Oscars 2015: Best Documentary Longlist

124 films have been longlisted for Best Documentary. Normally I wait until they announce the shortlist in December, but what the hell. We’re on a roll today.

I’m gonna give synopses and brief (I mean it this time) reactions to them. 111 of these movies won’t even make the shortlist. No need to get too deep into it. They only shortlist 15 films. I’m doing it to see if maybe I can get a better understanding of how things get through all the way to the category. Let’s see if it helps.

Anyway, here are all 124 films that can be nominated for Best Director:

Reminder, only 12% of these will be shortlisted, and only a third of those will be nominated. So in a way, we’re looking at a 4% chance for any of these to actually make the nominations list. Temper expectations.

  • Above and Beyond — In 1948, a group of World War II pilots volunteered to fight for Israel in the War of Independence. As members of ‘Machal’ — volunteers from abroad — this ragtag band of brothers not only turned the tide of the war, preventing the possible annihilation of Israel at the very moment of its birth; they also laid the groundwork for the Israeli Air Force.

Paul Reubens is in this. I find that amusing.

Gonna call this a no.

  • All Things Must Pass –A documentary that explores the rise and fall of Tower Records, and its legacy forged by its rebellious founder, Russ Solomon.

Colin Hanks directed this. Maybe a shortlist, but I doubt it.

  • Amy — Amy Winehouse

It’s an Amy Winehouse doc by the guy who did Senna (which was not nominated). Seems like a sure thing. Then again, this is a branch that didn’t bother to nominate the Roger Ebert documentary last year. So who the hell knows with them?

I’ll say a good chance a shortlist here.

  • The Armor of Light — Follows the journey of an Evangelical minister trying to find the courage to preach about the growing toll of gun violence in America. The film tracks Reverend Rob Schenck, anti-abortion activist and fixture on the political far right, who breaks with orthodoxy by questioning whether being pro-gun is consistent with being pro-life. The film is also a courageous look at our fractured political culture, and an assertion that it is, indeed, possible for people to come together across deep party lines to find common ground.

She’s produced a lot of Oscar docs. That might be enough to get her shortlisted. I’ll say maybe, but also probably not.

  • Ballet 422 — From first rehearsal to world premiere, Ballet 422 takes us backstage at New York City Ballet as emerging choreographer Justin Peck crafts a new work.

The director DP on Trainwreck and Martha Marcy May Marlene. If that means anything.

Sounds interesting. Also doubtful for a shortlist.

  • Batkid Begins — On one day, in one city, the world comes together to grant one 5 year old cancer patient his wish. Batkid Begins looks at the ‘why’ of this flash phenomenon.

Not a chance. They’ll never let this onto the shortlist. And if they do, they’ll never let it onto the nominations list.

  • Becoming Bulletproof — A diverse group of disabled people from across the US take on leading roles in a magical rip roaring costume drama Western, filmed on vintage Hollywood locations. This riveting film within a film immerses us in a dynamic, inclusive world of discipline and play, raising questions about why we so rarely see real disabled actors on the big screen?

Usually the phrase “rip roaring” means something totally different in my world.

Also never gonna happen.

  • Being Evel — The real story behind the myth of American icon Robert ‘Evel’ Knievel and his legacy.

Guy who did Saving Face and won an Oscar. This has a good chance at a shortlist and almost no chance at an actual nomination.

  • Beltracchi: The Art of Forgery — A mesmerizing, thought-provoking yet surprisingly amusing documentary on the life and times of Wolfgang Beltracchi, who tricked the international art world for nearly 40 years by forging and selling paintings of early 20th-century masters. A larger-than-life personality who was responsible for the biggest art forgery scandal of the postwar era.

Doubtful for a shortlist, but one of these types of docs usually makes it on. The shortlist, not the category.

  • Best of Enemies — A documentary on the series of televised debates in 1968 between the liberal Gore Vidal and the conservative William F. Buckley Jr.

Co-directed by the 20 Feet of Stardom guy. But also, doubtful. If this makes a shortlist you know it won’t make it on.

  • The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution — This documentary tells the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party, one of the 20th century’s most alluring and controversial organizations that captivated the world’s attention for nearly 50 years.

Hate to say it, but the Oscars don’t like black folk.

  • Bolshoi Babylon — A behind-the-scenes look at Moscow’s prestigious Bolshoi Theatre as it’s rocked by an acid-attack scandal in 2013.


  • Brand: A Second Coming — Follows comedian/author/activist Russell Brand as he dives headlong into drugs, sex & fame in an attempt to find happiness, only to realize that our culture feeds us bad ideas & empty idols. Through his stand up, Brand explores his own true icons – Gandhi, Che Guevara, Malcolm X & Jesus Christ- & evolves from addict & Hollywood star to an unexpected political disruptor & newfound hero to the underserved. Will Brand hold fast against the roar of criticism to break out of the very system that built him?

Director’s made some stuff I’ve heard of, but this doesn’t sound like it has much of a chance at all.

  • A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story — A documentary following the life of Lizzie Velasquez, her triumphant journey to the other side of bullying, and her mission to inspire and empower a more positive online environment.


  • Call Me Lucky — Barry Crimmins is pissed. His hellfire brand of comedy has rained verbal lightning bolts on American audiences and politicians for decades, yet you’ve probably never heard of him. But once you’ve experienced Bobcat Goldthwait’s brilliant character portrait of him and heard Crimmins’s secret, you will never forget him. From his unmistakable bullish frame came a scathingly ribald stand-up style that took early audiences by force. Through stark, smart observation and judo-like turns of phrase, Crimmins’s rapid-fire comedy was a war on ignorance and complacency in ’80s America at the height of an ill-considered foreign policy. Crimmins discusses another side of his character, revealing in detail a dark and painful past that inspired his life-changing campaign of activism in the hope of saving others from a similar experience.


