Oscar Documentary Feature Shortlist: Netflix Makes Impressive Showing As Academy Trims Contenders to 15
Streaming platform's American Factory and Knock Down the House in the mix, along with non-Netflix contenders For Sama, Apollo 11, Honeyland and more
Netflix only landed one film on the Oscar Documentary Feature shortlist last year--Sandi Tan's Shirkers--but the streamer came roaring back this year with four titles making the cut.
It also landed four documentaries on the Oscar Documentary Short shortlist.
The Netflix titles still in the running for best feature include American Factory, directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert and executive-produced by Higher Ground Productions, the company owned by former President Obama and Michelle Obama. It focuses on the fraught effort of a Chinese auto glass giant to set up operations in an old GM plant in Dayton, Ohio.
It was a hard place to work. But at the same time those jobs were much needed and a lot of people were very grateful. Even though as hot as hell as it was [in the factory] and even though the pay was 12 bucks an hour at that time, people were grateful to have those jobs.
Three political-themed documentaries from Netflix--Knock Down the House, The Edge of Democracy, and The Great Hack--also made the feature shortlist. KDTH, directed by Rachel Lears, focuses on four Democratic insurgent candidates, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who set out to dethrone entrenched incumbents in the 2018 primaries.
The Edge of Democracy, directed by Brazilian filmmaker Petra Costa, tells the story of her home country where the rise of right-wing populism has, in Costa's view, set the stage for a return to authoritarian rule.
The Great Hack explores how data collected by Facebook and weaponized by Cambridge Analytica impacted the 2016 presidential election that put Donald Trump into office. Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim (The Square) directed the film.
This is the list of the 15 films to make the Oscar Documentary Feature shortlist. Keep reading below for more information on the shortlisted films and links to our pieces on many of them.
Advocate, directed by Philippe Bellaiche and Rachel Leah Jones
American Factory, directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert
The Apollo, directed by Roger Ross Williams
Apollo 11, directed by Todd Douglas Miller
Aquarela, directed by Viktor Kosakovskiy
The Biggest Little Farm, directed by John Chester
The Cave, directed by Feras Fayyad
The Edge of Democracy, directed by Petra Costa
For Sama, directed by Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts
The Great Hack, directed by Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim
Honeyland, directed by Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska
Knock Down the House, directed by Rachel Lears
Maiden, directed by Alex Holmes
Midnight Family, directed by Luke Lorentzen
One Child Nation, directed by Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang
Two films about the Syrian civil war made the Oscar feature shortlist. For Sama, directed by Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts, centers on al-Kateab's experienced trying to raise her baby daughter Sama in the besieged city of Aleppo. It has won more awards this season than any other nonfiction film, including best documentary at festivals from Cannes to SXSW, Durban, Galway, Heartland and HotDocs. Read our piece on For Sama here.
The Cave returns Syrian-born director Feras Fayyad to Oscar contention. It's the story of Dr. Amani Ballour, a pediatrician in a suburb of Damascus, who endeavored to save lives while running a hospital menaced by constant bombing from Syrian government forces and Russian jets. Fayyad earned an Oscar nomination for his 2017 film Last Men in Aleppo. Read our piece on The Cave's sound designer Peter Albrechtsen here.
Among the other international-themed films on the shortlist are Honeyland, directed by Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska. Their documentary, winner of three awards at the Sundance Film Festival, tells the touching story of Hatidze Muratova, a woman living in a remote area of North Macedonia. She tends to her ailing mother while earning a meager income from the sale of honey cultivated from wild bees. Read our piece on Honeyland here.
One Child Nation, winner of the Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Documentary at Sundance, investigates the shocking way China enforced its one child policy, allegedly forcing women to undergo abortions and sterilizations. Chinese natives Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang directed the film. Read our piece on One Child Nation here.
Advocate is another of the international-themed docs to make the shortlist. Philippe Bellaiche and Rachel Leah Jones directed the film on Israeli human rights lawyer Lea Tsemel, who has attracted controversy by defending Palestinians accused of harming Israelis. Read our piece on Advocate here.
Apollo 11, one of the most honored documentaries of the year, made the shortlist for director Todd Douglas Miller. The film about NASA's breathtaking 1969 mission to land the first men on the moon has made more than $9 million at the box office, the biggest haul for any nonfiction film in 2019. Read our piece on Apollo 11 here.
The high seas documentary Maiden made the shortlist, an adventure story about the first all-women yachting team to take part in the dangerous Whitbread Round the World Race. Maiden recently won Best Documentary from the National Board of Review. Read our piece on the film here.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.