AIDS, War, the Environment, the West Memphis Three: Oscar Documentary Semi-Finalists

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, West Memphis 3, Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's
The West Memphis Three: Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky's Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

AIDS, American football, horses, the environment, war, the American Injustice System, Harry Belafonte. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced the 15 semi-finalists for the 2012 Best Documentary Feature Academy Award. Included on the list are James Marsh's Project Nim, a nominee for the British Independent Film Awards; Wim Wenders' Pina, Germany's submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar; and Cindy Meehl's Buck, about the man who inspired the book The Horse Whisperer and the ensuing Robert Redford movie.

Now, before anyone freaks out because of the inclusion of Undefeated: rest assured that this is Dan Lindsay and T. J. Martin's documentary about underprivileged football players – Lindsay and Martin's effort has nothing to do with the Sarah Palin movie The Undefeated, a shoo-in Razzie nominee.

Lorenz Knauer's Jane's Journey, and Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman's If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front deal with environmental (and political) issues; David Weissman and Bill Weber's We Were Here discusses the early years of the AIDS pandemic in San Francisco; and Susanne Rostock's Sing Your Song tells the story of actor-singer-activist Harry Belafonte. Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory tells the story of three teenagers wrongfully convicted of murdering three boys in Arkansas. Martyn Burke's Under Fire: Journalists in Combat and Danfung Dennis' Hell and Back Again deal with the effect of the various ongoing wars on North Americans who have been there.

Bypassed by the Documentary Branch Screening Committee were Werner Herzog's death-row documentary Into the Abyss; Asif Kapadia's widely acclaimed Senna, about Brazilian racecar drive Ayrton Senna; Clio Barnard's The Arbor, an experimental work that is up for five British Independent Film Awards; and Steve James' The Interrupters, which focuses on those trying to prevent violence in several Chicago communities. James hasn't been very lucky with the Academy's Documentary Branch; despite numerous critics awards, his 1994 film Hoop Dreams was bypassed by the Academy's documentary filmmakers when nominations were announced in early 1995. (We'll see if the Hoop Dreams-sounding Undefeated ends up getting a nod early next year.)

One hundred twenty-four pictures had originally qualified in the category. As per the Academy's press release, “the Documentary Branch Screening Committee viewed all the eligible documentaries for the preliminary round of voting. Documentary Branch members will now select the five nominees from among the 15 titles on the shortlist.”

Considering the movies already out of the running for the 2012 Oscar, it's quite possible that film critics' awards for Best Documentary Feature and the Academy's list of semi-finalists in that category won't have all that much in common this year.

The 15 films are listed below in alphabetical order by title, with their production company:

Battle for Brooklyn (RUMER Inc.)
Bill Cunningham New York (First Thought Films)
Buck (Cedar Creek Productions)
Hell and Back Again (Roast Beef Productions Limited)
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (Marshall Curry Productions, LLC)
Jane's Journey (NEOS Film GmbH & Co. KG)
The Loving Story (Augusta Films)
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (
Pina (Neue Road Movies GmbH)
Project Nim (Red Box Films)
Semper Fi: Always Faithful (Tied to the Tracks Films, Inc.)
Sing Your Song (S2BN Belafonte Productions, LLC)
Undefeated (Spitfire Pictures)
Under Fire: Journalists in Combat (JUF Pictures, Inc.)
We Were Here (Weissman Projects, LLC)

The 2012 Academy Awards nominations will be announced live on Tuesday, January 24, 2012, at 5:30 a.m. PT in the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

The Academy Awards ceremony will take place on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center. In the United States, the telecast will be broadcast live on ABC. The Oscarcast will also be televised live in more than 200 countries worldwide.

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory photo: HBO

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