  • Cartel Land — A look at the journeys of two modern-day vigilante groups and their shared enemy – the murderous Mexican drug cartels. In the Mexican state of Michoacán, Dr. Jose Mireles, a small-town physician known as “El Doctor,” leads the Autodefensas, a citizen uprising against the violent Knights Templar drug cartel that has wreaked havoc on the region for years. Meanwhile, in Arizona’s Altar Valley – a narrow, 52-mile-long desert corridor known as Cocaine Alley – Tim “Nailer” Foley, an American veteran, heads a small paramilitary group called Arizona Border Recon, whose goal is to stop Mexico’s drug wars from seeping across our border. Filmmaker Matthew Heineman embeds himself in the heart of darkness as Nailer, El Doctor, and the cartel each vie to bring their own brand of justice to a society where institutions have failed. Cartel Land is a chilling, visceral meditation on the breakdown of order and the blurry line between good and evil.

I saw this. This will be shortlisted. I can’t see it not being at least in the final 15.

  • Censored Voices — The 1967 ‘Six-Day’ war ended with Israel’s decisive victory; conquering Jerusalem, Gaza, Sinai and the West Bank. It is a war portrayed, to this day, as a righteous undertaking – a radiant emblem of Jewish pride. One week after the war, a group of young kibbutzniks, led by renowned author Amos Oz, recorded intimate conversations with soldiers returning from the battlefield. The recording revealed an honest look at the moment Israel turned from David to Goliath. The Israeli army censored the recordings, allowing the kibbutzniks to publish only a fragment of the conversations. ‘Censored Voices’ reveals the original recordings for the first time.


  • Champs — A documentary on boxing greats Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Bernard Hopkins examines their lives in and out of the ring.


  • CodeGirl — Join high school-aged girls from around the world as they try to better their community through technology and collaboration in this thrilling, heartfelt documentary. By 2017, the app market will be valued at $77 Billion. Over 80% of these developers are male. The Technovation Challenge aims to change that by empowering girls worldwide to develop apps for an international competition. From rural Moldova to urban Brazil to suburban Massachusetts, CODEGIRL follows teams who dream of holding their own in the world’s fastest-growing industry. The winning team gets $10K to complete and release their app, but every girl discovers something valuable along the way.

Director helped produce An Inconvenient Truth, It Might Get Loud and Waiting for Superman. Still, doubtful.

  • Coming Home — A wrongly convicted father comes home after 13 years in prison to discover his real battle is building a relationship with his daughter.

This sounds like a fiction film. Doubt they shortlist it.

  • Dark Horse — An inspirational true story of a group of friends from a working men’s club who decide to take on the elite ‘sport of kings’ and breed themselves a racehorse.

Not a chance in hell.

  • Deli Man — A look at the history of delicatessens in the United States.

Possibly. Mostly I’m interested because I love delis.

  • Dior and I — Dior and I brings the viewer inside the storied world of the Christian Dior fashion house with a privileged, behind-the-scenes look at the creation of Raf Simons’ first haute couture collection as its new artistic director-a true labor of love created by a dedicated group of collaborators. Melding the everyday, pressure-filled components of fashion with mysterious echoes from the iconic brand’s past, the film is also a colorful homage to the seamstresses who serve Simons’ vision.

Hmm… could happen.

  • The Diplomat — Tells the remarkable story of the life and legacy of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, whose singular career spanned fifty years of American foreign policy – from Vietnam to Afghanistan.


  • (Dis)Honesty: The Truth about Lies — From ticket-fixing in our police departments to test-score scandals in our schools, from our elected leaders’ extra-marital affairs to financial schemes undermining our economy, dishonesty seems to be a ubiquitous part of the news. But it’s not just true in the headlines – we ALL cheat.

Interesting. The director also produced Inocente, which won Documentary Short in 2012. Sounds like they won’t shortlist it though.

  • Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll — Examines and unravels Cambodia’s tragic past, culminating in the genocidal Khmer Rouge’s dismantling of the society and murder of 2,000,000 of its citizens. Combining interviews of the surviving Cambodian musicians themselves (a total of 150 hours of interviews were filmed) with never-before-seen archival material and rare songs, this documentary tracks the twists and turns of Cambodian music as it morphs into rock and roll, blossoms, and is nearly destroyed along with the rest of the country.

Long shot. This feels like it could sneak onto a shortlist

  • Dreamcatcher — For twenty-five years Brenda Myers-Powell called herself ‘Breezy’ and she dominated her world, or that’s what she thought. It was a world that had turned her into a teenage, drug-addicted prostitute. After a violent encounter with a ‘john,’ Brenda woke up in the hospital and decided to change her life. Today she is a beacon of hope and a pillar of strength for hundreds of women and girls as young as fourteen who want to change their own lives. ‘Dreamcatcher’ explores the cycle of neglect, violence and exploitation which each year leaves thousands upon thousands of girls and women feeling that prostitution is their only option to survive. By following the very charming, charismatic and truly empathic Brenda, we enter the lives of young women and see in verite footage their realities from their points of view. While the world may overlook these women and men, thankfully Brenda has not, providing an unflinching expose which contrasts seeming hopelessness against the difference that one person can make in the lives of many.


  • dream/killer — Bill Ferguson, an army man born and raised in Missouri, has never been one to back away from a challenge: traveling across the world pretending to be a welder, teaching at an aboriginal school in Australia, and spending an inordinate amount of time with his two kids, Kelly and Ryan. But after Ryan, at 19 years old, is charged and convicted for a murder based on somebody else’s dream, Bill takes on a challenger that he never could have anticipated: the American judicial system.


  • Drunk, Stoned, Brilliant, Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon — A look at the history of the American comedy publication and production company, National Lampoon, from its beginning in the 1970s to 2010, featuring rare and never-before-seen footage.

No. Actually, maybe shortlist.

