One secret to success in the documentary Oscar race is getting into the competitive Sundance lineup. While notable recent examples of fall openers winning Oscars include “Citizenfour” and “Free Solo,” most nominees still get a boost at Sundance and became must-sees for the burgeoning list of documentary branch voters.
Emerging strong from Sundance 2020 was Nicole Newnham and James Lebrecht’s audience award winner “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution” (produced by the Obamas for Netflix), which won the top IDA Award; one from Magnolia, Alexander Nanau’s health system expose “Collective” (which also marks Romania’s first Oscar nominee); as well as Amazon’s “Time,” from rookie Garrett Bradley (the first Black woman to win the Sundance Directing prize), who also won the IDA directing award.
Documentary branch voters culled a record 238 films that were eligible for Oscar consideration, breaking the prior record of 170 in 2017, down to the shortlist of fifteen. The movie that likely garnered the most votes heading into the preferential nominations ballot was cuddly South African marine love story “My Octopus Teacher” (a huge breakout on Netflix), which warmed people’s hearts during the pandemic. But “Crip Camp” ticks all the boxes for an Oscar winner, as it not only appeals to Baby Boomers with its Bohemian ’70s summer camp, but is also a rousing call for political activism on behalf of marginalized people, disabled or otherwise.
Contenders are listed in order of likelihood to win the Oscar. No contender will be deemed a frontrunner unless I have seen it.
“My Octopus Teacher”
“Crip Camp: a Disability Revolution”
“The Mole Agent”