Wednesday, July 13, 2011

84th Oscar Documentary Short Updates (2011-2012 Awards Season) (7/13/11)

EDITORS NOTE: These predictions were made in July 2011 and reflect what my thinking was at that time.  I have updated my predictions since then, but leave these on the blog for a historical record. For the most updated list of predictions, go to the Tracker Pages in the upper right hand corner of this blog.

Here are today’s rankings for the 84th Oscar Documentary Short race, with previous ranking shown in parenthesis after each entry.

This list includes the shorts that are playing at the 14th Annual DocuWeeks (and are therefore Oscar eligible), as well as several others that have been well received at film festivals. I haven’t been able to watch any of these shorts yet, although I have seen some of the trailers online. So most of these predictions are made based upon buzz and descriptions of the films that I have read, and my own sense of what the AMPAS documentary branch might go for. Still, it feels like a pretty respectable list at this point in time.

A note that the massive changes in some of the rankings reflect the fact that when I made my last set of predictions (two and a half months ago), I had only done research on 35 films, and ranked them all accordingly. This time I have researched 85 films, as well as having two additional months of film festival results to look through.

1. Michael Kuehnert for Save The Farm (Predicted Winner) (previous rank 1)
2. Cari Ann Shim Sham for Sand (New)
3. Susan Koenen for I Am A Girl! (Ik Ben Een Meishe!) (New)
4. James Spione for Incident In New Baghdad (previous rank 3)
5. Ondi Timoner and Robert James for Library Of Dust (New)

6. Barbara Hammer for Maya Deren’s Sink (previous rank 7)
7. David Darg for Sun City Picture House (New)
8. Gail Dolgin and Robin Fryday for The Barber Of Birmingham: Foot Soldier Of The Civil Rights Movement (previous rank 19)
9. Womjung Bae for Vera Klement: Blunt Edge (previous rank 27)
10. Marta Minorowicz for Kawalek Lata (previous rank 4)
11. Jason Jakaitis for Mothersbane (previous rank 2)
12. Jose Miguel Ribeiro for A Journey To Cape Verde (Viagem A Cabo Verde) (New)
13. Elaine Kim for Slaying The Dragon Reloaded: Asian Women In Hollywood And Beyond (previous rank 6)
14. Katja Esson for Poetry Of Resistance (New)
15. Carol Salter for Unearthing The Pen (New)
16. Elina Talvensaari for How To Pick Berries (Miten Marjoja Poimitaan) (New)
17. Anna Frances Ewert for Into The Middle Of Nowhere (New)
18. Reza Haeri for All Restrictions End (New)
19. Phie Ambo for The Home Front (New)
20. John Cullen for 75 Watts (New)
21. Jonathan VanBallenberghe for Guru (previous rank 5)
22. Anthony Weeks for Imaginary Circumstances (previous rank 25)
23. Susan Danta and Wendy Chandler for Heirlooms (previous rank 9)
24. Arthur C. Smith III for What Do Polar Bears Dream When They’re Dying (previous rank 8)
25. Theo Rigby for Without Country (Sin Pais) (previous rank 21)
26. Horizoe Garcia Miranda and Jessica Rodriguez Sanchez for The World Of Raul (El Mundo De Raul) (New)
27. Joaquin Cortes Peteiro for Men Of San (Hombres De Arena) (New)
28. Karsten Krause for The Photographer’s Wife (Die Frau Des Photographers) (New)
29. Aideen O’Sullivan and Ross Whitaker for Bye Bye Now (previous rank 10)
30. Sean Mullens for Birthright (New)
31. Amy Grappell for Quadrangle (New)
32. Alina Rudnitskaya for Ya Zabudu Etot Den (New)
33. Sybil Wendler for Once Upon A Rooftop (previous rank 11)
34. Robert-Jan Lacombe for Goodbye Mandima (Kwa Heri Mandima) (New)
35. Steve Nguyen and Daisuke Suzuki for Hibakusha (New)
36. Jason van Genderen for The Unspoken (previous rank 12)
37. Ken Paul Rosenthal for Crooked Beauty (previous rank 13)
38. Ilya Tomashevich for Blue Sky, Dark Bread (New)
39. Dave Monahan for Things Grow (previous rank 14)
40. Jayan Cherian for Shape of the Shapeless (previous rank 15)
41. Nicky Tavares for Fwd: Update On My Life (previous rank 16)
42. Tim Hetherington for Diary (previous rank 30)
43. Kannan Arunasalam for Kaffir Culture (previous rank 17)
44. Jeremy Ticher for This Is Us: Video Stories From Senegalese Youth (previous rank 22)
45. Irene Taylor Brodsky for Saving Pelican 895 (previous rank 18)
46. Dave Porfiri and Linda Duvoisin for We Shall Not Be Moved (previous rank 20)
47. Mark Kendall for The Time Machine (previous rank 26)
48. Maria Pesli for Other Women’s Narratives (Afigiseis Allon Gynaikon) (previous rank 23)
49. Nicholas Corrao and David Haffer for Civil Indigent (previous rank 24)
50. Olli Laine for Skolt Rock In Lapland (Kolttarokkia Lapissa) (New)