  • Eating Happiness — A call-to-action documentary to stop human dog meat consumption and the brutal, inhumane treatment of the trafficked dogs prior to killing. Animal rights activist Genlin takes you on his personal journey through the back streets and rural villages of Vietnam, South Korea, Thailand and China to disclose the brutal violence of the dog meat trade – an atrocity to man’s best friend. As difficult as the subject matter is to watch, the purpose is to inform and educate the world that this activity does exist and to force legislative change from the respective governments.

Yeah no.

  • Every Last Child — Families and healthcare workers find themselves in the cross-hairs of politics and violence as they attempt to protect their children from polio in Pakistan. At this critical time, when we are closer than ever before to global eradication, increased international support and commitment can see the end of polio once and for all. Will these everyday heroes succeed and end polio in our lifetime, or will another young generation be at risk?

I could see this being shortlisted, but I’m gonna say no.

  • Evidence of Harm — Follows the lives of three health advocates as they struggle to inform the federal government and public that large amounts of toxic mercury vapors are released from “silver” amalgam dental fillings during routine dental procedures. The film presents a haunting portrait of a dental industry all too willing to turn a blind eye to science while placing profits and politics ahead of dental patient’s health.

Dentists? Really?

  • Farewell to Hollywood — A nonfiction fairytale about love, death, art and the letting go.

It’s vague, but this article might be helpful. Might be too divisive to make a shortlist.

  • Finders Keepers — Shannon Whisnant purchased a grill at an auction. Inside the grill was an amputated leg. What follows is a story centered on the enterprising Whisnant and John Wood, the man whose leg wound up in the grill due to an odd chain of events.

This sounds like a lot of fun. No chance in hell it gets even shortlisted. Like that doc from last year, The Final Member, about the penis museum. It would amuse me to see it make the final 15, but I doubt it.

  • The Forecaster — Martin Armstrong, once a US based trillion dollar financial adviser, used the number pi to predict economic turning points with precision. When some big New York bankers asked him to join the club to help them to take over Russia, he refused to join the manipulation. A few days later the FBI stormed his offices accusing him of a 3 billion dollar Ponzi Scheme – an attempt to stop him talking about the real Ponzi Scheme of debts that the US has build up over the years and which he thinks starts to collapse after October 1, 2015, a major pi turning point he is predicting.

This only gets shortlisted if he’s right and this becomes a major issue.

  • Frame by Frame — When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, taking a photo was a crime. After the regime fell from power in 2001, a fledgling free press emerged and a photography revolution was born. Now, as foreign troops and media withdraw, Afghanistan is left to stand on its own, and so are its journalists. Set in a modern Afghanistan bursting with color and character, Frame by Frame follows four Afghan photojournalists as they navigate an emerging and dangerous media landscape reframing Afghanistan for the world, and for themselves. Through cinema vérité, intimate interviews, powerful photojournalism, and never-before-seen archival footage shot in secret during the Taliban regime, the film connects audiences with four humans in the pursuit of the truth.


  • Gardeners of Eden — Africa’s elephants are hurtling towards extinction to fuel the worldwide ivory trade. While conservationists howl and corrupt governments fail to address the ongoing slaughter, one brave family has been working for decades to stem the tide, one elephant at a time. Gardeners of Eden is a gripping, first-person experience inside the operations of Kenya’s David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. From the front lines of the crisis, we witness their heroic efforts to stop the poachers in the bush, rescue the orphans of slain elephants and raise them by hand, until one day, returning them to their home in the wild.

The Virunga doc got nominated. Though that had Netflix and Leo behind it. I’m gonna say no on this until I see this make the shortlist.

  • A Gay Girl in Damascus: The Amina Profile — When well-known Syrian blogger Amina Arraf – purportedly kidnapped by local authorities during the Arab Spring – was revealed to be an elaborate hoax persona, an entire international community realized it had been catfished.


  • Godspeed: The Story of Page Jones — A feature-length documentary about a racecar driver’s remarkable and continuing recovery from a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). Twenty years chronicles Page Jones’ redefining victory while advocating for access to long-term rehabilitation for others with similar injuries. Page is living proof that with support, quality lives are within reach.


  • Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief — An in-depth look at the inner-workings of the Church of Scientology.

Director of… (ready?)… Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (nominated), Taxi to the Dark Side (won), Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, Casino Jack and the United States of Money, Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, Catching Hell (about Steve Bartman), We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, The Armstrong Lie, and a documentary that will appear later on this list. Oh, and the Sinatra HBO documentary that came out earlier this year.

Yeah. You’d think he’d get shortlisted on that alone. Not sure if this gets nominated because it’s not wholly revelatory. This seems like a solid bet for a shortlist.

  • He Named Me Malala — A look at the events leading up to the Taliban’s attack on Pakistani schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai, for speaking out on girls’ education followed by the aftermath, including her speech to the United Nations.

This should win the category, shouldn’t it? Maybe not. Reviews aren’t stellar. Also directed by the guy who did An Inconvenient Truth and Waiting for Superman.

  • Heart of a Dog — Renowned mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary artist Laurie Anderson reflects on the deaths of her husband Lou Reed, her mother, her beloved dog, and such diverse subjects as family memories, surveillance, and Buddhist teachings.

No. There’s… just no way.

  • Hitchcock/Truffaut — Filmmakers discuss how Francois Truffaut’s 1966 book “Cinema According to Hitchcock” influenced their work.

Would be fascinating, but I’m gonna say no.

  • How to Change the World — In 1971, a group of friends sail into a nuclear test zone, and their protest captures the world’s imagination. Using never before seen archive that brings their extraordinary world to life, How To Change The World is the story of the pioneers who founded Greenpeace and defined the modern green movement.

You know… maybe.

  • Human — An introspection into whom we are today as a community but also and most importantly as an individual. Through wars, inequalities, discriminations, Human confronts us with the realities and the diversity of our human conditions. Beyond this darker side, testimonies show the empathy and the solidarities which we are capable of. All these contradictions are ours and Human leads us to reflect about the future we wish to give to people and the planet today.

