The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced today the list of 15 films in the Documentary Feature category that will move forward to the next voting phase for the 80th Academy Awards. Seventy feature documentaries had originally qualified in that category. Those were watched by the Academy's Documentary Branch screening committee for the preliminary round of voting.
This year's potential Oscar nominees offer a wide range of subjects, from the portrayal of a disabled U.S. veteran fighting for an end to the Iraq War in Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro's Body of War to the high cost of (inadequate) health care in the United States in Michael Moore's Sicko.
Among the documentaries whose themes give seizures to right-wing ideologues everywhere are the study of the use of torture by American forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo in Taxi to the Dark Side by Alex Gibney (left); Daniel G. Karslake's For the Bible Tells Me So (top photo), about the misuse of the Bible to condemn homosexuality; and Steven Okazaki's White Light/Black Rain, about the aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.
Also, Charles Ferguson's No End in Sight shows how the George W. Bush administration created – and has helped to perpetuate – the bloody Iraqi chaos; Bill Haney's The Price of Sugar, narrated by Paul Newman, follows Father Christopher Hartley, whose fight for the rights of abused Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic has brought on the wrath of locals who believe that foreign workers exist so they can be ruthlessly exploited; and Peter Raymont's A Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman takes Ariel Dorfman, Chile's Cultural Adviser to Salvador Allende, on a trip to the country from where he had to flee decades earlier following Augusto Pinochet's U.S.-backed military coup. (Dorfman's comments about tapped telephone wires remain quite relevant, and not only in Chile.)
And finally, Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman's Nanking tells the story of a small group of foreigners who saved thousands of Chinese during the “Rape of Nanking” (right) in the late 1930s, when members of the Japanese Imperial Army – doing their bit for their country – ransacked the city, murdering and raping tens of thousands of people. (Japanese right-wingers to this day insist that the massacre never took place.) Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen, and Nicole Newnham's The Rape of Europa, for its part, shows how the Nazis pillaged Europe's cultural heritage. (Surely there are German right-wingers who deny that ever happened.) The documentary is narrated by Joan Allen.
Still on a political plane, but with different approaches, are Sean Fine and Andrea Nix's War/Dance, about how three children from a Uganda refugee camp struggle to compete in that country's national music and dance festival; Richard Robbins' Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience, an attempt to convey the feelings of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan through their letters; and Tony Kaye's Lake of Fire, which reportedly provides a balanced take on both sides of the abortion issue.
Tricia Regan's Autism: The Musical, about a group of autistic kids putting on a show, and Weijun Chen's Please Vote for Me, about third graders competing for the role of class reporter (as in one who reports on others who misbehave) at their school in China's Wahun province, seem to be the only feel-good documentaries in competition.
The 15 films are listed below in alphabetical order:
Autism: The Musical
Body of War
For the Bible Tells Me So
Lake of Fire
No End in Sight
Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience
Please Vote for Me
The Price of Sugar
A Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman
The Rape of Europa
Taxi to the Dark Side
White Light/Black Rain
Five of the above films will receive Oscar nominations.
The 80th Academy Award nominations will be announced on Tuesday, January 22, 2008, at 5:30 a.m. Pacific Time, in the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.