As always, check the Tracker Pages in the upper right hand corner of this blog for the most updated predictions in all categories!
See Documentary Short predictions for other years HERE.
If you’re into documentaries, you might also like the Documentary Features.
If you’re really into shorts, check out the Animated Shorts and Live Action Shorts.
See predictions for other categories at the 84th Oscars HERE.
Switch to another year: 84th,  85th,  86th,  87th,  88th,  89th  


  1. Great to see this update! Thanks for posting. I'm not sure if Save the farm has qualified for consideration yet? Incident in New Baghdad looks interesting but also in need of a qualifying run? I assume I am a girl is in the top 5 because it won LA? probably a good indicator. I watched the trailer for Sand and checked the website, looks ok but can't see it being in the top 5. Based on Tribeca selection, Maui win, theatrical run and insane buzz ( I'd have Sun City Picture House in the top 5. I just watched the trailer for Maya Deren's sink ( and not sure if it has a chance at all! Plus with 5 minutes of footage available online from a 30 min film doesn't that disqualify it from Academy selection anyway? Really strange. I can't find much about save the farm online, it got a jury mention at Nashville. Why have you got it as the winner, I'm curious? Trailer looks good but not sure if it's that good? Anyways, I'm loving this category this year and you are for sure the first prediction site to have this much detail on this category, great job!

  2. Thanks Brian! I have to admit that this is my first year paying attention to this category, and while I’m enjoying it, it is a difficult one for me because of all the special rules, combined with how few web sites cover the race this early.

    You very well may be right about Sun City Picture House. I had it ranked pretty high based upon Maui and DocuWeeks, and agree that the academy might really like the whole “movies can save the world” aspect. My only hesitation was that I vaguely remember another film with a similar theme a few years back (not sure if it was this category or a different one--or maybe I just dreamed it). But perhaps I should have counted that as a precedent instead of as something they’ve already seen? At any rate, I hadn’t seen the press references, so I really appreciate you sending those in!

    In terms of qualifying runs, the only ones that I know for sure have qualifying runs are the 7 DocuWeeks shorts. It didn’t feel realistic that all 5 nominees would come from the same batch, so I basically counted DocuWeeks as a “jury win” for each of those 7 films, sorted all the films by the number of awards as if they were precursors, and then I went more subjectively from there. I figured that if we are still sorting out release dates for feature-length movies like Carnage and Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close, I didn’t want to automatically disqualify all but 7 films in a shorts category. But it may very well turn out that a lot of these films don’t qualify--or don’t qualify until a different year. (I also didn’t look at the formats--16mm, 35 mm, etc., so some may get disqualified that way too.) The 5 that I put at the top of the list had all picked up some combination of awards, and had run at some impressive festivals. But to be fair, most of the rest of the films had too! So it was a little bit subjective on which ones I ended up with, and I’m sure it will change when I do these predictions again.

    I was intrigued by the feel of the Maya Deren’s Sink clip, (I kind of like that exploratory avant-garde stuff) and I know that it picked up an award in Berlin. But I hadn’t paid attention to the length of the online clip. It does seem strange that a director would submit to DocuWeeks and then disqualify themselves that way, and even stranger that DocuWeeks would accept the entry. Is it possible that the documentary branch makes a distinction between the “theatrical release” (which was in Berlin) and the “qualifying commercial run” that will happen later? ---Or maybe we have just discovered the first “scandal” of the Oscar season! How cool would that be!!!

    For Save The Farm, I noticed that it had wins at Cleveland, Nashville, and the USA Film Fest in Dallas. In addition to a social justice theme (which is true of most of the documentaries), it is also set in L.A.. So the combination of multiple wins plus social justice plus local hometown issue made me think that it might be a front runner. Silly logic perhaps, but we’ve seen sillier things from the Academy, and since I hadn’t seen any of the films I figured that this made as much sense as the other combinations that I came up with.

    Thanks again for checking out my blog.

  3. "Incident in New Baghdad" is headed to its third major festival after winning at Tribeca. Someone told me that they are planning a qualifying run soon. It's a really strong, disturbing film--but maybe a little too strong for the Academy.

  4. Thanks for this great tip! I had it listed as a nominee because of its Tribeca win and the fact that it seemed like a baity documentary topic. I'm very glad to hear that it will be getting a qualifying run.