This sounds like a massive undertaking, and for that I’m gonna say really high chance at an actual nomination.

  • The Hunting Ground — An exposé of rape crimes on U.S. college campuses, their institutional cover-ups, and the devastating toll they take on students and their families.

Director of This Film Is Not Yet Rated and The Invisible War.

Decent chance at a shortlist.

  • I Am Chris Farley — Take a guess what this is about.


  • In Jackson Heights — Jackson Heights, Queens is one of the most culturally diverse communities in the US where 167 languages are spoken. In Jackson Heights explores the conflict between maintaining ties to old traditions and adapting to American values.


  • In My Father’s House — Explores identity and legacy in the African-American family, as Grammy award-winning rapper Che ‘Rhymefest’ Smith and his long-lost father reconnect and try to build a new future in Chicago’s turbulent South Side. Himself a child of a broken home, Che hasn’t seen his father, Brian, in over 20 years, and presumes him dead. But after buying his father’s childhood home, Che sets out to find him, and learns that his is now a homeless alcoholic living only several blocks away/ The film offers a probing take on memory and identity in a family two generations removed from slavery as it tracks Che and Brian’s shared journey to create a new legacy for themselves, their community and the next generation of family.


  • India’s Daughter — The story of the short life, and brutal gang rape and murder in Delhi in December 2012 of an exceptional and inspiring young woman. The rape of the 23 year old medical student by 6 men on a moving bus, and her death, sparked unprecedented protests and riots throughout India and led to the first glimmers of a change of mindset. Interwoven into the story line are the lives, values and mindsets of the rapists whom the film makers have had exclusive and unprecedented access to interview before they hang. The film examines the society and values which spawn such violent acts, and makes an optimistic and impassioned plea for change.

It could. I’m still gonna say no.

  • Ingrid Bergman In Her Own Words — A captivating look behind the scenes of the remarkable life of a young Swedish girl who became one of the most celebrated actresses of American and World cinema.


  • Iraqi Odyssey — Tracing the emigrations of his family over more than half a century, this riveting 3D documentary epic from acclaimed expatriate Iraqi filmmaker Samir pays moving homage to the frustrated democratic dreams of a people successively plagued by the horrors of dictatorship, war, and foreign occupation.

No. America doesn’t care about this anymore.

  • Iris — A documentary about fashion icon Iris Apfel from legendary documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles.

It’s Maysles. Maybe they shortlist him because he died this year. But he’s only been nominated once. And this is a guy who did Salesman, Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens. So don’t automatically assume nomination. But maybe they shortlist him.

  • Janis: Little Girl Blue — Self-explanatory.

Director was nominated for Deliver Us from Evil. Also did West of Memphis. THough she had a bunch of controversy over An Open Secret, which conveniently is not on this list, about the sexual abuse of teenagers in the film industry. There was a whole big deal about SAG — didn’t seem like something they’d want on here. Not sure if that colors this one’s chances, whatever chances those were. Since these types of music documentaries rarely get very far. Maybe shortlisted, but almost never in the actual category.

  • Karski & the Lords of Humanity — The film tells the story of a member of the Polish underground who acted as a courier during World War II and whose mission was to inform the Allied powers of Nazi crimes against the Jews of Europe in an effort to prevent the Holocaust. Jan Karski infiltrated the Warsaw Ghetto and a Nazi Transit Camp and carried his dreadful eye-witness report of the atrocities to Britain and the United States, hoping that it would shake the conscience of the powerful leaders or – as he would later call them – the Lords of Humanity.


  • Killing Them Safely — In the early 2000s, two brothers found tremendous success when their company began selling a device that has been called ‘the biggest revolution in law enforcement since the radio.’ But as their company grew, they made decisions that would have lasting impact on both the public and their increasingly skeptical customer base.

Hint, it’s tasers. These kinds of deaths are big now. I’d think they’d shortlist this on the timeliness alone.

  • Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck — An authorized documentary on the late musician Kurt Cobain, from his early days in Aberdeen, Washington to his success and downfall with the grunge band Nirvana.

The director’s been nominated before, for On the Ropes. And he also did The Kid Stays in the Picture. This feels like one of those that gets shortlisted but not nominated.

  • Lambert & Stamp — A documentary that reveals how the unlikely partnership between aspiring filmmakers Christopher Stamp and Kit Lambert produced one of the greatest rock bands in history: The Who.

Cool. Never gonna happen, though.

  • A Lego Brickumentary — A look at the global culture and appeal of the LEGO building-block toys.

One of the directors did Open Heart, a documentary short. The other one is the Saving Face guy again. Still not gonna happen.

  • Listen to Me Marlon — A documentary that utilizes hundreds of hours of audio that Marlon Brando recorded over the course of his life to tell the screen legend’s story.

Never gonna happen. But this interests me more than the rest of the stuff.

  • Live from New York! — “Saturday Night Live” has been reflecting and influencing life in the United States for 40 years. Live From New York! goes deep inside this cultural phenomenon exploring the laughter that pulses through American politics, tragedy and popular culture.

Great idea, probably a great documentary. Maybe it’ll get shortlisted but it’ll never get nominated. They go for “important” stuff. Not stuff that the public would like.

  • The Look of Silence — A family that survives the genocide in Indonesia confronts the men who killed one of their brothers.

The sequel to The Act of Killing. Are they over it? I guess we say maybe for a shortlist.

  • Meet the Patels — An Indian-American man who is about to turn 30 gets help from his parents and extended family to start looking for a wife in the traditional Indian way.

I heard this is really good. Feels more like a feature than a documentary. Doesn’t seem like they’d ever nominate it. Maybe they’ll shortlist.

  • Meru — Three elite climbers struggle to find their way through obsession and loss as they attempt to climb Mount Meru, one of the most coveted prizes in the high stakes game of Himalayan big wall climbing.

Doubtful. Unless this is overly gorgeous. Even then, still doubtful.

