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Tuesday
Jan 24 2017

Doc Corner: The Non-Fiction Class of 2016

This year's Oscar race for Best Documentary Feature was a fiercely competitive one.With the strength of the 15-wide finalists list,quite frankly,it would have been hard to give us a truly bad line-up.We particularly weep for the omissions ofCameraperson,Tower,Zero DaysandWeiner,but personal grouching aside about a couple of the nominees,this year's batch is quite something.We have three films about race (one with queer undertones),a foreign language title,and the longest film ever nominated for an Academy Award.

The nominees are:

• Fire at Sea(Gianfranco Rosi,Donatella Palermo)
• I Am Not Your Negro(Raoul Peck,Rémi Grellety,Hébert Peck)
• O.J.: Made in America(Ezra Edelman,Caroline Waterlow)
• Life,Animated(Roger Ross Williams,Julie Goldman)
• 13th(Ava DuVernay,Spencer Averick,Howard Barish)

We will be looking at the documentary short nominees later (I have one title left to watch,which is proving difficult!),but now we're going to hypothesize how the doc feature nominees did it.Let us break down the imaginary math…

FIRE AT SEA
Gianfranco Rosi's dual-toned examination of the isle of Lampedusa looks at not just the refugee crisis that is inundating the island,but also the stories of locals as their home becomes a centrepiece in an escalating global crisis.

50% Topicality– Refugee migration and sustainability is one of the biggest issues facing the world right now andFire at Seaconfronts it in a new and no less alarming and impactful light.It was the only of the shortlisted titles to cover the crisis.
20% Craftsmanship– Documentary filmmakers,the very people who vote for these awards,no doubt saw the difficulty in just the pure logistics of making this movie.See also the nomination for4.1 Miles,about a different island but the same regional crisis.
20% Rosi Reputation– Italian director Gianfranco Rosi is a respected name among documentary.Alongside Michael Haneke and Ken Loach,he is the only filmmaker to win top prize at two of the big three European film festival (Sacro GRAwon Venice's Golden Lion) in the 21st century.It was Italy's foreign language submission,too,a rarity for a documentary.
10% Meryl Approved– Meryl Streep's jury at Berlin last February awarded the film the prestigious Golden Bear,which set it up for a year of festival play and Hollywood buzz.Having Meryl Streep tout your film all over town can't hurt!

Jose's interview with director Gianfranco Rosi
Amir's review

Amir's Berlin report

Will be releasedon iTunesin February

I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO
Raoul Peck's elegant and eloquent adaptation of James William Baldwin's unfinished non-fiction book about the history of race in America is equal parts Baldwin bio and historical document about the inherent racism of his homeland.

40% Topicality– Race is clearly a big factor this year with three nominees featuring it as a pivotal theme.The film isn't just about race,but it's hard to deny that after the year we have had it is on a lot of people's minds and when a film does it as well as this one does…
30% A Voice of Reason– How much do we wish we had James Baldwin's class,elegance,wit and honesty right now?It is impossible to watch the film now and want to know what he would say about everything that is happening across the country and across the world.His interviews,essays and other works are as relevant today as they were then.
20% The Element of Surprise– I mean,it's an incredible film inside and out,but coming on the heels of13thandMade in America,it would have been easy to bypass.It turned out to be stealthily one of the best films of the year.
10% Samuel L.Jackson and Raoul Peck– The Haitian-born Peck is an intelligent man and his words on the campaign trail were sobering and important.Jackson,whose voice is the narration of the film,gives one of his best performances in years and he was no doubt out there stumping hard.

Glenn's review
Will be released theatrically on February 3rd

O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA
Ezra Edelstein's nearly eight-hour epic (some would say TV mini-series,ahem) covers almost every facet of O.J.Simpson,from his beginnings through to the murder of his wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman as well as his life after acquittal.

48% Size and ScopeMade in Americais the second longest film ever nominated for an Oscar,beating Bondarchuk'sWar and Peaceby some 35 minutes but not besting the PolishNights and Days(although I'm unsure of how long the Oscar-winning version of that film actually was).Much was made of how dense and layered Edelman's film was,and one would hope so with 467 minutes of runtime.It's size and its scope is obviously not a hindrance,and the documentary branch clearly respected the effort that went into it.
20% O.J.Zeitgeist– It was smart to release this after the FX mini-series had already gotten audiences into a froth over O.J.Simpson and brought not just his trial back to the public conscious,but also all of the issues that came with it.
20% Black Lives Matter– The brutal attack of Rodney King is a pivotal point in both O.J.'s story and,thus,the documentary.That over 20 years later police brutality is still a focus point in the news only underlines why this story is so important.
10% Cult of Celebrity– We clearly live in a time of celebrity worship andMade in Americacaptures the beginning of this modern iteration phenomenon (lest we forget this is where the Kardashian name was first brought to public attention) with fine details.
2% The Future- I wonder if a few voters saw its inclusion and thought that with television and streaming the big future of documentary production and distribution,that success forO.J.here could mean big potential for eligibilities in the future.It's hard to picture other projects of this type following the pattern.

Glenn's review
Available oniTunes (in five parts)orstream on ESPN

LIFE,ANIMATED
Owen Suskind was diagnosed with autism at an early age and inverted into his own world.However,with the help of Disney animated movies,his family finds a way of drawing him out and setting him on a path to independence.

