Documentary Feature: ‘Searching’ unique among issue-heavy fare

Eye on the Oscars 2013: Best Picture Preview

The Academy’s documentary branch is known for its unpredictability, but the five nominated docs, selected from an exceptionally strong shortlist of 15 eligible titles, are among the least shocking crop of nominees the category has seen in years.

Noms went to Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi’s “5 Broken Cameras,” Dror Moreh’s “The Gatekeepers,” David France’s “How to Survive a Plague,” Kirby Dick’s “The Invisible War” and Malik Bendjelloul’s “Searching for Sugar Man.”

Environmental fare (“Chasing Ice”), U.S. economics (“Detropia”) zeitgeist issues (“Bully”), the war on drugs (“The House I Live in”) and American royalty (“Ethel”) did not make the cut, while branch members clearly found the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and call-to-action films appealing.

“The Gatekeepers” and “5 Broken Cameras” take an unprecedented look at the ongoing struggles between Israelis and Palestinians, while “The Invisible War,” about sexual assault in the U.S. military, and “How To Survive a Plague” — a look at AIDS treatment activism in the 1980s — each examine past and present community activism.

While the branch remained largely consistent in its general preference for social issue fare, the unique “Searching for Sugar Man,” about singer-guitarist Rodriguez, managed to make the cut. Among other honors, doc has won at the National Board of Review kudofest and the International Documentary Awards.

In fact, every contender has kudos to boast. “5 Broken Cameras” recently picked up the outstanding feature prize at the Cinema Eye Honors, while “The Gatekeepers” garnered the Los Angeles Film Critics Association doc prize. In January “The Invisible War” won the U.S. doc audience award at Sundance and “How To Survive a Plague” took home a Gotham Award trophy in November.

Returns to the Best Picture Preview 2013

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