  • The Mind of Mark DeFriest — When a legendary escape artist comes up for parole after 30 years behind bars, a chance for freedom must be weighed against his infamous past.


  • Misery Loves Comedy — Over fifty very famous American and Canadian funny people (filmmakers, writers, actors and comedians) share life and professional journeys and insights, in an effort to shed light on the thesis: Do you have to be miserable to be funny?

Never gonna happen. Sounds like fun though.

  • Monkey Kingdom — Disney animal doc.

Never gonna happen.

  • A Murder in the Park — Documentary filmmakers assert that Anthony Porter – a former death-row inmate who was spared the death penalty thanks to the efforts of a college journalism program – was actually guilty, and an innocent man was sent to prison.

Too much of an agenda. Not happening.

  • My Italian Secret — Introduces four characters whose personal stories reflect the larger, untold saga of Italians who saved Jews and other refugees fleeing the Nazis in World War II. It also tells the story of Gino Bartali, the charismatic Italian sports idol and Tour de France cycling champion, whose role in this history was never revealed in his lifetime. The films four living characters were children in Italy under Fascism; each survived World War II thanks to Italians, like Bartali, willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to help strangers escape Nazi persecution.


  • My Voice, My Life — A Hong Kong documentary directed by Oscar winner Ruby Yang, chronicles the trials and tribulations of a group of under-privileged middle school students as they undergo six months of vigorous training to produce a musical on stage.

She won Documentary Short. For Chinese kids with AIDS. I don’t think they shortlist this. They go for this sort of stuff in Short, not here.

  • 1971 — The story of a notorious 1971 activist burglary of an FBI office that lead to the Bureau’s numerous abuses against dissidents being exposed.

Cool. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t.

  • Of Men and War — Anger consumes a squad of combat vets years after they return from the front. The dozen warriors in Of Men and War come home to the United States, but their minds are stuck out on the battlefield. Like figures from a Greek tragedy, all have traumatic memories that haunt them to this day. Ghosts and echoes of the war fill their lives. Wives, children, and parents bear the brunt of their fractured spirits. At The Pathway Home, a pioneering PTSD therapy center, the protagonists resolve to end the ongoing destruction. Their therapist is a Vietnam vet himself, helping the boys forge meaning from their senseless trauma. Over years of therapy, Of Men and War explores their grueling paths to recovery, as they attempt to make peace with themselves, their past, and their families.

PTSD seems to be past in this category. Maybe shortlisted though.

  • One Cut, One Life — When seminal documentarian Ed Pincus, considered the father of first person non-fiction film, is diagnosed with a terminal illness, he and collaborator Lucia Small team up to make one last film, much to the chagrin of Jane, Ed’s wife of 50 years. Told from two filmmakers’ points of view, One Cut, One Life challenges the form of first person documentary. Ed and Lucia’s unique approach to filming offers a vulnerability and intimacy rarely seen in non-fiction, questioning whether some things might be too private to be made public. The film is an intense, raw, and sometimes humorous exploration of the human condition which invites the viewer to contemplate for themselves what is important, not only at the end of life, but also during.

I don’t think so.

  • Only the Dead See the End of War — A story of what happens when one ordinary man, Time magazine war correspondent Michael Ware, transplanted into the Middle East by the reverberations of 9/11, butts into history. Ware is handpicked and given a shattering video tape by the most feared, most hated terrorists on the planet to announce his arrival of the world stage sets out on an epic journey into the deepest recesses of the conflict as he seeks answers. Answers that he thinks will lead him to the Truth.

Co-director won two Doc Short Oscars. About the only war correspondent to survive a beheading attempt. He also caught the first suicide bomber in Bagdad on tape. And then — read this. This will be shortlisted.

  • The Outrageous Sophie Tucker — A documentary focusing on the tumultuous early days of this iconic vaudeville superstar who ruled the 1920’s Flapper Era in the U.S. Before Mae West, Marilyn Monroe, Bette Midler, Madonna and Lady Gaga, Tucker was the first woman to infatuate her audiences with a bold, bawdy and brassy style unlike any other previous performer. Using all of “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas” 400+ recently rediscovered personal scrapbooks, authors Susan and Lloyd Ecker take you on their seven year journey retracing Tucker’s 60 year show business career.

Director was nominated once in category and did sound on Coming to America. Still never gonna happen.

  • Peace Officer — Peace Officer is a documentary about the increasingly militarized state of American police as told through the story of ‘Dub’ Lawrence, a former sheriff who established and trained his rural state’s first SWAT team only to see that same unit kill his son-in-law in a controversial standoff 30 years later. Driven by an obsessed sense of mission, Dub uses his own investigation skills to uncover the truth in this and other recent officer-involved shootings in his community, while tackling larger questions about the changing face of peace officers nationwide.

An issue they’ll want to go for, but this seems like the wrong way in which to tackle it.

  • The Pearl Button — The ocean contains the history of all humanity. The sea holds all the voices of the earth and those that come from outer space. Water receives impetus from the stars and transmits it to living creatures. Water, the longest border in Chile, also holds the secret of two mysterious buttons which were found on its ocean floor. Chile, with its 2,670 miles of coastline and the largest archipelago in the world, presents a supernatural landscape. In it are volcanoes, mountains and glaciers. In it are the voices of the Patagonian Indigenous people, the first English sailors and also those of its political prisoners. Some say that water has memory. This film shows that it also has a voice.

Yeah, no.

  • Pink & Blue: Colors of Hereditary Cancer — Takes a profound look into the BRCA world examining what it is and how this mutation puts both women and men at a higher risk of developing numerous cancers.


  • Poached — Obsessive egg thieves threaten the rarest birds by robbing their nests each Spring while a UK national police operation tries to stop them. Money is not a factor for these bandits. They are motivated by both their passion for the beauty of the egg as well as the thrill of the chase. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds teams with the National Wildlife Crime Unit for Operation Easter, to hunt and jail these robbers. Thousands of eggs confiscated in police raids have been found strapped under beds, beneath floorboards, and in secret rooms. With unprecedented access to the most notorious and most unsuspecting perpetrators, Poached delves into the psychology of these wildlife criminals as they confront their obsession. Ultimately showing when passion turns to obsession, it can destroy the very object of ones desire.


