Who Are the Best Nonfiction Film Characters of 2013?


Inspired by a piece written earlier this year for Hammer to Nail by Nonfics contributor Robert Greene, Cinema Eye has come up with a list of the year’s best performances in documentary cinema. Calling them “The Unforgettables,” the organization has not decided to create an award category for the concept at its annual Cinema Eye Honors, but this is a significant step in the recognition of nonfiction film characters.

The list, which was posted at Indiewire, includes some definite favorites and standouts worthy of attention. I’d include Ushio and Noriko Shinohara of Cutie and the Boxer in my top five for sure. And After Tiller’s Susan Robinson and Shelley Sella are deserving. But I don’t know that I’d give any sort of honorable recognition to Anwar Congo of The Act of Killing.

A lot of documentaries aren’t necessarily great because of any single subjects, and I doubt I’d highlight Michael Polley in Stories We Tell or single out Lisa Fischer from 20 Feet From Stardom. Whereas William Kamkwamba is truly the best reason to see the so-so William and the Windmill. Overall, I’m not a huge fan of the idea of a list like this if it makes us judge the real people and in such a vague manner of distinction, and I agree with Cinema Eye’s A.J. Schnack that “the conversation about [subject’s] contribution to a film is well worth having.”

One doc subject missing from the list who did really elevate his movie with his enjoyable personality is Tomi Ungerer of Far Out Isn’t Far Enough. But that film might have been too interview-oriented for what looks to be a completely verite-concentrated selection. Also, I’d pick a handful of people from Schnack’s own 2013 release, Caucus. Would it have been too much of a conflict of interest to include Rick Santorum and Marcus Bachmann?

I will say this much: I’ve only seen ten of the fifteen titles they’ve selected, and now the five I’ve not seen do seem more appealing to me to give a shot.

Here is Cinema Eye’s full list of spotlighted “Unforgettables” for 2013:

Anwar Congo from The Act of Killing

Lisa Fischer from 20 Feet From Stardom

Edwin Honig from First Cousin Once Removed

William Kamkwamba from William and the Windmill

Freda Kelly from Good Ol’ Freda

Kevin Pearce and David Pearce from The Crash Reel

Neil Platt from I Am Breathing

Michael Polley from Stories We Tell

Pug from 12 O’Clock Boys

Rafea from Rafea: Solar Mama

Susan Robinson and Shelley Sella from After Tiller

Chris “Wonder” Schoeck from Bending Steel

Ushio and Noriko Shinohara from Cutie and the Boxer

Tilikum from Blackfish

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova from Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.