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Oscar Doc Short-list Short on Social Issues

ReelPolitik By Anthony Kaufman | ReelPolitik November 20, 2011 at 8:18PM

When it comes to select areas of the Academy like the documentary or foreign-language branches, it's always near impossible to gauge which films will make the short-list and final cut. I was suprised not to see "Better This World" -- more than even Herzog or Errol Morris -- on the short-list, for example, with its timely social issues about the government crackdown on civil disobedience, and its engaging story and filmmaking style (and its IDA and Gotham noms). Or Steve James' harrowing and emotionally weighty examination of inner-city violence, "The Interrupters," also snubbed. So now what do we have: films about dance, photography, horse whispering, a monkey, Jane Goodall, inner-city football -- it's not exactly global warming.
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When it comes to select areas of the Academy like the documentary or foreign-language branches, it's always near impossible to gauge which films will make the short-list and final cut. I was suprised not to see "Better This World" -- more than even Herzog or Errol Morris -- on the short-list, for example, with its timely social issues about the government crackdown on civil disobedience, and its engaging story and filmmaking style (and its IDA and Gotham noms). Or Steve James' harrowing and emotionally weighty examination of inner-city violence, "The Interrupters," also snubbed. So now what do we have: films about dance, photography, horse whispering, a monkey, Jane Goodall, inner-city football -- it's not exactly global warming.

But I jest.

Of course, the films aluded to above are about much more than that. And there are a number of docs that do raise urgent social concerns, such as Marshall Curry's eco-doc "If A Tree Falls," which shares with "Better this World" a look at how the government is able to classify activists as terrorists. "Hell and Back Again" offers a more intimate, subjective look at the homebound veterans of our foreign wars, but does anyone really pay attention to Afghanistan anymore?

I'm sure historical issue docs like "The Loving Story," which looks at racial intermarriage in the '60s, and "We Were Here," an examination of the AIDS crisis, are powerful documents of tumultuous periods in our history and are helpful in understanding our present.

But where is the film that can make a difference today, raise an important issue, as "Gasland" did for fracking last year?

Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory" already did its job, helping to free the "Memphis Three," young men wrongly accused of murder.

With little else then that can actually make an impact on people living today, I'm putting the call out for "Semper Fi: Always Faithful," a documentary that I've written about before on this blog, in a post titled, "In Hot Water: Will New Docs Save the E.P.A...."

As I wrote: "Despite its military-sounding title, 'Semper Fi' is ostensibly about water pollution, and the U.S. military's horrible record of not regulating chemicals at their bases, leading to groundwater pollution and the tragic health effects of the soldiers and staff who live on them. When a woman testifies about her two children, born one after the other with birth defects and dying soon afterward, it's a heartbreaking reminder of the human cost of deregulation..

"A shocking scene in "Semper Fi" gives viewers a sneak peak at the process of determining which chemicals are deemed toxic in our country: the forceful presence of chemical lobbyists during a scientific hearing should give anyone pause."

"It's difficult to justify Republicans' attempts to destroy the health of Americans, but their appalling political acts haven't stopped people from voting for them in the past. Hopefully these docs might make a difference."

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