Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Oscars: Best Documentary Features and Shorts

When the Academy Award nominations were announced yesterday, understandably all the attention went to "Avatar" and the movies (and movie stars) that draw big crowds at theaters.

So we're here to shine some kleig lights on two notable but underappreciated categories, Documentary Feature and Documentary Short Subject, which you won't read much about elsewhere.

Documentary (Feature)

* “Burma VJ” Anders Østergaard and Lise Lense-Møller
* “The Cove” Nominees to be determined
* “Food, Inc.” Robert Kenner and Elise Pearlstein
* “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers” Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith
* “Which Way Home” Rebecca Cammisa

Documentary (Short Subject)

* “China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province” Jon Alpert and Matthew O’Neill
* “The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner” Daniel Junge and Henry Ansbacher
* “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant” Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert
* “Music by Prudence” Roger Ross Williams and Elinor Burkett
* “Rabbit à la Berlin” Bartek Konopka and Anna Wydra

How many have you seen?

We'll devote a future blog item to the Feature category. Today let's take a look at the Shorts.

Though the subject matter and themes are eclectic, perhaps it will shed some light on what kinds of big topics are being tackled in major non-fiction film projects that actually get produced and distributed in the U.S.

If you've seen any of these nominees, it's probably been on HBO, where most of them have already aired, and the rest are now likely to. Remarkably, at least one originated with an HBO exec, who assigned it to the filmmakers.

"China's Unnatural Disaster"

In the aftermath of the massive earthquake that rocked this central region of China, several communities are in mourning for the children they lost.

Read full synopsis here.

Read a Q&A interview with directors Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill here.

Here's the trailer:

"The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant"

On Dec. 23, 2008, the General Motors assembly plant in Moraine, Ohio shut its doors, leaving 2,700 employees without jobs. But GM wasn't just a car company; it was the lifeblood of the community.

Read full synopsis here.

Read Q&A with directors Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert here:

Here's the trailer:

"Music by Prudence"

Zimbabwean singer songwriter Prudence Mabhena, 21, was born severely disabled into a society where disabilities carry the taint of witchcraft; she is more likely to spend her life hidden away in a tiny hut than on a stage in the center of a city. Her story is the story of many of the disabled kids of Africa, a story of abandonment and abuse. But Prudence and her seven young band members, all disabled, have managed to overcome stereotypes and inspire the same people who once saw them as a curse.

It is directed by Roger Ross Williams , a veteran TV news producer who has worked for all the major networks.

HBO Documentary Films picked up "Music by Prudence" for distribution, and will probably air it soon.

"Rabbit à la Berlin"

It's an important lesson of history that a system of order intended to produce one result will often give birth to something entirely unexpected. So it was with the Berlin Wall, which was, in fact, two separate walls, one on the east and one on the west with a 120-kilometre strip of land between them. The enclosed patch was unintentionally converted into a kind of rabbit reserve as the walls encircled the lush green meadows of Potsdamer Platz and cut its wild rabbit population off from both escape and predators. For 28 years, the strip of earth enclosed between the two walls was their safest of enclaves. But then one day the walls came down and the rabbits were suddenly freed from a restrictive system, albeit one to which they had become accustomed. Told in the style of a nature documentary, with a captivatingly dreamy tone and a tongue-in-cheek nod to the story's allegorical tale of a totalitarian system, "Rabbit à la Berlin" provides a fascinating history lesson told through the eyes of animals. interview with director Bartek Konopka here.

"The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner"

This documentary shows how the former Washington state governor led the campaign on behalf of the state’s Death with Dignity Act, which allows assisted suicide.

Director Daniel Junge is the creative director of the Denver-based production company Just Media.

The film doesn't yet have a Website or a trailer, and it won't have its first public screenings until later this month in New York. It has been picked up by HBO, and though no air date has been set, its Oscar nomination is likely to expedite its scheduling.

If you live near Los Angeles, here's some good news:
The Academy celebrates the work of the nominated filmmakers in the Documentary Short Subject and Feature categories with the first annual “Docs!” night. The program will include film clips from each of the nominated documentaries in both categories, and a panel discussion with each group of nominees.

Tickets: $5
Wednesday, March 3, 7:30 p.m.
Samuel Goldwyn Theater
8949 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA

Info here

The 82nd Academy Awards ceremony will be televised on March 7th, 5pm PT, 8pm ET.

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