    Thanks for checking out my blog!

  5. Incident in New Baghdad is interesting because it deals with Wikileaks and the whole Julian Assange scandal was big news in 2010 / 11. That is its main strength I think. On the flipside it deals with Iraq and soldier trauma which is certainly becoming old news at the academy. With Killing in the Name and Poster Girl receiving nominations last year on similar topics I'd be amazed if Incident gets picked. Also Incident won Tribeca but didn't seem to create much of a stir at Palm Springs even though it played in the "Festival Winners" program there. Palm springs is often a good festival for nominations tips:

  6. Thanks Filmaddict! I'm still learning which festivals act as the best precursors for Oscar nominations in the various categories. There are so many festivals that they seem to run together sometimes. I'll definitely check out the Palm Springs list. Are there other festivals that have a particularly god track record in this category? Hot Docs? Silver Docs?

    And Thank You for checking out my blog!

  7. Interestingly there are very few festivals remaining before the shortlist is drawn up. The big remaining festivals this year are AFI, Hamptons and Chicago but I think they all happen after the shortlist. What's happening in the next two months is going to determine the shortlist in this genre. I'd watch Rhode Island closely as it is one of the last Oscar qualifiers before the shortlist (not a qualifier for this genre but a big festival). I see that Incident in New Baghdad is playing Rhode Island, so is Sun City Picture House. There are very few films that actually qualify in this genre. The docuweeks films are definitely ones to watch out for especially the shorts playing in LA. It's really hard to get academy voters to short doc screeners but docuweeks gets buzz, that's why two short docs form last years (LA screenings) were nominated.

    Here's my prediction criteria in this genre:
    1. Was it selected for an Ivy League Festival (Sundance / Tribeca / LAFF)?
    2. Did it win an Audience award at a major festival?
    3. Does its qualifying run happen in LA (rather than NY)
    4. Does the trailer look good?
    5. Does it have any good reviews / press

    If yes to all above it's got a chance if no to any of above, the competition is too hot.

  8. Thank you for this, Filmaddict. I hadn't thought about the distinction between LA & NY qualifying runs, but it instantly made sense to me once you said it.

    I also noticed that you mentioned audience awards instead of jury awards. I would have thought that it might be the other way around for the nominations, since those are based on the documentary branch, with the audience awards being a sign of which nominee the general AMPAS membership might go for? Is this because documentary audiences are closer in tastes to doc filmmakers in the branch, or is it because the smaller juries can skew things in a way that a larger audience can't.

    Thank you again for these great tips. I will definitely be watching them as I get ready for my next round of predictions!

    P.S. Do you have a film blog also? I'd love to read it if you do.

  9. NeverTooEarly,

    Yea I think that the Audience pick is a better indication of a film's academy success. Jury awards are always decided by a panel that influence each other where as academy votes are individual, like audience awards.

    Rhode Island just announced lineup:

    Looks like Sun City and Incident in New B' have more buzz than any of the rest of the films, including features! Pretty impressive for a festival of this size. This category is heating up. By the way, the academy only receives an average of 30 submissions in this category every year, there are that few films that can even qualify.

  10. Thanks for this Filmaddict! I'll definitely check out the Rhode Island lineup!

    I've often wished that the doc shorts allowed festival qualifications the way that the animated and live action shorts do. It would certainly expand the pool. But I guess the doc branch wants a bit more control over the entries, or is especially attached to the theater run. Or maybe they are just lazy and don't want to watch more than 30 movies at the end of the year! Ha!

  11. Incident in New Baghdad and Sun City Picture House were both winners at Rhode Island!

  12. Thanks for this update Sand fan. Sounds like I'll need to place Sun City into the top 5 for my next round of predictions, as several folks have been telling me for a while.

    Thanks for checking out my blog, and I'm glad to see that so many folks are following this race!

  13. Note that "Incident in New Baghdad" won the Grand Prize last weekend for Best Documentary Short in Rhode Island (Sun City won second place, I believe). INB Director James Spione just started a Kickstarter campaign to fund Academy run in LA and surpassed goal in just 28 hours. Run is slated for Sept 23 at Sunset 5.

    "Sun City" produced and publicized by Hollywood actresses; "Baghdad" a complete indie from NYC. Both good movies and a classic contrast in pedigree. Could INB sneak up on everyone and be that dark horse winner? Interesting.

  14. Thanks for the tip about kickstarter--28 hours is really impressive, but I'm not surprised given the subject. I'm glad to hear that they for sure have a date set though!

    If it were any category other than the documentary branch, I would think that executive producing actresses would be a sure bet. But you never know here. On the one hand, people actually have to see the movies to be able to vote, which gives everyone a fighting chance. On the other hand, the strings and connections of the actresses may be enough to get more academy members to show up for the screenings, which could help them.