  • Polyfaces — Set amidst the stunning Shenandoah Valley in northern Virginia, ‘Polyface Farm’ is led by the “the world’s most innovative farmer” (TIME) and uses no chemicals and feeds over 6,000 families and many restaurants and food outlets within a 3 hour ‘foodshed’ of their farm.


  • The Prime Ministers: Soldiers and Peacemakers — Takes the audience inside the offices of Israel’s Prime Ministers through the eyes of an insider, Yehuda Avner, who served as a chief aide, English language note-taker and speechwriter to Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin, and Shimon Peres. The first of two parts, The Prime Ministers: The Pioneers focuses on Ambassador Avner’s years working with Prime Ministers Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir and then US Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin and reveals new details about the Six-Day War, the development of Israel’s close strategic relationship with the United States, the fight against terrorism, the Yom Kippur War and its aftermath.

Guy won this category before. Also the second part in a series. Seems weird this would be shortlisted and the other one wasn’t.

  • Prophet’s Prey — When Warren Jeffs rose to Prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, he took control of a religion with a history of polygamous and underage marriage. In a short time, Warren managed to expand these practices and the power of his position in unprecedented ways. He bridged the gap between sister wives and ecclesiastically rape, befuddling the moral compass of his entire congregation. The film examines Warren Jeffs’ life and shows how he became a worshipped and adored Prophet. Warren has a devout following numbering in the tens of thousands – many of whom would give their life at any moment with just one word from the Prophet. Despite a trail of abuse and ruined lives, Warren has maintained his grip on power.

Amy Berg again. Also has Janis here, did Deliver Us from Evil and did the Open Secret doc that was all controversial. Maybe because it’s her?

  • Racing Extinction — A documentary that follows undercover activists trying to stave off a man-made mass extinction.

Director of The Cove. Basically about how terrible humans treat the environment. Seems like no one’s gonna care. Too broad. You understand dolphins. When it’s everything, it doesn’t hit home to them as much. They want their hearts to bleed, damnit.

  • The Resurrection of Jake the Snake — A fallen professional wrestling superstar battles his past demons in a struggle to reclaim his life and the family that has given up on him.

Never gonna happen. Hear it’s great, but it’s never gonna happen.

  • Ride the Thunder: A Vietnam War Story of Victory & Betrayal — A look at Vietnam from the perspectives of a U.S. Marine adviser, and a Vietnamese Marine who was left behind.

Too long a title. Watch it get shortlisted. At this point, are we still doing Vietnam stuff?

  • Rosenwald — A documentary about how Chicago philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, the son of an immigrant peddler who rose to head Sears, partnered with Booker T. Washington to build 5,400 Southern schools in African American communities in the early 1900s during the Jim Crow era. Rosenwald also built YMCAs and housing for African Americans to address the pressing needs of the Great Migration. The Rosenwald Fund supported great artists like Marian Anderson, Woody Guthrie, Langston Hughes, Gordon Parks, and Jacob Lawrence. Among those interviewed are civil rights leaders Julian Bond, Ben Jealous and Congressman John Lewis, columnists Eugene Robinson and Clarence Page, Cokie Roberts, Rabbi David Saperstein, Rosenwald school alumni writer Maya Angelou and director George C. Wolfe and Rosenwald relatives.


  • The Russian Woodpecker — As his country is gripped by revolution and war, a Ukrainian victim of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster discovers a dark secret and must decide whether to risk his life and play his part in the revolution by revealing it.

Maybe, but nah.

  • Searching for Home: Coming Back from War — An emotional and unflinching look at returning veterans and their search for the ‘home’ they left behind, physically, mentally and spiritually. From World War II, Korea and Vietnam to the modern day conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, ‘Searching for Home’ is a multi-generational chronicle of the men and women who have left home only to return to new and difficult challenges as profoundly changed people.

This is the vets doc they’d go for.

  • Seeds of Time — Follows agriculture pioneer Cary Fowler’s global journey to save the eroding foundation of our food supply in a new era of climate change.


  • Sembene! — Meet Ousmane Sembene, the African freedom fighter who used stories as his weapon.

They like to shortlist these types of things.

  • The Seven Five — Meet the dirtiest cop in NYC history. Michael Dowd stole money and dealt drugs while patrolling the streets of 80s Brooklyn.

Sounds awesome. They won’t shortlist it, but a man can dream.

  • Seymour: An Introduction — Meet Seymour Bernstein: a beloved pianist, teacher and true inspiration who shares eye-opening insights from an amazing life. Ethan Hawke helms this poignant guide to life.

Seems unlikely, but what the hell. Maybe.

  • Sherpa — A fight on Everest? It seemed incredible. But in 2013 news channels around the world reported an ugly brawl at 21,000ft as European climbers fled a mob of angry Sherpas. In 1953, New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay had reached the summit in a spirit of co-operation and brave optimism. Now climbers and Sherpas were trading insults – even blows. What had happened to the happy, smiling Sherpas and their dedication in getting foreigners to the top of the mountain they hold so sacred? Determined to explore what was going on, the filmmakers set out to make a film of the 2014 Everest climbing season, from the Sherpas’ point of view. Instead, they captured a tragedy that would change Everest forever. At 6.45am on 18th April, 2014, a 14 million ton block of ice crashed down onto the climbing route through the Khumbu Icefall, killing 16 Sherpas. It was the worst tragedy in the history of Everest. The disaster provoked a drastic reappraisal about the role of the Sherpas in the Everest industry.


