The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominees for the 2020 Oscars this morning, and there were quite a few surprises all around, including in the arena of documentaries. One of the big stories is that shortlisted favorite Apollo 11 was shockingly snubbed (though not so shocking in the recent tradition of Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards winners for Best Documentary Feature not being nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature). Less surprising was the fact that none of the docs shortlisted for Best Original Song earned a nod. And less talked about is Honeyland‘s historical moment as a nominee for not just Best Documentary Feature but also Best International Feature.
Now, this isn’t the first time a documentary has been nominated in the category formerly known as Best Foreign Langage Film. The animated doc Waltz with Bashir was nominated, representing Israel, back in 2009, and The Missing Picture took one of the slots, representing Cambodia, in 2014. But neither one of those films was also nominated in the Best Documentary Feature category. Honeyland‘s achievement isn’t the first time a documentary has received multiple nominations or even additional nominations while being nominated for Best Documentary Feature. The Quiet One was also nominated for its screenplay. Navajo was also nominated for its cinematography. Woodstock was also up for Best Editing and Best Sound. An Inconvenient Truth was also nominated for Best Original Song and won both awards. And last year, RBG was also nominated for Best Original Song. But this is the first time for a Best Documentary Feature nominee being also nominated in the foreign category.
So despite the Apollo 11 snub, rising documentary distribution star Neon should be very happy and proud with the Academy for Honeyland‘s double duty. Netflix also got a few nominations, two in the feature category (American Factory and The Edge of Democracy) and one for Best Documentary Short (Life Overtakes Me). MTV Documentary Films is on the board already in its first year with former HBO Documentary icon Sheila Nevins in charge with a nomination for their short doc St. Louis Superman. And my favorite shortlisted doc short of last year, In the Absence, is also nominated there. I also want to give a shout out to documentarian Marshall Curry, who received his fourth Oscar nomination today for his first narrative work, the live-action short The Neighbor’s Window (it’s great, and you should watch it on Vimeo now).
Congrats to all of this year’s honorees, including Feras Fayyad for his second nomination with The Cave. That and For Sama are an interesting pair in the Best Documentary Feature category as they follow similar stories of heroes in war-torn Syria, albeit with focus on different cities and with very different directorial approaches. Interestingly enough, most of the feature nominees are either completely in a foreign language or much of the film is not in English and is set outside the U.S.
Here are the 2020 Oscar nominees for documentary followed by some statements from some of those recognized:
Best Documentary Feature
The Edge of Democracy
Best Documentary Short
In the Absence
Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (if You’re a Girl)
Life Overtakes Me
St. Louis Superman
Walk Run Cha-Cha
Best International Feature
Honeyland (North Macedonia)
For Sama directors Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts:
“We are so delighted and honored to be nominated for an Oscar, alongside these incredible films and filmmakers. It is a moment that we had never imagined on a journey spanning nine years — from near-death to new life. We hope that the nomination will encourage as many people as possible to go and see the film and learn the true story of the Syrian conflict. And we ask them to remember that what they see in the film is still happening today in Idlib, the last part of Syria outside the control of the Assad dictatorship, where hospitals, schools, and children are being bombed by the regime and its Russian allies every day.”
In the Absence director Yi Seung-Jun and producer Gary Byung-Seok Kam:
“This is incredible news, and we are honored and excited to receive this nomination.“IN THE ABSENCE is about a ferry sinking disaster which occurred on 16 April 2014 in South Korea. 304 passengers and crew members, including more than 250 high school students were killed. The victims’ families are still in severe pain, because the story has not ended. Because their beloved ones could have been saved, and the people who are responsible for the tragedy have not been brought to justice yet.“When we started to make this film, the victims’ families asked us for only one thing: to share the story with as wide an international audience as possible. We are pleased that we can keep the promise we made to them, and being nominated for an Academy Award will help us share the story more widely.“Working together with Field of Vision was a great experience, and we are truly grateful for every effort our Field of Vision colleagues made to make this film possible. We also would like to express our appreciation to the Korea Communication Agency, which also supported this project from the beginning, and to the 416 Documenting Group who shared the valuable footage with us.“We made this film not to win prizes, but to share the story. The truths of the disaster have not been fully disclosed yet. Many things have to be solved, and many questions have to be answered.“We hope that more and more people around the world will share this story, letting victims’ families know that the world is with them.“The year 2019 was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Korean cinema so it is especially meaningful for us to be a part of the proud moment of film history of Korea.”
St. Louis Superman directors Smriti Mundhra and Sami Khan:
“We’re absolutely thrilled to receive an Oscar nomination for ST. LOUIS SUPERMAN. The film’s success exists solely because of the storytelling superpowers of Bruce Franks Jr. and we are profoundly grateful to have been able to work with Bruce to tell his story. We share this honor with Bruce and our whole filmmaking team including our champions at MTV Documentary Films and AJE Witness. At a critical moment for our democracy, Bruce’s activism couldn’t be more urgent. We’d like to thank the Academy for recognizing our film and Bruce’s work. We’d also like to congratulate our fellow nominees for their incredible films.”
Walk Run Ch-Cha director Laura Nix:
“I am beyond thrilled that WALK RUN CHA-CHA has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject. Yesterday we celebrated the day Paul arrived in America as a refugee from Vietnam, exactly 40 years ago, and today we’re celebrating an Oscar nomination. I am deeply grateful to Paul and Millie Cao for giving me access to their community over six years of filming. At their dance studio, we see Eastern Europeans teaching Latin dance to people from the Chinese community in suburban Los Angeles, reminding us of the beauty of America’s rich cultural diversity in a moment challenged by anti-immigration policies and sentiment.I am so grateful to the Academy for recognizing this film, and deeply honored to be in the company of such incredible filmmakers. We share this honor with The New York Times Op-Docs and Concordia Studio without whose support we couldn’t have made this film.”