The moment that this year's Academy Award nominees are revealed to the entire world at a pre-dawn ceremony broadcast live from Los Angeles tomorrow morning, there will be the usual gasps at some of the omissions and more questions raised about why some of the year's best-known documentary features have failed yet again to make the cut.
Although no one knows for sure which five documentary features will compete for the coveted Oscar in March, it is already known within industry circles which twelve films were shortlisted following a screening process involving documentary judging panels in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.
Included among that final twelve, all of which are detailed below, are last year's Grand Jury Prize-winner at the Sundance Film Festival, Long Night's Journey Into Day, as well as one of the select few documentary features to the have the marketing backing of a major Hollywood studio behind it, Warner Bros' Into The Arms Of Strangers.
However, much to the chagrin of certain US critics and publicists, there are some very prominent absentees. Chief among them is Aviva Kempner's The Life And Times Of Hank Greenberg, a profile of the Jewish baseball player who broke down barriers of discrimination in American sports by becoming an icon during the 1930s and 40s. The film, which grossed more than $1.7m during a ten month art-house theatrical run last year, has gone on to be named best documentary of 2000 by the National Board Of Review, the New York Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.
But unless someone successfully intervened on its behalf these past few weeks, following a last-ditch e-mail and phone campaign orchestrated by interested parties and a few impartial advocates, The Life And Times Of Hank Greenberg is now out of Oscar contention.
The same goes for: Marc Singer's Dark Days, winner of three Sundance 2000 prizes including the audience award; Paragraph 175 which earned Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman a best direction citation at Sundance not to mention two awards at the Berlin Film Festival; and The Eyes Of Tammy Faye, which was named best documentary of last year by the Boston Society of Film Critics.
They all join an impressive list of Oscar nomination shut-outs from the past that include such praised films as Terry Zwigoff's Crumb and any Errol Morris classic one cares to mention including The Thin Blue Line and Fast, Cheap And Out Of Control. That the documentary selection procedure was supposedly overhauled to meet previous complaints of this sort has only added new fuel to the fire, as far as some in Hollywood are concerned.
For the record, however, the dozen documentaries that were fortunate enough to be singled out by Academy selection committees are hardly obscure or even unworthy of consideration. Besides the two notable features already noted above, there are three other documentaries that featured in the documentary competition last year at Sundance, where slots are always hard to come by.
Moreover, their collective subject matter - spanning everything from Holocaust survival and racism in the Deep South to inner city poverty, battles against deafness or polio, anti-abortion terrorists, the internment of Japanese Americans and even a star-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 Of Strangers: Stories Of The Kindertransport
(Dir: Mark Jonathan Harris)
Released by Warner Bros, this is an account of how in the nine months leading up to the start of World War II, some 10,000 Jewish children left behind their families and homes in Central Europe and sought sanctuary in England from growing Nazi persecution. Judi Dench narrates.
Long Night's Journey Into Day
(Dirs: Deborah Hoffmann, Frances Reid)
An in-depth look at the some of the heartrending cases uncovered by South Africa's Truth & Reconciliation Commission in the aftermath of Apartheid, this film won the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary at last year's Sundance Film Festival. 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-American renaissance man whose celebrated accomplishments include photography, novels, poetry, music, journalism and filmmaking, where he is best known as the director 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 and photographed some 80 western Native American tribes from 1890 to 1930, recording all their customs in a massive 20-volume lifework. Bill Pullman plays Curtis in the re-enactments.
Sound And Fury
(Dir: Josh Aronson)
Featured in the documentary competition at last year's Sundance Film Festival, this portrait of deaf families and their community examines the cultural issues raised by the development of cochlear implants, a technology that restores hearing for those with congenital deafness.
A Fight To The Finish: Stories Of Polio
(Dir: Ken Mandel)
Mixing archival footage with interviews, this documentary traces the history of the battle against polio in the US.
Scottsboro: An American Tragedy
(Dirs: Daniel Anker, Barak Goodman)
Another documentary selected for Sundance competition last year, this one exposes the injustices of Alabama's legal system and of American racism in general during the 1930s when nine black teenage men were unfairly convicted of raping two white women.
Soldiers In The Army Of God
(Dirs: Marc Levin, Daphne Pinkerson)
Involving the same team that made the Emmy-winning documentary Thug Life In DC before moving into dramatic features with the Sundance-winning Slam, this feature provides an inside look at some of the extremists involved in the US anti-abortion movement that has already claimed the lives of several doctors.
Light Keeps Me Company (Ljuset Håller Mig Sällskap)
(Dir: Carl-Gustav Nykvist )
A portrait of Sweden's virtuoso cinematographer Sven Nykvist as seen through the eyes of his son, this Swedish-Danish co-production incorporates insights from a who's who of world cinema figures, including Woody Allen, Bibi Andersson, Richard Attenborough, Gena Rowlands, Melanie Griffith, Roman Polanski and the normally reclusive Ingmar Bergman.
Of Civil Wrongs & Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story
(Dir: Eric Paul Fournier)
An account of Korematsu's legal struggle against the forced internment of Japanese Americans during World War Two that led to a landmark civil rights victory nearly forty years later, as told through his personal testimony, interviews and archival footage, interspersed with dramatic reenactments. Rosa Parks and Bill Clinton are among those featured.
(Dir: Tod S. Lending)
A saga that traces one family's ascendancy from the grips of despair living in one of Chicago's most dangerous housing projects, Legacy starts on a note of a tragedy when a teenage son in gunned down outside his home on the very first day of filmmaking and ends on a note of triumph five years later.
Living Dolls: The Making Of