

“The Sentence” (HBO Documentary Films)
Dir: Rudy Valdez

“Shirkers” (Netflix)
Dir: Sandi Tan

“Three Identical Strangers” (Neon / CNN Films)
Dir: Tim Wardle

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (Focus Features)
Dir: Morgan Neville

The Short List, Doc Shorts:

The new list of short form documentaries was selected by the festival’s programming team led by Shorts Programmer Opal H. Bennett. Three are from Netflix, two from HBO Documentary Films and two from New York Times Op-Docs. “It’s overdue for us to pay attention to shorts,” said Powers, “which are rising quickly in the documentary space with companies like The New York Times Op-Docs and Netflix and old stalwart HBO.”

“’63 Boycott” (Kartemquin)
Dir: Gordon Quinn

“Earthrise” (New York Times Op-Docs / POV)
Dir: Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee

“End Game” (Netflix)
Dirs: Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman

“The Girl and the Picture” (USC Shoah Foundation / Cause & Affect Media)
Dir: Vanessa Roth

“The Head & The Hand” (Lost Time Media)
Dir: Marc Serpa Francoeur

“Lessons from a School Shooting: Notes from Dumblane” (Netflix)
Dir: Kim A. Snyder

“My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes” (New York Times Op-Docs)
Dir: Charlie Tyrell

“RX Early Detection: A Cancer Journey with Sandra Lee” (HBO Documentary Films)
Dir: Cathy Chermol Schrijver

“Sidelined” (A&E IndieFilms / Lifetime Films)
Dir: Galen Summer

“Take Back the Harbor” (Discovery / Motto Pictures)
Dirs: Kristi Jacobson & Roger Ross Williams

“We Are Not Done Yet” (HBO Documentary Films)
Dir: Sareen Hairabedian

“Zion” (Netflix)
Dir: Floyd Russ

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