    It certainly does make for an interesting race. All of those folks who don't follow these categories are missing out on the excitement!

  15. Oh, and one more thing. I just noticed that INB was up against SCPH at BOTH Tribeca and Rhode Island--and won both times. Hmmmm.

  16. Indeed, the Tribeca win is what drew my attention originally.

  17. This is an interesting category this year!

  18. I agree James. Have you been at any festivals that have shown any of the films? If so, which ones are your favorites?

    Thanks for checking out my blog.

  19. Are any of the top films playing in any festivals soon or available online, I'd love to check them out!

  20. James, I'm not sure about online, but all of these films have been making the festival rounds, so definitely check the listings for any festivals that you'll be near.

  21. I just watched Save The Farm online here:

    Thought it was good, but why do you think it will win an oscar?

  22. Thanks James!

    I hadn't seen it yet, but will try to watch it this week.

    At the time, I was going just based on trailers, and I thought that the combination of a social justice issue with a hometown (Los Angeles) location might give it a leg up. But as I hear more about the other films I suspect that it might drop.

    Having seen it, do you think it will be nominated?

  23. What about Challenging Impossibility? Played at Tribeca? Has been accepted into a crazy number of festivals, like 60. Saw it at Atlanta Shortsfest where it won Best Doc.

    Had NY Times article, which very few short docs ever get.

  24. Also, looks like Challenging Impossibility has screened at a few festivals with Sun City (Tribeca, San Diego, Heartland) but has a lot more international play that most other films (warsaw, even a festival in Swaziland), but alas for them, Tribeca was their only big festival - no Rhode Island, Palm Springs, etc.

    Love the blog by the way.

  25. Thank you for this tip, Roger!

    I hadn't heard of the film before, but it does indeed look like a possibility. And having been accepted into so many festivals, it seems likely that the director would also push it for a qualifying run--either this year or next year.

    Thanks too for the kind words about my blog!

  26. Save the farm was ok. The story was moving but it was horribly produced and looks like it was made several years ago. The big problem for me is that it didn't give any resolution to the cause. Do we know if it had a qualifying run? Does the fact that it's online disqualify it? I don't think it's good enough to get a nomination but look at won last year, strangers no more was soooo boring.

    Roger can you watch Challenging Impossibility online? I'm going to watch how it does at the Hamptons next month. The Hamptons short docs will be ones to watch for sure.

  27. Thanks James! The resolution thing isn't necessarily a problem, but if the production value is bad that will definitely hurt it. I still haven't gotten around to watching it online, unfortunately, nor have I been able to confirm if it got a qualifying run (which usually means it didn't, but who knows?)

    Looking forward to seeing what happens at Hamptons!

  28. When will we get an update on this category!

  29. Looks like it will be fairly easy to update the top 8, the shortlist was announced today:

    Some real shocking choices this year!

  30. Thanks for this! I was expecting them to come out soon, but didn't know they would be today.

    I only had two of these on my lists, but one was in the top 5 for nominations, and the other was in the top 10, so it's not too bad for my first year.

    I'll try to get an updated version posted tonight. I want to do a little bit of research on the ones that I haven't heard of yet.

    Thanks again!

  31. Wow! "Sun City" didn't make it to the top eight. Your 4th pick "Incident in New Baghdad" is hanging in, though! Conventional wisdom I suppose is that war films are so last year, etc.--but then again, having seen INB at Tribeca, it definitely taps into the whole rage at the machine/dissatisfaction with the status quo right now that we are seeing with these growing protests, etc. Might just have its finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist.

  32. A note that new predictions are up for this category, now that the short list has been announced. See them at:

    Of use the Tracker Page feature at the upper right hand corner of this blog.

  33. Emailed address on challenging impossibility website. The director emailed me back and said they were considering a qualifying run next year. He said as of the deadline this year, they'd only gotten into 20 festivals and not won any awards. Now, they're at 70 festivals and won almost 10 awards, but at mostly small festivals.

    the film isn't online he said, and the only big festivals they've played at are Tribeca and Warsaw ... but tons of medium (heartland, bend) and smaller ones too.

  34. Very cool Roger. I'm nowhere brave enough to start writing to directors, but am glad that you did.

    I'll definitely move this over to my predictions for next year, since we now know it didn't qualify this year. Although I'm a little worried that if it's played at so many festivals but hasn't won anything, that may unfortunately be a sign...

    Thanks again for the tip!

  35. Yeah, they said that as of August they hadn't won anything, but in September and October alone they'd won more than 10 awards

    Maybe it's picking up steam.... Let's see.

  36. Thanks Roger! I'll be watching for it in the new year.