Thirteen-year-old DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, has revealed its influential 15-film Short List. The festival will run its main lineup of 112 features and 124 short films in-person November 9-17 at the IFC Center, SVA Theatre, and Cinépolis Chelsea and continue online until November 27 with films available to viewers across the U.S. All the films will have theatrical screenings at the festival, often with the directors in person.
Historically, most of the DOC NYC shortlist titles overlap with the Academy’s official 15-film Oscar Shortlist. With the notable exception of Netflix’s Oscar-winning “My Octopus Teacher,” for 10 years the festival has screened the documentary that went on to win the Academy Award, including “Summer of Soul,” “American Factory,” “Free Solo,” “Icarus,” “O.J.: Made in America,” “Amy,” “Citizenfour,” “20 Feet From Stardom,” “Searching for Sugar Man,” and “Undefeated.” The festival has also screened 44 of the last 50 Oscar-nominated documentary features. In 2021, DOC NYC screened 11 of 15 titles named to the subsequent Academy Award Documentary Feature Shortlist.
Overlapping with Monday’s Critics Choice Award nominations for Best Documentary Feature are Margaret Brown’s Alabama slave saga “Descendant” (Netflix), volcano-chasing crowdpleaser “Fire of Love” (NatGeo/Neon), ’60s abortion story “The Janes” (HBO Documentary Films), Brett Morgen’s IMAX hit “Moonage Daydream” (HBO/Neon), and daring Russian exposé “Navalny” (HBO Max/CNN Films/Warner Bros.).
New DOC NYC Artistic Director Jaie Laplante now curates the Short List of films that may be in the running for the Academy Award for Best Documentary feature. (Also weighing in is former DOC NYC chief Thom Powers, who is now Director of Special Projects.) This year’s list of 15 features showcases a spectrum of subject matter, including Sundance debuts, fall festival hits, and less widely viewed films from a range of funders and distributors.
“It’s very much our prediction of what think will be, as close as we can get to the final 15,” said Laplante in a Zoom interview with IndieWire. “But it’s also what we think the 15 best films are.”
DOC NYC’s Winner’s Circle program has also yielded Oscar nominations, including 2020’s “The Mole Agent” and 2021’s “Writing with Fire.” This year’s CCA-nominated “Aftershock” and “Bad Axe” are in that section, as well as two-time CCA nominee “Riotsville, USA.” Not making either the Winner’s Circle or the Short List cut are CCA-nominated “The Automat,” “Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down,” “Good Night Oppy,” and “Sidney.”
Still to come November 10 are the also influential Cinema Eye Honors nominations, followed by the IDA nominations on November 11. With so many worthy documentaries in play, doc branch members use these early selections as guides for what to watch.
The 2022 Short List selections encompass such immersive experiences as archive-rich Latin American family dramas “Beba” (Neon) and “Mija” (Disney Original Documentary), revealing behind-the-scenes music docs “The Return of Tanya Tucker – Featuring Brandi Carlile” (SPC) and “Louis Armstrong’s Black and Blues” (Apple Original Films) and festival faves “All That Breathes” (HBO Documentary Films) and “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” (Neon). Laplante thinks that Delhi eco-doc “All That Breathes” deserves consideration in Best Cinematography. “It’s a beautifully photographed film that pulls you into its dreamworld,” Laplante said.
As for “Citizenfour” Oscar-winner Laura Poitras’ “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” a portrait of New York artist-activist Nan Goldin that wowed the New York Film Festival and won the Venice Golden Lion, Laplante thinks it should make it to Best Picture. “[The film asks], ‘What is it we want out of life?'” he said, “which is what every great film answers for me.”
Will the Academy documentary branch embrace Morgen, who was snubbed with Emmy-winning Goodall biopic “Jane”? Shortlisting “Moonage Daydream” would show how much the expanded doc branch has changed, Laplante said, “Their forward-thinking, going for something unusual and different.”
The Academy documentary branch often makes it hard for Oscar nominees to return to the fray. Laplante thinks they will come around for “Cartel Land” nominee Matthew Heineman’s “Retrograde” (NatGeo), his latest dive into danger, this time in Afghanistan.
For the fourth year, the Short List Features will vie for jury awards in four categories: Directing, Producing, Cinematography, and Editing, and a Best Director prize will also be awarded in the Short List Shorts section. Last year’s winners were “In The Same Breath” (Directing), “Flee” (Producing), “Ascension” (Editing), and “Faya Dayi” (Cinematography).
As Academy members figure out what to watch in their growing screener piles, check out the influential DOC NYC Short List Features below as well as the full lineup for Short List: Shorts.
Synopses and credits courtesy of the festival.