  • A Sinner in Mecca — For a gay filmmaker, filming in Saudi Arabia presents two serious challenges: filming is forbidden in the country and homosexuality is punishable by death. For filmmaker Parvez Sharma, however, these were risks he had to assume as he embarked on his Hajj pilgrimage, a journey considered the greatest accomplishment and aspiration within Islam, his religion. On his journey Parvez aims to look beyond 21st-century Islam’s crises of religious extremism, commercialism and sectarian battles. He brings back the story of the religion like it has never been told before, having endured the biggest jihad there is: the struggle with the self.

Got some horrible reviews. Seems unlikely, despite sounding baity as shit.

  • Something Better to Come — 10-year-old Yula is growing up in Putin’s Russia in the Svalka, the largest junkyard in Europe, just 13 miles from the Kremlin. She has one dream-to escape the Svalka and have a normal life. For 14 years, we follow Yula as she grows up.

Doc Short material. Not feature.

  • Song from the Forest — 25 years ago, Louis Sarno, an American, heard a song on the radio and followed its melody into the Central Africa Jungle and stayed. He than recorded over 1000 hours of original BaAka music. Now he is part of the BaAka community and raises his pygmy son, Samedi. Fulfilling an old promise, Louis takes Samedi to America. On this journey Louis realizes he is not part of this globalized world anymore but globalization has also arrived in the rainforest. The BaAka depend on Louis for their survival. Father and son return to the melodies of the jungle but the question remains: How much longer will the songs of the forest be heard?

Maybe a shortlist because of location, but no.

  • Song of Lahore — Song of Lahore follows several Pakistani musicians, and asks if there is still room for them in a society roiled by conflict. Featuring the music of the Sachal Jazz Ensemble, and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis.


  • Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine — Self-explanatory.

Gibney. Going Clear, Enron, Taxi to Dark Side. Seems unlikely they’d go with Jobs twice.

  • Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans — The story of obsession, betrayal and ultimate vindication. It is the story of how one of the most volatile, charismatic stars of his generation, who seemingly lost so much he held dear in the pursuit of his dream, nevertheless followed it to the end.


  • Stray Dog — A contemplative portrait of Ron ‘Stray Dog’ Hall: biker, Vietnam Vet, and lover of small dogs.

Winter’s Bone director. Doesn’t sound like a nominee, but they randomly shortlist this stuff all the time.

  • Sunshine Superman — A heart-racing documentary portrait of Carl Boenish, the father of the BASE jumping movement, whose early passion for skydiving led him to ever more spectacular -and dangerous- feats of foot-launched human flight.


  • Sweet Micky for President — Music and politics collide when international music star, Pras Michel of the Fugees, returns to his homeland of Haiti following the devastating earthquake of 2010 to mobilize a presidential campaign for Haiti’s most controversial musician: Michel Martelly aka Sweet Micky. The politically inexperienced pair set out against a corrupted government, civil unrest, and a fixed election. When Pras’s former bandmate, superstar Wyclef Jean, also enters the presidential race, their chances seem further doomed. But with the help of a few friends, including Ben Stiller and former president Bill Clinton, they never give up on their honest dream of changing the course of Haiti’s future forever

Oh hell no.

  • Tab Hunter Confidential — The story of matinee idol Tab Hunter from teenage stable boy to closeted Hollywood star of the 1950s.


  • The Tainted Veil — Whether a veil of the soul, the mind or the body; the layers of the veil in history and the many meanings behind it will be revealed. ‘Women are either judged for wearing the hijab or not wearing it’ (the hijab refers to the head covering). In ‘The Tainted Veil,’ the challenges surrounding these ideas are exposed in a debate by diverse guests and extraordinary stories.


  • Tap World — About ten years ago, a group of us produced a 14 minute short film, Tap Heat. The film contrasted the traditional tap with the contemporary, as it’s being created and performed by a new generation of dancers. With Tap World, we wanted to show how this uniquely American art form has been given an exciting resurgence through the global embrace of dancers and audiences around the world. With Tap Heat’s popularity, we decided to reach out and invite dancers, choreographers and dance companies from across the globe to participate in a feature length global documentary. Along with the US, we received 114 submissions from 13 countries around the world. We asked not only to see the participants dancing, but also to learn their personal stories.


  • (T)error — (T)ERROR is the first documentary to place filmmakers on the ground during an active FBI counterterrorism sting operation. Through the perspective of “Shariff”, a 63-year-old Black revolutionary turned informant, viewers get an unfettered glimpse of the government’s counterterrorism tactics and the murky justifications behind them. Taut, stark and controversial, (T)ERROR illuminates the fragile relationships between individual and surveillance state in modern America, and asks who is watching the watchers.


  • Thao’s Library — Forty years after the Fall of Saigon, a young Vietnamese woman is among the Vietnam War’s uncounted casualties. Born near fields where American planes sprayed Agent Orange, Thao lives with severe physical deformities. Halfway around the world, a woman in New York is struggling to cope after the sudden death of her famed younger sister. In the midst of her crippling depression, a friend shows Elizabeth a black-and-white photograph from a recent trip abroad. The image haunts Elizabeth. It shows Thao sitting in a wheelchair outside a shed that houses pig feed, fertilizer — and books. Despite her disabilities, Thao had set up a makeshift library for children in her village. The photographer who captured the image had asked her, “If you could have anything in the world, what would it be?” Thao replied, “Three hundred dollars, so I could buy more books.” Through this simple request, Thao and Elizabeth are brought together, forging an unlikely sisterhood, transcending language and culture. Together the women reflect on the past. They confront the present. And they begin to heal.


  • Those Who Feel the Fire Burning — A story, told by the wandering ghost of a dead man, about the hopeless existence of refugees stuck at the edge of Europe.

Probably not.

  • 3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets — Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving November 2012, four boys in a red SUV pull into a gas station after spending time at the mall buying sneakers and talking to girls. With music blaring, one boy exits the car and enters the store, a quick stop for a soda and a pack of gum. A man and a woman pull up next to the boys in the station, making a stop for a bottle of wine. The woman enters the store and an argument breaks out when the driver of the second car asks the boys to turn the music down. 3 1/2 minutes and ten bullets later, one of the boys is dead. 3 1/2 Minutes dissects the aftermath of this fatal encounter.


