Lots of folks have been writing, calling, texting and generally commmunicating about our previous posts (here and here) on the Oscar Doc Shortlist. Thanks to all who've been in touch - even (and perhaps especially) those that have disagreed. Obviously it was a piece that I hoped would spur discussion. In addition to the raft of responses to my commentary here at the blog, there's been more conversation spurred elsewhere.
Here's some of that:
Danielle DiGiacomo weighed in here as well as at the Indiepix blog:
"I remember when the Academy finally recognized Errol Morris (the reason I became interested in documentary filmmaking) in 2004. He said “I’d like to thank the Academy for finally recognizing my films. Thank you so very, very, very much! I thought it would never happen.” At the time, I thought he was being cocky and arrogant. (And having seen him speak several times, I can’t say he is not both of these.) However, his frustration at not having been recognized previously is completely fair. The fact that last year a filmed Power Point presentation (featuring a bold-faced name and huge box office numbers) won the award, proves AJ’s point that the Academy only sometimes (seemingly begrudgingly) recognizes that documentary filmmaking is not limited to reconstructions - dry, sentimental, whatever - of historic events - but is truly an artform that illuminates and questions the truths and experiences of everyday life."
Agnes Varnum has weighed in on my post a few times on her excellent blog. But in a post today, she took issue with the last sentence of Danielle's post and uses it to start a conversation about Tony Kaye's LAKE OF FIRE (which made the Shortlist) as well as ruminate on her own mixed emotions about the whole Oscar thing:
"Lake of Fire could do no more to illuminate a current struggle, as far as I’m concerned, so I can emphatically disagree with Danielle about this particular film and her comment. But, I also reacted strongly to criticism of Billy the Kid (Danielle was credited as associate producer on it). It is a film that sparked discussion among those who saw it and to my mind also illuminates the human experience in a profound way. This is where my reaction to the Oscar list stumps me because I understand that what moves and excites me is not necessarily what will move or excite Academy voters. They are of a certain socio-economic group that wants to not only recognize good film but have the right people at their cocktail parties, so what excites them is going to be different.
I don’t want to minimize the work of those on the shortlist. When I said “uninspiring” in a previous post, it was unfair because it was about the totality of the list as opposed to a critique of the films. I think this boils down to naivete about what this award is. To think that it is democratic or fair in any way is to be disappointed. It is guided by the hands of a select few. AJ might just have convinced me over the course of the year that all one had to do was to qualify to be on equal footing, and I too had hopes that some of these outstanding works might be accepted by the establishment. But those who comprise the establishment aren’t ready, and maybe never will be. They gravitate toward a certain kind of film (big issue-oriented, traditional styling). Maybe it will take a turnover in members to change the course, and that will be more than a few years. If Richard Robbins (Operation Homecoming) were to win, he would be on the voting body and might place his vote for a film like Manda Bala, for example."
Meanwhile, Ingrid Kopp at Shooting From the Hip finds herself agreeing with the criticism:
"I was really disappointed that films like Billy The Kid, We Are Together, Manda Bala, and The King of Kong didn’t make the list. The King of Kong is one of the funniest and most skillfully constructed documentaries I have seen in a long time and I wish that films like this would get more recognition just for being great films and telling great stories."
Stepping in for the always reliable Karina Longworth (still recovering from our days in Denver no doubt) at the Spout Blog, Chris Campbell writes:
"Other favorites not shortlisted include In the Shadow of the Moon, The Devil Came on Horseback, My Kid Could Paint That … I could go on and on. I guess it’s a good thing that there are in fact so many great documentaries being made in the world that we have to close the door on some. Yet I wonder why there couldn’t be a music doc once in awhile — Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten has been well-received. And what about my favorite documentary of the year, The Life of Reilly. Honestly, it isn’t a good enough FILM to be nominated, but if An Inconvenient Truth can win the award, certainly this monologue movie could be shortlisted."
At the Salt Lake City Tribune, film critic Sean P. Means casts his vote:
"My pick for biggest snub is Manufactured Landscapes, Jennifer Baichwal's brilliant and beautifully photographed look at photographer Edward Burtynsky and his work - which casts a light on what industry is doing to the Earth. Close behind was the fascinating "Deep Water," about an amateur sailor in over his head in an around-the-world race."
I would have loved to have seen Manufactured Landscapes on the list - but I have to say that this made me laugh a little bit, cause Sean thought that my film was "self-consciously arty". Ah, God bless 'em.
Bob Turnbull at Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind writes:
"I've only seen "Please Vote For Me" (which was great, but a big surprise), but certainly expected "No End In Sight" to be in the running and am not surprised at "Lake Of Fire" and "For The Bible tells Me So" (from what I've heard about them and their subject matter). But there seems to be an absence of, I don't know...something different, something to root for...something like "Audience Of One", "Helvetica", "Wordplay" or "The Bridge"."
Meanwhile, reacting not to my commentary but to the list itself, Matt Dentler congratulates UT film professor Ellen Spiro on her shortlist nod:
It's great to have someone from the booming Austin doc community recognized by the Academy, and what's even more remarkable, is how this milestone fits into my alma mater's recent history. The University of Texas Film Department Faculty received a major injection of nonfiction filmmaking talent in the 1990s. So much so, that when I attended UT film school, I felt out of place because I didn't wanna direct docs for a living (after I graduated, the school has certainly expanded its scope).