SHORT LIST: FEATURES
ALL THAT BREATHES
Director: Shaunak Sen
Producers: Shaunak Sen, Aman Mann, Teddy Leifer
Winner of prizes at Cannes and Sundance, All That Breathes follows two brothers in New Delhi dedicated to caring for birds. (Courtesy of Sideshow/Submarine Deluxe/HBO Documentary Films)
ALL THE BEAUTY AND THE BLOODSHED
Director: Laura Poitras
Producers: Howard Gertler, John Lyons, Nan Goldin, Yoni Golijov, Laura Poitras
Oscar-winning director Laura Poitras (Citizenfour) profiles artist and activist Nan Goldin as she leads protests against the Sackler family and their company Purdue Pharma. (Courtesy of NEON/Participant)
Director: Rebeca Huntt
Producer: Sofia Geld
Director Rebeca Huntt makes a stunning debut in this personal documentary that traces her Dominican and Venezuelan roots as she comes of age in New York City. (Courtesy of NEON)
Director: Margaret Brown
Producers: Essie Chambers, Kyle Martin
Filmmaker Margaret Brown returns to her hometown of Mobile, Alabama to reflect on the legacy of the last known ship carrying enslaved Africans to enter the United States. (Courtesy of Netflix)
FIRE OF LOVE
Director: Sara Dosa
Producers: Shane Boris, Ina Fichman, Sara Dosa
Narrated by Miranda July, Fire of Love is an essayistic portrait of the French volcanologists Maurice and Katia Krafft. (Courtesy of National Geographic Documentary Films)
Director: Tia Lessin, Emma Pildes
Producers: Emma Pildes, Daniel Arcana, Jessica Levin
The Janes explores the hidden history of a Chicago grassroots organization that helped women end unwanted pregnancies in the years before Roe v. Wade. (Courtesy of HBO Documentary Films)
LAST FLIGHT HOME
Director: Ondi Timoner
Producer: Ondi Timoner, David Turner
Award-winning filmmaker Ondi Timoner (Dig!, We Live in Public) creates a deeply personal family portrait about her 92-year-old father Eli as he chooses to end his own life. (Courtesy of MTV Documentary Films)
LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S BLACK AND BLUES
Director: Sacha Jenkins
Producers: Sacha Jenkins, Sara Bernstein, Jason Wilkes, Julie Anderson
Filmmaker Sacha Jenkins (Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men) gains access to Louis Armstrong’s personal archives, which reveal multiple dimensions of the jazz pioneer. (Courtesy of Apple Original Films)
Director: Isabel Castro
Producers: Isabel Castro, Tabs Breese, Yesenia Tlahuel
Mija takes us into the world of Chicano pop music through the eyes of a young Mexican American talent manager Doris Muñoz. (Courtesy of Disney Original Documentary)
Director / Producer: Brett Morgen
Drawing upon a wealth of unseen material from his archive, this film explores David Bowie’s career with an approach as bold and visually inventive as he was. (Courtesy of NEON)
Director: Daniel Roher
Producers: Diane Becker, Shane Boris, Melanie Miller, Odessa Rae
This real-life thriller follows the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny as he attempts to
identify the agents sent to assassinate him.
Courtesy of Warner Brothers, CNN Films and HBO Max
Director: Matthew Heineman
Producers: Matthew Heineman, Caitlin McNally, Javed Rezayee
Matthew Heineman documents the last days of American occupation through the eyes of Afghanistan witnesses and records a country’s doomed descent into terror. (Courtesy of National Geographic Documentary Films)
THE RETURN OF TANYA TUCKER – FEATURING BRANDI CARLILE
Director: Kathlyn Horan
Producers: Christopher Clements, Carolyn Hepburn, Julie Goldman, Kathlyn Horan
Years after the trailblazing country music star Tanya Tucker stopped recording, her superfan
Brandi Carlile brings her back to the studio to record an album Carlile has written to restore her
rightful place in the country music pantheon.
(Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)
Director: Chris Smith
Producers: Robert Downey, Jr., Susan Downey, Emily Barclay Ford, Kevin Ford
In the final years of his life, the pioneering independent filmmaker Robert Downey Sr. looks
back on his life in poignant interactions with his famous son Robert Downey Jr.
(Courtesy of Netflix)
Director: Alex Pritz
Producers: Darren Aronofsky, Sigrid Dyekjær, Lizzie Gillett, Will N. Miller, Gabriel Uchida
Filmmaker Alex Pritz collaborates with the Uru-eu-wau-wau community indigenous to Brazil’s
Amazonian rainforest to document their conflict with farmers seeking to clear the land.
