Charting the documentaries that will eventually will be tapped for Oscar gold is a spectator sport popular in the world of non-fiction filmmakers and their devoted public. With documentaries showing considerable clout at the box office and responsible for adding to the public discourse about global warming, globalization and other 21st century vices, the announcements last week of nominees from the International Documentary Association holds special interest. Winners will be feted on December 4th at the Directors Guild in Los Angeles, in a ceremony hosted by This American Life’s Ira Glass.
The five nominated films for Distinguished Documentary Achievement in IDA’s feature category are: AFGAN STAR, the timely and moving film following the dramatic stories of four young finalists as they compete in Afghanistan’s version of American Idol; ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL, the hilarious and unexpectedly moving account of an obscure Canadian metal band’s last-ditch quest for elusive fame and fortune; DIARY OF A TIMES SQUARE THIEF, which documents the search for the writer of a mysterious diary that the filmmaker finds on EBay; FOOD, INC., that lifts the veil on America’s highly mechanized food industry; and MUGABE AND THE WHITE AFRICAN, the story of Michael Campbell, a 74-year-old fifth-generation white African farmer who withstands land invasions and violence in his stand against Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s land seizure program.
The four nominated short films are: THE DELIAN MODE, an exploration of the life and work of electronic music pioneer Delia Derbyshire; SALT, a journey with photo-artist Murray Fredericks as he tries to capture the heart of the world’s most featureless landscape on Lake Eyre, South Australia; SARI’S MOTHER, a mother’s navigation of Iraq’s health-care system in search of care for her son who is dying of AIDS; and THE SOLITARY LIFE OF CRANES, a visual poem which follows 24 hours in life of a city seen through the eyes of crane operators.
The IDA Documentary Awards will also recognize filmmakers and film journalists who displayed conspicuous bravery in the pursuit of truth in a special “Courage Under Fire” tribute to be presented by Current Media journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee. In March of this year Ling and Lee were reporting on the trafficking of North Korean women across the Chinese border, when they who were apprehended by North Korean soldiers. They were sentenced to 12 years in a North Korean labor prison but were released after 140 days in captivity through the diplomatic efforts of former President Bill Clinton.
Will winners of the IDA DOCUMENTARY AWARDS figure in the run-up to the Oscars? The answer is a definitive YES.