×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Helmers see kudocast as key platform for issue docs

The Contenders 2011: Documentaries

This year’s documentary Oscar race just got bigger. With a rule change that allows films to qualify over a 16-month period (Sept. 1, 2010, to Dec. 31, 2011, instead of just September to August), there are more films eligible than ever before, leaping from 101 entries in 2010 to 125.

According to Rob Epstein, chair of the Academy’s doc branch, the reason for the expansion was to put documentaries on the calendar year like most of the Academy’s other categories, meaning things will go back to normal in 2012.

Still, it’s just one more sign of the increasing viability of nonfiction cinema.

Contenders include a wide diversity of titles, from a 3D dance film (“Pina”) to movies about a horse whisperer (“Buck”), a race car driver (“Senna”) and a photographer (“Bill Cunningham New York”), as well as docs from Oscar vets Errol Morris, Werner Herzog, Steve James and James Marsh.

As in previous years, there are important social-issue docs, ranging from “Better This World,” a look at the legal system and civil disobedience in post-9/11 America, to “Position Among the Stars,” which depicts poverty in Indonesia.

Doc insiders note a tendency among voters to favor films with a message.

But Roadside Attraction’s Eric D’Arbeloff, who backed 2009 winner “The Cove” and now has Marsh’s “Project Nim,” argues that issue docs and crowd-pleasers are not mutually exclusive.

“They often go hand-in-hand,” he says, noting 2004 Oscar nominee “Super Size Me,” which “has a social justice element, but it couldn’t be more entertaining. The idea that the Academy is interested only in things that take themselves seriously isn’t true.”

Ryan Werner, marketing VP at IFC Entertainment, points out that documentaries are “becoming more cinematic,” which is opening up the category to a wider variety of entries.

Given this shift, Werner laments the fact that “Pina” will be judged by Oscar voters via screeners. “It’s at a real disadvantage, because it was conceived in 3D and it’s going to be released in 3D,” he says. “The same thing happened on (Herzog’s) ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams,’?” which failed to make the shortlist last year, he notes.

But Herzog’s new film, the capital punishment inquiry “Into the Abyss,” could make the grade this year. If it does, the nomination could reopen an examination of the death penalty.

Indeed, for some doc filmmakers, that’s the true value of a nomination or an award. They say the Oscar’s nonfiction category is the only area where kudos can actually lead to making the world a better place — which arguably makes it the Academy’s most significant.

James, whose film “The Interrupters” looks at the epidemic of violence in Chicago, admits, “If it should get nominated or even win, it could make people sit up and take notice: This issue of violence is still very much with us in most major American cities.”

“Better This World” co-director Katie Galloway concurs: “To get those issues in front of an Academy audience is a dream.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • AMC theater

    AMC Entertainment Introducing On-Demand Movie Service

    AMC Entertainment will introduce an online video store in the United States on Tuesday. Adam Aron, AMC’s president and chief executive, said that the AMC Theaters On Demand will offer about 2,000 films for sale or rent after their theatrical runs — much like Amazon or iTunes. Disney, Warner Bros., Universal, Sony and Paramount have [...]

  • Scarlett Johansson poses for photographers upon

    Scarlett Johansson 'Pushing' for All-Women Marvel Movie

    After the epic battle scene in “Avengers: Endgame” depicted the female superheroes uniting to protect Spider-Man from Thanos, Marvel fans started wondering if they’ll ever see the women unite for a standalone movie. “Captain Marvel” star Brie Larson generated even more buzz when she told Variety that she and other female co-stars have approached Marvel [...]

  • Ivana Lombardi Netflix

    Annapurna Film Head Ivana Lombardi Named Director of Indies at Netflix (EXCLUSIVE)

    Annapurna Pictures president of film Ivana Lombardi is moving across town to Netflix, after almost a year in her role at Megan Ellison’s company. As of Nov. 6, Lombardi will serve as director of independent films at the streamer. She will report directly to Lisa Nishimura, Netflix’s vice president of independent film and documentary features. [...]

  • Zoe Kravitz 'Big Little Lies' TV

    Zoe Kravitz to Play Catwoman in 'The Batman'

    “Big Little Lies” star Zoe Kravitz has been tapped to play Catwoman, the antiheroine and sometime love interest of the Caped Crusader, in Matt Reeves’ upcoming “The Batman.” Kravitz will star opposite Robert Pattinson as Batman. Pre-production on the Warner Bros.-DC Comics pic is expected to start this summer. No official start date has been [...]

  • Hadley Robinson Amy Poehler

    'Little Women' Actress Hadley Robinson to Star in Amy Poehler's 'Moxie'

    “Utopia” and “Little Women” actress Hadley Robinson has been tapped to star in Amy Poehler’s next directorial effort “Moxie.” Lauren Tsai is also on board to co-star in the Netflix movie. “Moxie” follows a teenage girl (Robinson) from a small town who is inspired by her mother’s Riot Girl past and starts a feminist revolution [...]

  • Samara Weaving

    'G.I. Joe' Spinoff 'Snake Eyes' Adds 'Ready or Not's' Samara Weaving

    Samara Weaving will join Henry Golding in the “G.I. Joe” spinoff, “Snake Eyes.” Haruka Abe, Ursula Corbero, Iko Uwais and Andrew Koji have also boarded the Paramount, Skydance and AllSpark movie. “The Captain” director Robert Schwentke is helming and Brian Goldner is producing. Evan Spiliotopoulos, who wrote “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Huntsman: Winter’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content