(National Geographic Documentary Films)
SHORT LIST: SHORTS
The Short List: Shorts showcase of 15 titles is now in its fifth year at DOC NYC. The selection process is overseen by Artistic Director Jaie Laplante, Director of Special Projects Thom
Powers, and Shorts Programmer Samah Ali. Last year the showcase included The Queen of Basketball, which went on to win the Oscar. For the fourth year, a DOC NYC jury will select one of the films in the section for a Directing Award. Last year’s winner was Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma.
This year’s selections for Short List: Shorts are:
Director: Sarah McCarthy
Producers: Sasha Odynova, Sarah McCarthy
Russian activist Anastasia Shevchenko comes to grips with the loss of her daughter after two years of house arrest for speaking out against the government. (Courtesy of MTV Documentary Films)
ANGOLA DO YOU HEAR US? VOICES FROM A PLANTATION PRISON
Director: Cinque Northern
Producer: Catherine Gund
When Liza Jessie Peterson performs her one-woman play at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, she activates the men incarcerated in America’s largest prison-plantation. (Courtesy of MTV Documentary Films)
AS FAR AS THEY CAN RUN
Director: Tanaz Eshaghian
Producers: Tanaz Eshaghian, Christoph Jörg
Three young adults join a running program for disabled youth in Pakistan, hoping to shift perspectives in their rural community. (Courtesy of MTV Documentary Films)
THE BEST CHEF IN THE WORLD
Director / Producer: Ben Proudfoot
Oscar winner and DOC NYC alum Ben Proudfoot profiles Sally Schmidt, the underrecognized progenitor of California Cuisine. (Courtesy of The New York Times Op-Docs)
THE ELEPHANT WHISPERERS
Director: Kartiki Gonsalves
Producers: Guneet Monga, Achin Jain
Beautiful and tender, The Elephant Whisperers features a family as they raise two young elephants in a sanctuary in South India. (Courtesy of Netflix)
Directors / Producers: Cynthia Wade, Sharon Liese
Flags at the largest American flag factory in the country are stitched by refugees and immigrants whose stories redefine what it is to be American. (Courtesy of National Geographic Documentary Films)
IN FLOW OF WORDS Director: Eliane Esther Bots Producer: Manon Bovenkerk (Courtesy of The New Yorker)
LONG LINE OF LADIES
Directors: Rayka Zehtabchi, Shaandiin Tome
Producers: Garrett Schiff, Rayka Zehtabchi, Sam Davis, Pimm Tripp-Allen
A girl and her community prepare for her Ihuk, the once-dormant coming of age ceremony of the Karuk tribe of Northern California.
THE MARTHA MITCHELL EFFECT
Directors: Anne Alvergue, Debra McClutchy
Producers: Beth Levison, Judith Mizrachy
She was once as famous as Jackie O. And then she tried to take down a president. The Martha Mitchell Effect is an archival documentary portrait of the unlikeliest of whistleblowers. (Courtesy of Netflix)
MY DISABILITY ROADMAP
Directors: Samuel Habib, Dan Habib
Producer: Dan Habib
Samuel Habib has one goal: to be an independent adult without the support of his parents. He travels across America and interviews key figures in the disability rights movement in order to create his own playbook. (Courtesy of The New York Times Op-Docs)
Directors: Nasir Bailey, Jackson Kroopf
Producer: Jackson Kroopf
The DOC NYC 2021 Shorts Grand Jury Prizewinner captures the tender story of Nasir as he opens up to his family about his transition. (Courtesy of L.A. Times Studios)
THE PANOLA PROJECT
Directors / Producers: Rachael DeCruz, Jeremy S. Levine
This subtle yet engaging documentary features Dorothy Oliver as she organizes to keep her rural Alabama town safe from COVID-19 by vaccinating everyone. (Courtesy of The New Yorker)
An experimental film about three language interpreters at the Yugoslavia Tribunal in The Hague
and the wrenching moments they translate
SHUT UP AND PAINT
Directors: Titus Kaphar, Alex Mallis
Producer: Chloe Gbai
Celebrated artist Titus Kaphar takes the mic and camera to share his thoughts on race and the art market. (Courtesy of POV Shorts)
STATE OF ALABAMA VS. BRITTANY SMITH
Director: Ryan White
Producers: Jessica Hargrave, Ryan White
Unfolding in real time by focusing on the experience of one women on trial for murder, the film is a layered examination of gender, the American south, domestic and sexual violence and the failures of our criminal justice system. (Courtesy of Netflix)
YOU CAN’T STOP SPIRIT
Directors: Vashi Korin
Producers: Jazzi McGilbert, Sean Kilgore-Han
This mesmerizing portrait of the “baby dolls” of Mardi Gras explores the storied tradition as a spiritual and artistic practice among a group of New Orleans women. (Courtesy of The New York Times Op-Docs)