‘Citizenfour,’ ‘Life Itself,’ ‘Last Days in Vietnam’ Make Oscar Documentary Shortlist

“Keep On Keepin’ On,” “Virunga,” “Tales of the Grim Sleeper” and “The Case Against 8” also on 15-film list

Edward Snowden

Films about whistleblower Edward Snowden, musician Clark Terry and film critic Roger Ebert are on the shortlist of 15 films that will continue in the Oscar race for Best Documentary Feature, the Academy announced on Tuesday.

Laura Poitras’ “Citizenfour,” Alan Hicks’ “Keep on Keepin’ On” and Steve James“Life Itself” are among the entries on the shortlist, which also contains “Virunga,” “The Salt of the Earth,” “The Overnighters,” “Tales of the Grim Sleeper,” “The Case Against 8” and “Last Days in Vietnam.”

Other films on the list: “Art and Craft,” “Citizen Koch,” “Finding Vivian Maier,” “The Internet’s Own Boy,” “Jodorowsky’s Dune” and “The Kill Team.”

While the Poitras doc has become the year’s most acclaimed non-fiction film since it premiered at the New York Film Festival in early October, the inclusion of “Life Itself” is particularly noteworthy.

Roger Ebert was one of the leading voices criticizing the Academy when it failed to nominate Steve James’ “Hoop Dreams” for Best Documentary in 1995, and James was subsequently left off the shortlist for his acclaimed doc “The Interrupters” in 2011.

“Roger would be that Steve James may get the nomination for this movie that he didn’t get for ‘Hoop Dreams’ and ‘The Interrupters,’” Ebert’s wife Chaz told TheWrap recently.

Overall, the shortlist contained most of the non-fiction films that have been nominated for top prizes in other documentary competitions, with a few exceptions. Marshall Curry’s “Point and Shoot” was not included, nor was the Nick Cave documentary “20,000 Days on Earth,” the Glen Campbell film “Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me” or the science film “Particle Fever.”

Other high-profile films that were left off the list include “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me,” “Dancing in Jaffa,” “Documented” and “Red Army.”

The list is a blend of hard-hitting films about topical subjects (“Citizenfour,” “Citizen Koch,” “Tales of the Grim Sleeper” with character studies (“Life Itself,” “Art and Craft”) and one film, the music-related doc “Keep On Keepin’ On,” that fits the mold of recent winners “Searching for Sugar Man” and “20 Feet From Stardom.”

Two of the films, “Finding Vivian Maier” and “The Salt of the Earth,” are about photographers, and one, “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” is about a filmmaker.

The rules for how the shortlist is created were changed three years ago, with the process shifting from small committees to a vote from the overall branch, whose members received screeners of all 134 eligible films.

Since the rule change, the shortlists have for the most part contained fewer baffling omissions and prompted fewer outcries, though the workload required to see that many films necessarily favors more high-profile films.

Members receive the screeners in monthly batches that can number as many as 50, and each voter is randomly assigned a small number from each batch as mandatory viewing. Although that process guarantees that every film will be seen, the change from an averaged-score system to simply counting the number of votes each film receives means that a movie’s chance increases as does its number of viewers.

The shortlist:

“Art and Craft,” Purple Parrot Films
“The Case against 8,” Day in Court
“Citizen Koch,” Elsewhere Films
“CitizenFour,” Praxis Films
“Finding Vivian Maier,” Ravine Pictures
“The Internet’s Own Boy,” Luminant Media
“Jodorowsky’s Dune,” City Film
“Keep On Keepin’ On,” Absolute Clay Productions
“The Kill Team,” f/8 filmworks
“Last Days in Vietnam,” Moxie Firecracker Films
“Life Itself,” Kartemquin Films and Film Rites
“The Overnighters,” Mile End Films West
“The Salt of the Earth,” Decia Films
“Tales of the Grim Sleeper,” Lafayette Film
“Virunga,” Grain Media