Since these categories traditionally take a back seat to the more familiar and glamorous Oscar nominees for feature films, we thought we'd provide you with links to their respective Websites -- and each documentarian's short synopsis of their own work -- to give you a taste of the diverse topics that the best nonfiction filmmakers are focusing on.
We hope this will inspire you to add them to your Netflix queue, or otherwise seek out screenings at a theater or Website near you.
BEST DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)
"Exit Through the Gift Shop," Banksy and Jaimie D'Cruz
This is the inside story of Street Art - a brutal and revealing account of what happens when fame, money and vandalism collide. The film follows an eccentric shopkeeper turned amateur filmmaker as he attempts to capture many of the world's most infamous vandals on camera, only to have a British stencil artist named Banksy turn the camcorder back on its owner with wildly unexpected results.
One of the most provocative films about art ever made, "Exit Through the Gift Shop" is a fascinating study of low-level criminality, comradeship and incompetence. By turns shocking, hilarious and absurd, this is an enthralling modern-day fairytale... with bolt cutters.
"Gasland," Josh Fox and Trish Adlesic
The largest domestic natural gas drilling boom in history has swept across the United States. The Halliburton-developed drilling technology of "fracking" or hydraulic fracturing has unlocked a "Saudia Arabia of natural gas" just beneath us. But is fracking safe? When filmmaker Josh Fox is asked to lease his land for drilling, he embarks on a cross-country odyssey uncovering a trail of secrets, lies and contamination. A recently drilled nearby Pennsylvania town reports that residents are able to light their drinking water on fire. This is just one of the many absurd and astonishing revelations of a new country called GASLAND. Part verite travelogue, part expose, part mystery, part bluegrass banjo meltdown, part showdown.
"Gasland" will be broadcast on HBO through 2012.
"Inside Job," Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
"Inside Job" is the first film to expose the shocking truth behind the economic crisis of 2008. The global financial meltdown, at a cost of over $20 trillion, resulted in millions of people losing their homes and jobs. Through extensive research and interviews with major financial insiders, politicians and journalists, "Inside Job" traces the rise of a rogue industry and unveils the corrosive relationships which have corrupted politics, regulation and academia. Narrated by Matt Damon, "Inside Job" was made on location in the U.S., Iceland, England, France, Singapore and China.
"Restrepo," Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
"Restrepo" chronicles the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley. The movie focuses on a remote 15-man outpost, "Restrepo," named after a platoon medic who was killed in action. It was considered one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. military. This is an entirely experiential film: the cameras never leave the valley; there are no interviews with generals or diplomats. The only goal is to make viewers feel as if they have just been through a 90-minute deployment. This is war, full stop. The conclusions are up to you.
The war in Afghanistan has become highly politicized, but soldiers rarely take part in that discussion. Our intention was to capture the experience of combat, boredom and fear through the eyes of the soldiers themselves. Their lives were our lives: we did not sit down with their families, we did not interview Afghans, we did not explore geopolitical debates. Soldiers are living and fighting and dying at remote outposts in Afghanistan in conditions that few Americans back home can imagine. Their experiences are important to understand, regardless of one's political beliefs. Beliefs are a way to avoid looking at reality. This is reality.
"Waste Land," Lucy Walker and Angus Aynsley
Filmed over nearly three years, "Waste Land" follows renowned artist Vik Muniz as he journeys from his home base in Brooklyn to his native Brazil and the world's largest garbage dump, Jardim Gramacho, located on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. There he photographs an eclectic band of “catadores”—self-designated pickers of recyclable materials. Muniz’s initial objective was to “paint” the catadores with garbage. However, his collaboration with these inspiring characters as they recreate photographic images of themselves out of garbage reveals both the dignity and despair of the catadores as they begin to re-imagine their lives. Director Lucy Walker has great access to the entire process and, in the end, offers stirring evidence of the transformative power of art and the alchemy of the human spirit.
BEST DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)
"Killing in the Name," nominees to be determined
Ashraf Al-Khaled was celebrating the happiest day of his life when an Al-Qaeda suicide bomber walked into his wedding and killed his father and 26 other family members in front of his eyes. Now, he is rising from that horrific tragedy to break the silence in the Muslim community on this taboo subject by speaking out against terrorism. "Killing In the Name," directed by Jed Rothstein," follows Ashraf’s quest to speak with victims and perpetrators and expose the true cost of terrorism, taking us on a journey around the world to see if one man can speak truth to terror and begin to turn the tide.
