Oscars Documentary Race Looks Robust Despite the Pandemic

Steve Pond
·5 min read
steve pond
steve pond

It makes sense that this year’s AFI Fest closed on Thursday night with the premiere of director Errol Morris’ wild and entertaining documentary “My Psychedelic Love Story.” In a year in which reality has smacked all of us in the face, nonfiction filmmaking is in the spotlight more than ever, from a string of docs that deal with issues at stake in the upcoming election (“All In: The Fight for Democracy,” “Slay the Dragon,” “Becoming,” “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” “#UNFIT: The Psychology of Donald Trump”) to more freewheeling works like Morris’ film, a WTF concoction from a director who only gets this playful once in a while.

It’s undeniable that the Oscars race for Best Picture is off to a slow start, with fewer films than usual playing the scaled-down fall film festivals and studios reluctant to commit to theatrical openings as the pandemic stretches on. But the race for Best Documentary Feature promises to be a robust one. More than 50 films are now available in the Academy’s virtual screening room for Documentary Branch members, and far more than that have qualified to enter the race under rules specific to 2020.

In a normal year, around 150 documentary features qualify for the Oscars; this year, most doc-watchers expect the numbers to be the same or even more, and few think that theater closings and stay-at-home viewers will significantly depress the number of films competing for prizes.

Also Read: 'My Psychedelic Love Story' Film Review: Errol Morris Unravels a Trippy Yarn About Timothy Leary's Muse

Partly, that’s because new rules enacted in the wake of the pandemic allow documentary features to qualify simply by being chosen by two out of nine specified film festivals, whether or not those festivals took place. Films can also qualify by winning one of 55 different awards from 36 international festivals.

The films that have been placed in the members’ virtual screening room, which came in batches of 25 in July, 12 in August and 16 in September, include 20 that qualified under those new rules. An additional 57 films qualified via festivals but have not yet been added to the screening room – which is expected to more than double in size after the Dec. 1 submission deadline.

In addition, dozens of high-profile films haven’t been put in the screening room but are expected to enter and be competitive. Those include political films (“The Way I See It,” “The Dissident”), a trio of films about COVID (“Totally Under Control,” “76 Days” and, assuming it lands U.S. distribution, “Wuhan Wuhan”), critical favorites (“Dick Johnson Is Dead,” “Time”) and recent festival releases (“The Truffle Hunters,” “My Psychedelic Love Story”).

The films that have already gone to doc-branch voters were first made available in July, when an initial group of 25 films were placed in the online screening room. Those films included Sundance premieres “Crip Camp,” “The Fight,” “Lance,” “Miss Americana,” “On the Record” and “Spaceship Earth,” as well as Netflix’s “Athlete A,” “Becoming” and “Father Soldier Son,” CNN Films’ “John Lewis: Good Trouble” and the 2019 Toronto Film Festival opening-night film, “Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band.”

Also Read: 'Crip Camp' Film Review: Stirring Documentary Recalls Training Ground for Disability Rights Activists

In August, voters received a second group of 12 films, including “Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn,” “Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl” and Ron Howard’s “Rebuilding Paradise.”

The September selection, which was actually sent to voters on Oct. 1, consisted of 16 more films. They include “All In: The Fight for Democracy,” “Feels Good Man,” “Oliver Sacks: His Own Life,” “Red Penguins,” “The Social Dilemma” and “Welcome to Chechnya.”

In a normal year, the final batch of films would be made available to voters in early November – but with everything pushed back this year, and with eligibility extended to films that are released in January or February of next year, the branch will probably continue to deliver docs to voters into early 2020.

Also Read: 'Welcome to Chechnya' Film Review: LGBT Refugees Flee Violence in Gripping Documentary

This is the list of documentaries that are currently in the Academy’s screening room for the Documentary Branch. At this point, each member of the branch has been randomly assigned 10 to 12 of these films as required viewing, in order to ensure that all films will be screened by a minimum number of voters. Outside of the required films, all voters are free to watch as many of them as they want.

“All I Can Say”
“All In: The Fight for Democracy”
“Athlete A”
“Be Water”
“Becoming”
“Beyond the Visible: Hilma Af Klint”
“Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn”
“Childhood 2.0”
“Circus of Books”
“Colombia in My Arms”
“Coronation”
“Crip Camp”
“Disclosure”
“The Dog Doc”
“Elementa”
“Epicentro”
“Erased, ____ Ascent of the Individual”
“Fandango at the Wall”
“Father Solider Son”
“Feels Good Man”
“The Fight”
“Find Your Groove”
“For They Know Not What They Do”
“The Ghost of Peter Sellers”
“iHuman”
“The Infiltrators”
“John Lewis: Good Trouble”
“Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl”
“A Kid from Coney Island”
“Lance”
“Miss Americana”
“The Mole Agent”
“A Most Beautiful Thing”
“Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado”
“Oliver Sacks: His Own Life”
“Olympia”
“On the Record”
“Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band”
“Our Time Machine”
“The Painter and the Thief”
“Planet of the Humans”
“Rebuilding Paradise”
“Red Penguins”
“Rewind”
“Ringside”
“Rising Phoenix”
“Slay the Dragon”
“The Social Dilemma”
“Songs of Repression”
“Spaceship Earth”
“A Thousand Cuts”
“Welcome to Chechnya”
“Wild Daze”

Read original story Oscars Documentary Race Looks Robust Despite the Pandemic At TheWrap