- Oscar contenders: The Story of the Weeping Camel, Home of the Brave, and Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train are three of the semifinalists in the Academy Awards’ Best Documentary Feature category.
- Why have this year’s polemical Iraq War-related documentaries been left out of the running?
Oscar contenders: The Story of the Weeping Camel & Home of the Brave among Best Documentary Feature semifinalists
The Story of the Weeping Camel, Home of the Brave, and Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train are three of this year’s 12 semifinalists for the Best Documentary Feature Academy Award. The Oscar contenders listed below were selected by the Academy’s Documentary Branch, which will also pick the eventual five nominees.
Here they are:
- Set among Gobi Desert shepherds, Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni’s German-Mongolian co-production The Story of the Weeping Camel revolves around a rare white camel calf abandoned by its mother after birth. The title refers to the mother camel, who at one point sheds tears following a particularly moving music session performed by a morin khuur (Mongolian “horsehead fiddle”) player.
- Paola di Florio’s Home of the Brave tells the story of civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo (1925–1965), murdered by Ku Klux Klan members – among them an FBI informant. Stockard Channing narrates; Julie Stevens provides Liuzzo’s “voice”; and Gloria Steinem is one of the interviewees.
- Deb Ellis and Denis Mueller’s biographical documentary Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train has as its focus the noted American historian.
- Jessica Yu’s In the Realms of the Unreal offers a portrait of artist and janitor Henry Darger. Yu took home the Best Documentary Short Oscar for her 1996 effort Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien.
- Stacy Peralta’s Sundance Film Festival opener Riding Giants chronicles the art of surfing and its history.
- Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman’s Born Into Brothels depicts the lives of children of Calcutta’s prostitutes.
- Christian Bauer’s The Ritchie Boys is the story of German Jews trained as an elite U.S. intelligence unit during World War II.
- Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me is an indictment of both the fast-food industry and fast-food eaters.
- Tell Them Who You Are is filmmaker Mark Wexler’s look at his relationship with his father, two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, 1966; Bound for Glory, 1976), whose credits also include Medium Cool, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Days of Heaven.
- Kevin Macdonald’s Touching the Void features a mix of interviews and dramatic recreations depicting the fate of mountaineers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates while on a mountain-climbing trip in Peru.
- Lauren Lazin’s Tupac: Resurrection examines the life of slain rapper Tupac Shakur.
- Kirby Dick’s Twist of Faith shows a man struggling to come to terms with his past sexual abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest.
Iraq War documentaries out of contention
Whether due to eligibility or other issues, conspicuously absent from the list of Best Documentary Feature Oscar semifinalists are several Iraq War-related and other political documentaries released this year, including Jehane Noujaim’s Al Jazeera documentary Control Room, and Robert Greenwald’s Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism and Uncovered: The War on Iraq.
Fahrenheit 9/11 director-producer Michael Moore, winner of the 2002 Best Documentary Feature Oscar for Bowling for Columbine, opted not to submit his blockbuster documentary in that category.
The anti-George W. Bush/anti-Iraq War effort, however, is eligible in other Oscar slots, including Best Picture.
Academy Award eligibility or lack thereof
Update: According to an Academy spokesperson, Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism, the pro-John Kerry Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry, and the anti-Kerry Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal were never submitted for Academy consideration.
Control Room and Uncovered: The War on Iraq were disqualified because they have already been shown on television.
Since Michael Moore opted not to submit Fahrenheit 9/11 for Oscar 2005 consideration, that leaves Nickolas Perry and Harry Thomason’s The Hunting of the President, which was indeed eligible but failed to make the final cut. The film features American right-wingers as the ideological hunters and former U.S. President Bill Clinton as their political prey.
“Oscar Contenders” endnotes
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences website.
The Story of the Weeping Camel image: ThinkFilm.
“Oscar Contenders: Polemical Iraq War Documentaries Out” last updated in September 2021.