The moment that this year's Academy Award nominees arerevealed to the entire world at a pre-dawn ceremony broadcast live from LosAngeles tomorrow morning, there will be the usual gasps at some of the omissionsand more questions raised about why some of the year's best-knowndocumentary features have failed yet again to make the cut.
Although no one knows for sure which five documentaryfeatures will compete for the coveted Oscar in March, it is already known withinindustry circles which twelve films were shortlisted following a screeningprocess involving documentary judging panels in Los Angeles, New York and SanFrancisco..
Included among that final twelve, all of which are detailedbelow, are last year's Grand Jury Prize-winner at the Sundance FilmFestival, Long Night's Journey Into Day, as well as one of the select few documentary features to the have themarketing backing of a major Hollywood studio behind it, Warner Bros' IntoThe Arms Of Strangers.
However, much to the chagrin of certain US critics andpublicists, there are some very prominent absentees. Chief among them is AvivaKempner's The Life And Times Of Hank Greenberg, a profile of the Jewish baseball player who brokedown barriers of discrimination in American sports by becoming an icon duringthe 1930s and 40s. The film, which grossed more than $1.7m during a ten month art-housetheatrical run last year, has gone on to be named best documentary of 2000 bythe National Board Of Review, the New York Film Critics Circle and theBroadcast Film Critics Association.
But unless someone successfully intervened on its behalfthese past few weeks, following a last-ditch e-mail and phone campaignorchestrated by interested parties and a few impartial advocates, The LifeAnd Times Of Hank Greenberg is now out ofOscar contention.
The same goes for: MarcSinger's Dark Days, winnerof three Sundance 2000 prizes including the audience award; Paragraph 175 which earned Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman a bestdirection citation at Sundance not to mention two awards at the Berlin Film Festival;and The Eyes Of Tammy Faye, whichwas named best documentary of last year by the Boston Society of Film Critics.
They all join animpressive list of Oscar nomination shut-outs from the past that include suchpraised films as Terry Zwigoff's Crumb and any Errol Morris classic one cares to mention includingThe Thin Blue Line and Fast,Cheap And Out Of Control. That thedocumentary selection procedure was supposedly overhauled to meet previous complaintsof this sort has only added new fuel to the fire, as far as some in Hollywoodare concerned.
For the record, however,the dozen documentaries that were fortunate enough to be singled out by Academyselection committees are hardly obscure or even unworthy of consideration.Besides the two notable features already noted above, there are three other documentariesthat featured in the documentary competition last year at Sundance, where slotsare always hard to come by.
Moreover, their collectivesubject matter - spanning everything from Holocaust survival and racismin the Deep South to inner city poverty, battles against deafness or polio,anti-abortion terrorists, the internment of Japanese Americans and even astar-studded look at one of cinema's greatest directors of photography -all conform to the historical tastes of Academy voters.
THIS YEAR'S UNOFFICIAL SCREENING SHORTLIST FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Into The Arms OfStrangers: Stories Of The Kindertransport
(Dir: Mark Jonathan Harris)
Released by Warner Bros, this is an account of how in the nine months leadingup to the start of World War II, some 10,000 Jewish children left behind theirfamilies and homes in Central Europe and sought sanctuary in England fromgrowing Nazi persecution. Judi Dench narrates.
Long Night'sJourney Into Day
(Dirs: Deborah Hoffmann, FrancesReid)
An in-depth look at the some of the heartrending cases uncovered by South Africa'sTruth & Reconciliation Commission in the aftermath of Apartheid, this film wonthe Grand Jury Prize for best documentary at last year's Sundance FilmFestival. Among those interviewed are Bishop Desmond Tutu.
Half Past Autumn:The Life And Works Of Gordon Parks
(Dir: Craig Rice)
An account of the life and career of Gordon Parks, the African-Americanrenaissance man whose celebrated accomplishments include photography, novels,poetry, music, journalism and filmmaking, where he is best known as thedirector of 1971's Shaft.
Coming To Light:Edward S. Curtis And The North American Indians
(Dir: Anne Makepeace)
A depiction of the life and times of Edward Sheriff Curtis, who documented andphotographed some 80 western Native American tribes from 1890 to 1930,recording all their customs in a massive 20-volume lifework. Bill Pullman playsCurtis in the re-enactments.
Sound And Fury
(Dir: Josh Aronson)
Featured in the documentary competition at last year's Sundance FilmFestival, this portrait of deaf families and their community examines thecultural issues raised by the development of cochlear implants, a technologythat restores hearing for those with congenital deafness.
A Fight To TheFinish: Stories Of Polio
(Dir: Ken Mandel)
Mixing archival footage with interviews, this documentary traces the history ofthe battle against polio in the US.
Scottsboro: AnAmerican Tragedy
(Dirs: Daniel Anker, Barak Goodman)
Another documentary selected for Sundance competition last year, this one exposesthe injustices of Alabama's legal system and of American racism ingeneral during the 1930s when nine black teenage men were unfairly convicted ofraping two white women.
Soldiers In TheArmy Of God