Oscar's list of semifinalists skips partisan pix

NEW YORK — The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences unveiled a handful of docus for its list of semifinalists vying for Oscar bids Wednesday.

Without Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11″ in contention, AMPAS’ documentary branch screening committee roundly ignored the spate of competing partisan political docs that rolled out over the past year, instead focusing on stories of individuals, from rapper Tupac Shakur to historian Howard Zinn and slain civil-rights marcher Viola Liuzzo.

Docus announced Wednesday were Lauren Lazin’s “Tupac: Resurrection,” Deb Ellis and Denis Mueller’s “Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train,” Paola di Florio’s “Home of the Brave,” Christian Bauer’s “The Ritchie Boys,” Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni’s “The Story of the Weeping Camel” and Kirby Dick’s “Twist of Faith.”

Word had trickled out earlier in the week (Daily Variety, Nov. 17) that among high-profile films that made the cut were Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me,” Stacy Peralta’s “Riding Giants,” Mark Wexler’s “Tell Them Who You Are,” Kevin MacDonald’s “Touching the Void,” Jessica Yu’s “In the Realms of the Unreal” and Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman’s “Born Into Brothels.”

AMPAS uncharacteristically made public its list of a dozen shortlisted docus Wednesday. The docu branch usually keeps its semifinalists secret so that distribs can’t promote films as if they’ve actually been nominated. The dozen semifinalists next will be trimmed to five official nominees, to be announced with the rest of the Oscar noms Jan. 25.

The docu race was flung open when Moore pulled his “Fahrenheit” in September to compete in the best pic category, contending his move was aimed at giving other docs a chance.

Paramount’s “Tupac” was the only music doc to chart on AMPAS’ shortlist. Pic follows the rise of the gangster rapper until his tragic death in 1996.

First Run Features’ “Zinn,” about the historian-activist, is narrated by Matt Damon. Emerging Pictures’ “Home of the Brave” explores the life and legacy of civil-rights demonstrator Liuzzo.

The inclusion of “Weeping Camel,” which was Mongolia’s foreign-language submission last year, could mean another nom for indie distrib ThinkFilm, which already has “Born Into Brothels” and “Tell Them Who You Are” on the short list. “Brothels” is being rolled out with HBO.

Questions have already been raised about “Weeping Camel” and IFC’s “Touching the Void” for their use of what some see as narrative elements. With fierce Oscar competish already setting in, rivals have been grousing, but both were deemed docus under AMPAS’ rules.

Bauer’s “Ritchie Boys” — about German Jews who formed an elite U.S. intelligence unit during WWII — kicked off the Hot Docs Canadian Intl. Documentary Festival earlier this year.

“Twist of Faith” helmer Dick’s credits include the experimental “Chain Camera” and “Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist.”

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