In a year when the documentary race is particularly fierce--because so many strong features are in contention--folks have been waiting on tenterhooks for the Academy's announcement of the short list of fifteen. These films, selected by the documentary branch screening committee from 101 qualifying pictures, will be pared down by documentary branch voters to the final five nominations to be announced on January 25.
The expected front runners in this category are all there: Oscar-winner Alex Gibney's Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer (TOH interview here), Oscar nominee Charles Ferguson's Inside Job (TOH interview here), Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger's Restrepo (TOH interview here) and Davis Guggenheim's Waiting for Superman.
Two filmmakers with two entries only landed one: Lucy Walker's powerful nuclear expose Countdown to Zero didn't make the list, but Wasteland did, while Gibney's Casino Jack and the United States of Money made way for Client 9. It is typical of the Academy to ignore showbiz docs such as Joan Rivers: Piece of Work, which has been consistently underrated, and the fab funkadelic doc Thunder Soul. Documentarian/blogger A.J. Schnack surveyed the field in advance of the announcement. Left off his list of expected contenders is: Danish Armadillo, Laura Poitras' The Oath, Yael Hersonski's A Film Unfinished, Frederick Wiseman's La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet and Last Train Home.
The unexpected inclusion is doc community outsider Banksy's unorthodox Exit Through the Gift Shop--which Schnack describes as "the most buzzed-about, discussed, obsessed-over feature doc of the year"--which was considered a long shot. Schnack figured that if it made the short list, it had a good shot to win. (Guess I'd better watch that screener on my coffee table.) On the other hand, another doc/fiction hybrid, Catfish had even less chance of being taken seriously by this group. The much-lauded Marwencol was not eligible this year.
The full list of fifteen is below.
“Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer,” Alex Gibney, director (ES Productions LLC)
“Enemies of the People,” Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath, directors (Old Street Films)
“Exit through the Gift Shop,” Banksy, director (Paranoid Pictures)
“Gasland,” Josh Fox, director (Gasland Productions, LLC)
“Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould,” Michele Hozer and Peter Raymont, directors (White Pine Pictures)
“Inside Job,” Charles Ferguson, director (Representational Pictures)
“The Lottery,” Madeleine Sackler, director (Great Curve Films)
“Precious Life,” Shlomi Eldar, director (Origami Productions)
“Quest for Honor,” Mary Ann Smothers Bruni, director (Smothers Bruni Productions)
“Restrepo,” Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger, directors (Outpost Films)
“This Way of Life,” Thomas Burstyn, director (Cloud South Films)
“The Tillman Story,” Amir Bar-Lev, director (Passion Pictures/Axis Films)
“Waiting for ‘Superman’”, Davis Guggenheim, director (Electric Kinney Films)
“Waste Land,” Lucy Walker, director (Almega Projects)
“William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe,” Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler, directors (Disturbing the Universe LLC)