‘Searching’ for a documentary champion

Eye on the Oscars: The Contenders II

Predictability has never been a calling card for the Oscars’ documentary category, and already we can see why.

“The Central Park Five,” a highly regarded work with top honors from the New York Film Critics Circle and a Freedom of Expression award from the National Board of Review, was not one of the 15 docs on the category’s official shortlist for nomination, despite having the stamp of Ken Burns and his daughter Sarah.

Also out of the running are such ballyhooed docs as “Head Games” from Steve James, “West of Memphis” from Amy Berg, “Samsara” from Ron Fricke and “The Queen of Versailles” from Lauren Greenfield.

Of the three-quarters score that did survive, two that have nabbed noteworthy early season honors are NBR and International Documentary Awards champion “Searching for Sugar Man” (directed by Malik Bendjelloul) and David France’s “How To Survive a Plague,” which has a Gotham Awards win to go with an Indie Spirit nom.

But the competition remains fierce, with directors including Eugene Jarecki (Sundance grand jury winner “The House I Live In”), Kirby Dick (“The Invisible War”), Alex Gibney (“Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God”) and Rory Kennedy (“Ethel”). Alison Klayman’s “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,” Lee Hirsch’s “Bully,” and Dror Moreh’s “The Gatekeepers” have also received strong recognition.

And in fact, every contender has something to crow about. “The Waiting Room” (Peter Nicks) can boast Gotham and Indie Spirit noms, Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi’s “5 Broken Cameras,” won directing honors at Sundance for world cinema documentary, while Bart Layton’s “The Imposter” earned five British Independent Film Award noms, winning twice.

In addition, Jeff Orlowski’s “Chasing Ice” won the doc cinematography award at Sundance, which similarly honored “Detropia” (directed by Rachel Grady) for doc editing.

Eye on the Oscars: The Contenders II
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