The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will soon announce their selection for the best documentary feature of 2016. Two docs nominated in the 88th Academy Awards, “Cartel Land” and “The Look of Silence”, will be released on Beamafilm next month ahead alongside previous winners: Citizenfour (2015); Searching for Sugar Man (2013); The Cove (2010) and Man on Wire (2009).
This year the award for best feature documentary is more highly contested that ever with an impressive line-up including: “Amy” (Asif Kapadia); “Cartel Land” (Matthew Heineman); “The Look of Silence” (Joshua Oppenheimer); “What Happened, Miss Simone?” (Liz Garbus); and “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom” (Evgeny Afineevsky).
If the Academy’s decision is based upon box-office success, or popularity with audiences, our bets are on Asif Kapadia’s “Amy”; the award-winning portrait of Amy Winehouse. However, Joshua Oppenheimer’s confronting “The Look of Silence” and Matthew Heineman’s “Cartel Land” (both soon to be released on Beamafilm) are also compelling contenders. Before “The Look of Silence’s” March 7th release on Beamafilm you can watch Oppenheimer’s other Oscar-nominated film The Act of Killing a retrospective of the 1965 military takeover and genocide in Indonesia. Nominees such as these raise the documentary bar, and increased levels of engagement indicate that the genre is more popular than ever.
Other Best Documentary Oscar-winners on Beamafilm include last year’s Citizenfour, Laura Poitras’ film covering NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden revealing classified information of mass indiscriminate and illegal invasions of privacy. In a Hong Kong Hotel suite, Snowden, Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald watch as the media circus churns out the news to the public. However what Snowden has done soon puts their own personal security and the ones they love at risk. Citizenfour is a powerful film about conspiracy and cover-ups and not only highlights the dangers of government security – it makes you feel them as well.
Director Malik Bendjelloul won the 2013 Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary with his film Searching for Sugar Man; a remarkable portrait of folk-singer Sixto Rodriguez. A little known Detroit musician, Rodriguez only released two albums in his career before disappearing into the shadows of obscurity. However, the soulful melodies and prophetic lyrics in Rodriguez’s music found their way across the sea to apartheid South Africa. His first album was an instant phenomenon to the people of South Africa and inspired a generation to stand up and be noticed. The film follows two of Rodriguez’s biggest fans back to America to try and uncover what happened to their favourite artist, more than two decades after his first album was released. Searching for Sugar Man is a beautiful homage to this little known American singer/songwriter, who is now recognised amongst the likes of Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens.
2010’s best documentary Oscar winner The Cove is a journalistic piece uncovering massive ecological crimes that threaten ocean populations. A truly compelling story, this powerful film has inspired audiences worldwide to action.
Man on Wire won the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary in 2009 with its portrayal of French high-wire artist Philippe Petit and his exhilarating feat to cross the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in 1974. Director James Marsh combines the use of archival footage and dramatic re-enactment to recollect Petit’s life and his group of eccentric followers as well as the daring stunt that shocked New York City. The film’s cinematic tension continues to build right up to Petit’s last step off the wire and captures the passion he has for art faultlessly.
Two other great films nominated for Best Feature Documentary in 2015 are Wim Wenders’ picturesque film The Salt of the Earth and John Maloof’s Finding Vivian Maier; the stories of two of photography’s greatest unsung pioneers.
Make sure you see some of these brilliant pieces of cinema on Beamafilm before the Oscars (this Monday morning for Aussies) and the announcement of Best Documentary Feature for 2016.
By Max Comp