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Oscars 2020: Documentary Feature Nominations

Photo Credit: Phil McCarten / ©A.M.P.A.S.

Oscar nominees for Documentary (Feature), Jeff Reichert, American Factory, Sigrid Dyekjaer, The Cave, Shane Boris, The Edge of Democracy, Feras Fayyad, The Cave, Atanas Georgiev, Honeyland, Kirstine Barfod, The Cave, Ljubo Stefanov, Honeyland, Tamara Kotevska, Honeyland, Waad al-Kateab, For Sama, Tiago Pavan, The Edge of Democracy, Julia Reichert, American Factory, Edward Watts, For Sama, Joanne Natasegara, The Edge of Democracy, Petra Costa, The Edge of Democracy and Steven Bognar, American Factory, prior to the Oscar Week: Docs event.

And the nominees are:

American Factory
The Cave
The Edge of Democracy
For Sama

Netflix’s American Factory, National Geographic’s The Cave, Netflix’s The Edge of Democracy, PBS’ For Sama and Neon’s Honeyland made it through the rigorous screenings of the 159 filmes submitted for best documentary feature at the 2020 Academy Awards.

The category runs the gamut of human emotions in a way on nominated documentaries can. Two film come from Syrian filmmakers which further buoys the Middle East’s growing impact on the Oscars. Each film has a uniquely deep subject matter that requires a profound philosophical talk-back. All are worthy of taking home that eight-pound gold statue. Who will win? Each carry their own reasons why they can win.

Let’s dive into each movie, watch their trailers and try to figure this all out.

American Factory
Directors: Julia Reichert, Steven Bognar
Studio: Netflix

Director Julia Reichert earned her fourth career nomination. Easily the frontrunner, if American Factory pulls off the win it will be a first for the directing duo of Reichert and Steven Bognar. The movie is a sentimental favorite due to   Reichert’s Oscar history (extending all the way back to her Union Maids which was a 1976 nominee. American Factory premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and tells the story of how a Chinese company revitalized an Ohio community after the famed General Motors plant closure. Despite the lifeline extended to unemployed Ohioans, a culture clash sets in as Chinese collectivism battles American individualism in the new labor force.

 With Barack and Michelle Obama providing the muscle on the producing team, American Factory has collected four of the biggest directing accolades on the awards circuit: Directors Guild of America, Sundance, Critics Choice, and the International Documentary Association. It also garnered Best Documentary honors at the Gotham Awards.

The Cave
Director: Feras Fayyad
Studio: National Geographic Documentary Films

Feras Fayyad tallied his second career nomination (his first was in 2018 for Last Men in Aleppo). Fayyad received a lot of publicity about his troubles getting in the United States (again), while NatGeo did a huge TV and print ad campaign. Both could be huge pluses for the film set in an underground makeshift hospital.

The Cave chronicles the struggles of a team of mostly female doctors resolute in their determination to provide healthcare amongst the onslaught of bombs above. Fayyad conveys the harrowing experience of war with palpable urgency through an immersive sound design. The film might split the votes (or downright lose) with the similarly-themed For Sama.

The Edge of Democracy
Director. Petra Costa
Studio: Netflix

With all of the vitriol at the top of the American political climate, The Edge of Democracy could sway many an Oscar vote its way which makes it a definitely dark horse to win in this category. As it sits currently, Petra Costa film monitoring the rise and fall of Brazilian democracy over the past few decades was the surprise nomination in this category. Costa mélanges subjective insights with detailed investigative journalism to analyze how her cherished homeland became a hotbed for dishonesty, scandal, and a propaganda hub. The Edge of Democracy is a cautionary tale for all of us as we head towards the November Presidential election.

For Sama
Directors. Waad Al-Kateab, Edward Watts
Studio: PBS Distribution

BAFTA champ For Sama could emerge as the a formidable challenge to the awards circuit favorite American Factory. Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts’ agonizing doc illustrates the experiences of a woman and her family in war-ravaged Syria, as they scuffle to hold on to the few priceless things they still have. Framed as a visual journal to her newborn baby, Al-Kateab delivers a exceptionally private assessment to this raging civil war.

Wins at the Cannes Film Festival, European Film Awards, and the International Documentary Association Awards should be a strong indicator that this film might just go the distance.

Directors. Tamara Kotevska, Ljubomir Stefanov
Studio: Neon

This is the first time one film was nominated in both the Feature Documentary and International Film categories. You’d think that this distinction would give rise to a flight to a win for this astounding Macedonian film about the last of the wild beekeepers.

One glimpse of the trailer and it’s simple to comprehend why this portrayal of a beekeeper’s daily life in rural Macedonia gain this Oscars first. Captivating and stunningly shot by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov solely on DLSRs due to a lack of electricity in the village it was filmed, The tour de force film guarantees to affect you at an organic level you couldn’t imagine prior to being seated for a showing.

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