Oscars: 'Honeyland' Earns Historic Double Nomination; 'For Sama' and 'The Cave' Lift Syrian Stories
American Factory and The Edge of Democracy also make the cut but Apollo 11 a surprise omission
Honeyland made history Monday morning as the Oscar nominations were announced, earning recognition in two categories.
The film by Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska scored a nomination for Best Documentary Feature -- by no means a surprise there, given the many awards it has won beginning at last year's Sundance Film Festival. But it also claimed a nomination for Best International Feature Film, the category that until this year was called Best Foreign Language Film. It's the first time a nonfiction film has earned nominations for Best Documentary and Best Foreign Language (aka International Film).
In the Documentary Feature race, Honeyland will go up against two films about the Syrian civil war -- For Sama, directed by Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts, and The Cave, directed by Feras Fayyad. It was the second Oscar nomination for Fayyad, whose 2018 film Last Men in Aleppo also earned an Academy Award nod.
Fayyad's nomination came despite his inability to represent his film in the United States in the run-up to the nomination announcement; the U.S. State Department rejected his most recent visa application to enter the country, citing his Syrian citizenship. Fayyad came to the U.S. in the fall, but hasn't been able to return since.
It is a moment that we had never imagined on a journey spanning 9-years - from near death to new life.
In a statement to Nonfictionfilm.com, For Sama's directors expressed their thanks for the Academy recognition.
"We are so delighted and honoured 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 9-years - from near death to new life," al-Kateab and Watts wrote. “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.”
Joining For Sama, The Cave and Honeyland in the Best Documentary Feature race are American Factory from directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert and The Edge of Democracy, directed by Petra Costa. Both of those titles are from Netflix. American Factory also marks the first film executive produced by Higher Ground Productions, the company established by President Obama and Michelle Obama, which has a distribution deal with Netflix (the Obamas came on board American Factory after it had been completed).
The biggest surprise in the Best Documentary Feature category was the absence of Apollo 11, Todd Douglas Miller's film about the NASA mission to land the first astronauts on the moon. It was snubbed, despite winning numerous awards, including Best Documentary at the Critics' Choice Documentary Awards, and earning more money in theatrical release than any other nonfiction film in 2019.
In the Best International Feature Film category, Honeyland will face the heavily-favored Parasite, Bong Joon Ho's celebrated film about class struggle in South Korea, along with Pain and Glory from Pedro Almodóvar, Corpus Christi, directed by Jan Komasa, and Les Misérables from director Ladj Ly.
One other note of interest -- veteran documentary filmmaker Marshall Curry (Street Fight; A Night at the Garden) earned an Oscar nomination in the Best Live Action Short category, for his film The Neighbors' Window.
In a statement provided to Nonfictionfilm.com, Curry commented, "I’ve always thought of myself as a documentary filmmaker so I was nervous to leap off of the cliff and try writing and directing fiction. But I had an amazing team of collaborators – a brilliant cast and crew -- and it’s a huge thrill to have the film receive this attention.”
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.