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Shut Up & Sing

Documentary short list: A look at the films vying for a nom in Oscar's docu feature category

Country: United States

Directors: Barbara Kopple, Cecilia Peck

Topic: Following lead singer Natalie Maines’ anti-Bush wisecrack on a London stage during the U.S. invasion of Iraq — and the resulting firestorm back home among country music fans — mega-selling pop trio the Dixie Chicks work through their anger and try to re-invent their careers.

Financing: Woolly Puddin’ Music — which also funded 2002’s “An Evening With the Dixie Chicks” — kicked this project off in ’03 as just another concert film. When the project evolved into something more than mere performance and tour footage, veteran documentary filmmaker Kopple (an Oscar winner in 1977 for “Harlan County, U.S.A.”) got involved, along with her longtime collaborator, Peck.

Budget: N/A

Shooting format: When Kopple and Peck hit the editing room, they had to sift through a hodgepodge of formats, DV camera among them, since several different film crews captured footage: “We got archival footage from anywhere we could. We had a lot of technical challenges with things like frame rates — it was harrowing,” Kopple says.

Why it stands out: Great footage. Not only was Maines’ incendiary, offhand remark captured, but so were the early scenes in which the band members were just beginning to grapple with the enormity of their PR crisis. Scenes of the band waffling over awkward apologies juxtapose nicely with the later footage captured by Kopple and Peck in 2004, which shows the trio on much firmer footing — and not sorry about a thing.

Memorable scene: In a London hotel room, band members Maines, Emily Robison and Martie Maguire first get the lowdown from manager Simon Renshaw about the brewing controversy back home in the American heartland — replete with Dixie Chick CD burnings sponsored by radio stations. While Renshaw explores ill-advised strategies to exploit the controversy, Robison and Maguire look to play down Maines’ comments. While concerned about the impact on her bandmates, Maines is reluctant to back away from what she has said.

Distribution status: Distributed by the Weinstein Co., the film debuted at the Toronto Film Festival and has earned nearly $640,000 in limited release since Oct. 27.

On the making of the film: “They are so smart, and their music is so incredible,” says Kopple, who approaches her subject with the enthusiasm of a fan. “To me, the Dixie Chicks are such illuminating characters, and so much the center of a larger political debate.”