40% Tears– It's hard to watchLife,Animatedand not shed tears.That doesn't make it a good movie in my eyes,but the emotional wallop it offers is potent.
30% The Weight of the World- In a year of documentaries covering race,gun control,immigration and other important issues,something a little more heart-warming and less weighed down in anxiety-bruising global concerns likely appealed.
20% Personal Reverence– If you have a child suffering from autism or any other form of neurodevelopmental disorder (and it's not too hard to assume that many in the Academy have) then this film likely would have spoken to them as much as anything else.
10% A Movie About Movies– The documentary branch has been oddly resistant to documentariesaboutmovies (just look at the likes ofStories We Tell,Cameraperson,Hitchcock/Truffaut,Listen to Me Marlon) when you think they'd be all over them.Maybe there are more Disney fans in the branch than we expect,but the story about a young boy using the power of movies to overcome his troubles and heal is a powerful story to filmmakers of any kind.

Glenn's review
Available on iTunes

13th
Ava DuVernay's Netflix documentary13thexamines how the  13th Amendment of the U.S.Constitution outlawing slavery morphed into the American prison system and the mass-incarceration of African Americans.

50% Topicality– Even more so following the election,it's impossible to not see the relevance of13th.Race is clearly the most prominent issue of this year's awards and following #OscarsSoWhite,亚博主页the doc branch are surely keen to proving there is space of POC in their ranks.
30% Netflix– They have the money to campaign and are now getting a bigger and bigger slice of respect for what they are doing for documentary filmmakers.That the film is out there ready to be streamed at any moment helps (see also documentary short subject where four of the nominees have been streaming for months).
10% Ava DuVernay– The Academy's documentary branch snapping up the chance to claim DuVernay's first nomination for themselves.She is the biggest name among the nominees (and the only female director) and bound to get conversation around the category going in the media.
10% 'Trump;s America'– He's even featured in the film and it makes it memorable.

Glenn's review
Stream on Netflix

What film are you rooting for this year?I think the statue is a race betweenO.J.and13th(the streaming element could help when competing against an eight-hour rival).Would you agree?

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Reader Comments (16)

Uh,James Baldwin.Not William.

January 24,2017 | Unregistered CommenterJames from Ames

Oh,James,thank you!My bleary brain is not functioning!

January 25,2017 | Registered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Rooting for Fire at Sea or 13th.

January 25,2017 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

Rooting for Fire at Sea.While I liked OJ,methinks it's a miniseries.It's a cheat that it gets nominated for both movie and television awards.Tower,Cameraperson,Weiner or even Tickled should have been in here.

January 25,2017 | Unregistered CommenterCarl Papa

13thandI Am Not Your Negroare my two favorite films of the year,so I can't decide.I'd love it if either of them won,but I fear theOJis unbeatable.

January 25,2017 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

OJ shouldn't be here.It's exceptionally good,but it's TV.

Still upset that Weiner didn't get a nod.

My hope is that Fire at Sea wins.

January 25,2017 | Unregistered CommenterEz

Yes,I totally agree with you.

I haven't seen 13th yet.Sounds very similar to Jarecki's The House I Live In.Is it?Anyway,Ava could benefit from the OJ is TV mantra.

Fuocoammare disappointed me so I would happily trade it for Weiner,a brilliant dissection of ego,politics,media,hypocrisy...so pertinent,right?

January 25,2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Dying to see I Am Not Your Negro.Still need to see Fire at Sea also.Loved OJ,it was absolutely exceptional.13th also excellent (and depressing as hell).Life,Unexpected was treacly - I would've rather Weiner got that nod.

January 25,2017 | Unregistered CommenterRob

NEGRO is far and away the best,but I am also a big fan of FIRE AT SEA and 13th.I think OJ is excellent,but,dead horse be gone,it's a miniseries.I'd love the Emmys to rule it ineligible,but they won't because that's not what the Emmys do.

January 25,2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

I'm annoyed that Life,Animated got that nod.It's quite awful.I think Weiner deserved a nomination - it was my favorite documentary of the year - but it was probably hurt by the political events of the fall.

January 25,2017 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

This was a great year for documentary features.The lineup is great,and Weiner,Gleason,Cameraperson,Tower,and Zero Days all would have made for excellent nominees as well.

OJ: Made in America's inclusion is odd,but I am hoping it spurs a rule change by the Academy to prevent this type situation in the future.I would much rather take a (great) Documentary Feature nominee to fix this than have waited and allowed a double Emmy / Oscar acting win to start the conversation about rule changes.

January 25,2017 | Unregistered Commenterjames14

This was a great year for documentary features.The lineup is great,and Weiner,Gleason,Cameraperson,Tower,and Zero Days all would have made for excellent nominees as well.

OJ: Made in America's inclusion is odd,but I am hoping it spurs a rule change by the Academy to prevent this type situation in the future.I would much rather take a (great) Documentary Feature nominee to fix this than have waited and allowed a double Emmy / Oscar acting win to start the conversation about rule changes.

January 25,2017 | Unregistered Commenterjames14

The thing is HBO,PBS,Netflix...they've been doing the "sneak into theatres and then get Oscar nomination"thing for years.But it's never been for a project like this,which has distinct chapters.They're even labeled "episodes"on iTunes.

January 25,2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

do tears trump [ugh,that word's ruined now] topicality in this category?

January 26,2017 | Unregistered Commenterpar

I wanna reiterate how I think this is the strongest lineup of films nominated in YEARS.4/5 of these are the biggest/buzziest critical success stories of 2016 and that NEVER happens in this category.

Yeah,Weiner and Cameraperson were hugely acclaimed but,let's be real,they rarely nominate exposés of people still living (OJ was different,bigger) or free-form unconventional narratives so that was too much to ask of them.This was as good as it was gonna get and they kinda nailed it.

January 26,2017 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

Life,Animated is a joke.

January 26,2017 | Unregistered CommenterIan

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