Friday, October 14, 2011

84th Oscar Documentary Short Updates (2011-2012 Awards Season) (10/14/11)

Yesterday the Academy published their short list for the Documentary Short race, where they culled the 35 eligible films down to 8. [Note: if anyone finds a link to the original 35 eligible entries, please let me know. I haven’t been able to find it anywhere.] Rather than simply re-post the same list that can be found everywhere else, I decided to do a little research before posting. Hopefully it was worth the wait. Even with the one day delay, I believe that I am still one of the first sites to turn that list into predictions!

Only 2 of the 8 films were on my radar before yesterday but both of those were listed in my top 8, so that gives me a track record of 25% for predicting the short list.

As it turns out, 6 of these films (75%) have directors who have previously been nominated for Oscars. This is quite unusual for this category. Over the past ten years only 37% of nominees have been previous nominees, and if you look at the past 5 years that number falls to to 32%. So statistically speaking, the two films that don’t include prior nominees actually have a better chance of getting in!

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

1. Lucy Walker for The Tsunami And The Cherry Blossom (Predicted Winner) (New). I am currently predicting this to win because the cinematography in the trailer is absolutely stunning, and the combination of recent events and the presentation of a “visual haiku” will appeal to unique sets of voters. Plus, it has music by Moby! The film premiered at Toronto and is scheduled to screen tomorrow at Hamptons and Hawaii, as well as later this month at New York Doc Fest, so hopefully some of my readers will get a chance to see it. Walker was previously nominated in the feature documentary category for Waste Land, and has been nominated for Independent Spirit and Emmy Awards for Devil’s Playground. She’s also worked on Blue’s Clues! The film is produced by Supply & Demand Integrated and is 40 minutes. Link To Official Site. IMDB page.

2. James Spione for Incident In New Baghdad (previous rank 4). The film won at both the Tribeca and Rhode Island Film Festivals, and showed at several others including Tallgrass, Camden and Palm Springs. Unlike the war films that the Hollywood studios put out, this one involves the death of journalists and civilians by U.S. helicopters, WikiLeaks revelations of government cover-ups, and the plight of millitary personnel suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Spione has previously won a Student Academy Award for Prelude. The film is produced by Morninglight Films and is 22 minutes. Link To Official Site. IMDB page.

3. Gail Dolgin and Robin Fryday for The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier Of The Civil Rights Movement (previous rank 8). The film, which won at Ashland and showed at several other festivals including Sundance, SilverDocs, MountainWeek and DocuWeek, follows an 85 year old civil rights advocate as he participates in the election of the first African American president. Dolgin has been previously nominated in the feature documentary category for Daughter From Danang. The film is produced by Purposeful Productions and is 25 minutes. Link To Official Site. IMDB page.

4. Jon Alpert and Matthew O’Neill for In Tahrir Square: 18 Days Of Egypt’s Unfinished Revolution (New). The film is shot on location during the revolution. I believe this film will get a nomination because the Academy will want to show their support for the Arab Spring. Alpert and O’Neill were previously nominated in the documentary short category for China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears Of Sichuan Province. The film is produced by Downtown Docs and is 36 minutes. IMDB page.


5. Witness (New). I haven’t been able to find out anything about this film, other than the Academy’s announcement that it is produced by Buche. That may be because one word titles are hard to search on the internet. Still, I am placing it into the top 5 because of the statistics that I quoted above regarding new nominees. There must be something special here if a film that has no publicity got into the pack, right? But since the category can have anywere from 3 to 5 nominees, it’s hard to know whether it will make the cut. Any chance that any of my readers know anything about it? UPDATE: I have learned that Witness will begin playing at the Laemmle's Fallbrook 7 theater in Los Angeles beginning October 28.


6. Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy for Saving Face (New). This film follows a London-based plastic surgeon as he travels to his home country of Pakistan to work with survivors of acid attacks. It is scheduled to air on HBO in March 2012. Junge was previously nominated in the documentary short category for The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner, and Obaid-Chinoy won an Emmy for Pakistan: Children Of The Taliban. The film is produced by Milkhaus/Jungefilm. Link To Official Site.

7. Rebecca Cammisa for God Is The Bigger Elvis (New). This is another film that I haven’t been able to learn much about, but Cammisa was previously nominated in the feature documentary category for Which Way Home, so it could be a spoiler. The film is produced by Documentress Films and is 37 minutes.

8. Leslie Iwerks for Pipe Dreams (New). The film examines the Keystone XL Pipeline and the environmental and health impacts associated with crossing the nation’s largest fresh water resource, all within the controversial context of jobs, oil and land rights. And it is narrated by Daryl Hannah. Iwerks was previously nominated in the documentary short category for Recycled Life. She was also nominated for an Emmy for The Pixar Story. The film is produced by Leslie Iwerks Productions and is 39 minutes. Link To Official Site. IMDB page.

Got a tip about one of the documentary short films? Let me know in the comments!

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.
Learn about some of the excellent documentary shorts that didn’t make the cut by reading my prior predictions.
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. Hello! Seems there is a typo in your paragraph on the Baghdad film. "Spader" instead of "Spione." (Although I'm not sure being confused with James Spader is such a bad thing for any aspiring nominee!) Cheers, JS

  2. Thanks for his JS! I'm pretty sure that I must have had The Office on when I was researching that paragraph!

    I've corrected it now.

  3. Just saw Cherry Blossom at The Hamptons FF, it's a sure winner (and I've seen the top 3 on your list)

  4. Really cool that you got to see it. The trailer looked amazing, and I'm glad to hear it carried through to the film as a whole.

  5. UPDATE: I have learned that Witness will begin playing at the Laemmle's Fallbrook 7 theater in Los Angeles beginning October 28.

    This may explain why we hadn't heard anything about it: No one had seen it yet!

  6. No such thing as a "sure winner." Cherry Blossom is strong, but "Incident" has hooked into a deep strain of dissatisfaction and skepticism with the government and its policies in the U.S. "Barber" is a little more conventional and predictable than the other two, not necessarily a bad thing for a win but probably a liability for the nomination. It's all up in the air. Really interesting category this year!

  7. Indeed! Since I haven't seen anything more than a few of these trailers, it's all guess work for me in a way, and I certainly don't know enough about this branch's habits to say anything is for sure.

    Plus, they've got those special rules about actually having to see the films (can you imagine such a thing?!?!), so the combination of quality and the audience that you happen to get can really make a difference here.

    I'm looking forward to seeing which ones ultimately get the nominations, and of course the win!

  8. Incident is a documentary about war, particularly the war in Iraq... Old news. The Tsunami is not only about a contemporary subject, it is beautifully made... Mark my words (I predicted the last three doc short winners) Tsunami will win. Say what you like but please come back and read this comment again after the ceremony

  9. @Anonymous, I think you're right about The Tsunami and Cherry Blossom. And I love that you follow this race too. Three years of winners for this category is an impressive record!