It’s a sad fact that stories like Ashraf’s pepper the news almost daily. In the last 5 years, over 88,000 people have been killed or injured in terrorist attacks worldwide. The majority, like Ashraf, were Muslims.
How can someone be so robbed of their humanity that they happily commit mass murder and suicide? It’s one of the fundamental human questions of our era, one that has haunted Ashraf since his wedding day, and what is now driving him to rise from horrific tragedy to take an unprecedented step – breaking the silence in the Muslim community on this taboo subject by speaking out against terrorism.
At times chilling and moving, terrifying and hopeful, this film is a far- reaching and necessary first step in tackling what is arguably the most pressing issue of our age. As Ashraf puts it, “If we can’t even talk about it, this terror will never end.”
"Poster Girl," nominees to be determined
"Poster Girl" is the story of Robynn Murray, an all-American high-school cheerleader turned “poster girl” for women in combat, distinguished by Army Magazine’s cover shot. Now home from Iraq, her tough-as-nails exterior begins to crack, leaving Robynn struggling with the debilitating effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Shot and directed by first-time filmmaker Sara Nesson, "Poster Girl" is an emotionally raw documentary that follows Robynn over the course of two years as she embarks on a journey of self-discovery and redemption, using art and poetry to redefine her life.
"Strangers No More," Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon
In the heart of Tel Aviv, there is an exceptional school where children from forty-eight different countries and diverse backgrounds come together to learn. Many of the students arrive at Bialik-Rogozin School fleeing poverty, political adversity and even genocide. Here, no child is a stranger.
"Strangers No More" follows several students’ struggle to acclimate to life in Israel while slowly opening up to share their stories of hardship and tragedy.
With tremendous effort and dedication, the school provides the support these children need to recover from their past. Together, the bond between teacher and student, and amongst the students themselves, enables them to create new lives in this exceptional community.
"Sun Come Up," Jennifer Redfearn and Tim Metzger
"Sun Come Up" follows the relocation of some of the world’s first environmental refugees, the Carteret Islanders – a community living on a remote island chain in the South Pacific Ocean.
When rising seas threaten their survival, the islanders face a painful decision: they must leave their beloved land in search of a new place to call home.
The film follows a group of young Carteret Islanders led by Nick Hakata as they search for land in Bougainville, an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea 50 miles across the open ocean.
The move will not be easy as Bougainville is recovering from a 10-year civil war. Many Bougainvilleans remain traumatized by the “Crisis” as the civil war is known locally. Yet this isn’t a familiar Third World narrative. Out of this tragedy comes a story of hope, strength, and profound generosity.
San Kamap (Sun Come Up) means sunrise in pidgin and reflects this sentiment - the resilience of the community, and the hope that’s present at the start of a new day. The Carteret Islanders have formed their own organization, Tulele Peisa, working with local leaders on the ground to relocate 1,700 islanders to Bougainville over the next ten years.
"The Warriors of Qiugang," Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon
Villagers in central China take on a chemical company that is poisoning their land and water. For five years they fight to transform their environment and as they do, they find themselves transformed as well.
Zhang Gongli is a farmer who grew up in the village of Qiugang, in Anhui Province; his house and fields lie near the banks of the Huai River. In 2004, private chemical companies took over an old state-owned enterprise that had long produced pesticides and dyes in Qiugang. As production ramped up, black waters disgorged from the plants and flooded the fields of Qiugang. Fish died, crops failed, and villagers grew alarmed by the large numbers of their own succumbing to cancer.
When his own fields could no longer be farmed, Zhang filed a lawsuit against the factory that adjoins his land. He lost. This marked the beginning of a stubborn and often dangerous campaign that spanned five years. Our film follows Zhang and his allies in the village as they draw up a petition to bring to Beijing, recruit support from the local media, reach out for help from a local NGO, and in time, make contact with environmental activists from across China.
From clandestine trips to the nation’s capital to private negotiating sessions with factory representatives, our footage reveals a rare portrait of grassroots activism in contemporary China. Far from a simple black-and-white portrait, the film tracks the villagers as they seek out the help and power of the national government to curb local businesses and local officials. The film’s intimacy leads us past the headlines and clichés about modern China to offer a memorable portrait of villagers wrestling with, and transformed by, China’s headlong rush into modernity.
Complete list of Oscar nominees can be found here. The 83rd Annual Academy Awards will be presented on Sunday, February 27, at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, and will be televised live on ABC.