  • The Touch of an Angel — The poetic documentary, shocking testimony and unbelievable reminiscences imprinted in Oswiecim-born, little boy Henryk Schoenker, who narrowly escaped from World War II.

Baity, but doubtful.

  • TransFatty Lives — Diagnosed with ALS and given 2 to 5 years to live, New York City DJ, internet personality, and filmmaker, TransFatty, brings his camera along for the ride in this unconventional examination of life, death, and everything in between.


  • The True Cost — The True Cost is a documentary film exploring the impact of fashion on people and the planet.


  • Twinsters — Adopted from South Korea, raised on different continents & connected through social media, Samantha & Anaïs believe that they are twin sisters separated at birth.


  • Very Semi-Serious: A Partially Thorough Portrait of New Yorker Cartoonists — Self-explanatory.


  • The Wanted 18 — A small Palestinian village bought 18 cows and stopped buying Israeli milk.

No. Actually maybe.

  • We Are Many — The story of the biggest demonstration in human history, which took place on 15th February 2003, against the impending war on Iraq.

A little too late on this one.

  • We Come as Friends — As war-ravaged South Sudan claims independence from North Sudan and its brutal President, Omar al-Bashir, a tiny, homemade prop plane wings in from France. It is piloted by eagle-eyed documentarian Hubert Sauper, who is mining for stories in a land trapped in the past but careening toward an apocalyptic future.

Seems likely.

  • We Were Not Just … Bicycle Thieves. Neorealism — Tells the story of the most important cinema trend that Italy has ever produced – Neo Realism. Born after the Second World War, this veritable cultural revolution rapidly became a boundless source of inspiration for movie-makers throughout the entire world. Even today it influences those wanting to produce quality movies characterized and identified as Italian products able to be exported as well. It is precisely one of the masters of this unique current rich in different personalities who introduces the story – Carlo Lizzani – whose ‘lesson’ reconstructs the birth and development of Neorealism in Italy. It combined innovative movie techniques with a new view based on a ‘true’ interpretation of reality. Due to its high cultural value, this short film was given the highest reknown of the Presidency of the Republic of Italy.


  • Welcome to Leith — Chronicling the attempted takeover of a small town in North Dakota by notorious white supremacist Craig Cobb. Filmed in the days leading up to Cobb’s arrest for terrorizing the townspeople on an armed patrol and his subsequent release from jail six months later, the film is an eerie document of American DIY ideals.


  • What Happened, Miss Simone? — A documentary about the life and legend Nina Simone, an American singer, pianist, and civil rights activist labeled the “High Priestess of Soul.”

Netflix is gonna be pushing this. Director nominated once before. Could be shortlisted.

  • What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy — Three men travel together across Europe. For two of them the journey involves a confrontation with the acts of their fathers, who were both senior Nazi officers. For the third, the eminent human rights lawyer and author Philippe Sands, it means visiting the place where much of his own Jewish family was destroyed by the fathers of the two men he has come to know. It is an emotional, psychological exploration of three men wrestling with their past, the present of Europe – and conflicting versions of the truth.

Hmm… maybe.

  • Where to Invade Next — To learn what the USA can gain from other nations, Michael Moore playfully “invades” them to see what they have to offer.

Michael Moore. Gotta think he’ll be at least shortlisted.

  • Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom — A documentary on the unrest in Ukraine during 2013 and 2014, as student demonstrations supporting European integration grew into a violent revolution calling for the resignation of President Viktor F. Yanukovich.

Netflix is pushing this too. Can’t discount that.

  • The Wolfpack — Locked away from society in an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the Angulo brothers learn about the outside world through the films that they watch. Nicknamed, ‘The Wolfpack,’ the brothers spend their childhood reenacting their favorite films using elaborate homemade props and costumes. Their world is shaken up when one of the brothers escapes and everything changes.

They’ll probably shortlist this.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

Now, just by going through, here are 30 movies I think have a good chance to be shortlisted:

  1. Amy
  2. The Armor of Light
  3. Being Evel
  4. Cartel Land
  5. Drunk, Stoned, Brilliant, Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon
  6. He Named Me Malala
  7. Frame by Frame
  8. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
  9. How to Change the World
  10. Human
  11. The Hunting Ground
  12. Iris
  13. Killing Them Safely
  14. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
  15. The Look of Silence
  16. 1971
  17. Of Men and War
  18. Only the Dead See the End of the War
  19. Prophet’s Prey
  20. Searching for Home: Coming Back from War
  21. Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine
  22. (T)error
  23. The True Cost
  24. The Wanted 18
  25. We Come as Friends
  26. What Happened, Miss Simone?
  27. What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy
  28. Where to Invade Next
  29. Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom
  30. The Wolfpack

There’s really no way of knowing which way they’ll go. At least one or two of the big named films won’t even be shortlisted. That’s always how it is.

The ones that make the most sense as a shortlist are:

  • Amy
  • Being Evel
  • Cartel Land
  • He Named Me Malala
  • Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
  • How to Change the World
  • Human
  • The Look of Silence
  • Only the Dead See the End of the War
  • Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine
  • We Come as Friends
  • What Happened, Miss Simone?
  • Where to Invade Next
  • Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom
  • The Wolfpack

I’m just guessing here. Entirely. No idea how this turns out. Probably completely wrong on some if not most of these. But hey, I got to talk Oscars in October, which is nice.

Looking at about 8 weeks until the actual shortlist comes out. Let’s see how far off I am. (Hint: It’s very.)


One response

  1. BlueFox94

    Is the Documentary branch still dead to you after last year’s snubbing of Life Itself or are they merely in a coma and you just couldn’t resist glancing at the heart monitor?

    October 27, 2015 at 2:19 am

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