Written by: FFT Webmaster | February 23rd, 2012
One of the more controversial sections of the Academy Awards has always been the Best Documentary Film race. The rules surrounding what films are eligible and what films are not, the stringent imperatives that now demand that films in consideration both open theatrically and receive reviews in either the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times, and the very small number of Academy members who actually nominate films for consideration, have taken up much editorial space over the years. Inevitably, films that should have made the final list get ignored (this year including such celebrated and successful films as PROJECT NIM, BUCK, CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS, ENTER THE ABYSS, THE INTERRUPTORS, PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES, and several others). However, here for your review are the five films that ARE in the running, one of which will celebrate Sunday evening with Oscar gold.
HELL AND BACK AGAIN (Danfung Dennis, USA)
What does it mean to lead men in war? What does it mean to come home? This powerful documentary on the war in Afghanistan and the effects of that protracted conflict on the brave men and women who spent a hellish period on the front lines could not be timelier. However, despite the currency of the subject of both the war itself and its effect on its post-traumatic syndrome practitioners, the Academy tends to overlook films on the subject of war for something more “uplifting”.
IF A TREE FALLS: A STORY OF THE EARTH LIBERATION FRONT (Marshall Curry & Sam Cullman, USA)
A rare behind-the-curtain look at the Earth Liberation Front, the radical environmental group that the FBI calls America’s “number one domestic terrorist threat.”, this relevant film tells the story of Daniel McGowan, an ELF member who faced life in prison for two multi-million dollar arsons against Oregon timber companies. The film employs McGowan’s story to examine larger questions about environmentalism, activism, and terrorism. While the story is compelling, is this really the year that the rather conservative Academy awards individual radicalism and possible criminal behavior?
PARADISE LOST 3: PURGATORY (Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky, USA)
The third in the filmmakers series about the injustices of the justice system focuses once again on the West Memphis Three, accused of murdering two young boys when they were teenagers themselves, who have since been exonerated following DNA evidence and the recanting of the testimonies of several key players in the drama. In a bizarre twist, the court reversed the earlier verdicts after almost 20 years, in exchange for an admission of guilt. Where this leaves the story, not to mention the psyches of the three men who spent time in prison on a false charge, is fascinating stuff. The Academy may decide to reward the tenacity of the filmmakers for the trilogy that exposed the flaws in the case and the cracks in our justice system.
PINA (Wim Wenders, Germany)
The combination of extraordinary 3D filmmaking and the unique subject of avant-garde German choreographer Pina Bausch make this film an event of technical prowess and artistic commitment. Wenders, the best known of the directors in this category, reveals a tactile and involving element in the 3D visuals that do not involve action sequences, things being blown up or projectiles aimed at the glass-wearing audience. For its visual innovation and the enthralling performance pieces, this is a non-political film to admire that could encompass the entire political and age spectrum of Academy voters.
UNDEFEATED (Daniel Lindsay, USA)
The theme of the underdog and America’s fascination with sports heroes could carry the day for this film that follows the Manassas Tigers football team, a severely underfunded and underprivileged football team as they reverse their fortunes thanks to inspirational coach Bill Courtney. This film is the one that stresses what America sees as its greatest values (the ability to overcome obstacles and race to the front from behind) and is certainly the biggest audience pleaser of the lot. The Weinstein Company, which is also behind Oscar contenders THE ARTIST, MY WEEK WITH MARILYN and THE IRON LADY, has brought its considerable marketing muscle to bear and the film may be another in Harvey Weinstein’s aces come Oscar night.