Agnes Varda and JR’s “Faces Places,” Brett Morgen’s “Jane,” Matthew Heineman’s “City of Ghosts” and Jeff Orlowski’s “Chasing Coral” have made the cut as the Academy Awards race for Best Documentary Feature has been narrowed down from a record-breaking 170 eligible films to a shortlist of 15.
Competing directors include two who have won Honorary Oscars in recent years: “Faces Places” co-director Varda, who received the award in November, and “Ex Libris – The New York Public Library” director Frederick Wiseman, a legendary nonfiction filmmaker who won an Honorary Oscar in 2016, has never been nominated for a competitive one.
Also in the running: Activist, artist and filmmaker Ai Weiwei, with his globe-spanning film about refugees, “Human Flow”; Steve James, who was snubbed by the Oscars for “Hoop Dreams” and “The Interrupters,” with “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail”; the sports doc “Icarus,” an examination of Russia’s Olympic doping program that is particularly timely in light of the country’s recent banishment from the upcoming games; and “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” the follow-up to the Oscar-winning film about Al Gore’s climate-change crusade.
“Strong Island,” Yance Ford’s examination of the murder of his brother, continued its strong showing after being nominated for nearly every early doc award, while “LA 92,” one of more than half a dozen docs about the 1992 Los Angeles riots and a film that has already won an Emmy, advanced as well, as did “One of Us,” Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing’s examination of a handful of Hassidic Jews who tried to leave their insular community in Brooklyn.
Also on the shortlist: the four-hour Grateful Dead documentary “Long Strange Trip,” the Syrian-set “Last Men in Aleppo” and Jennifer Brea’s chronicle of her own illness, “Unrest.”
The Oscars shortlist:
“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” Mitten Media, Motto Pictures, Kartemquin Educational Films and WGBH/FRONTLINE
“Chasing Coral,” Exposure Labs in partnership with The Ocean Agency & View Into the Blue in association with Argent Pictures & The Kendeda Fund
“City of Ghosts,” Our Time Projects and Jigsaw Productions
“Ex Libris – The New York Public Library,” Ex Libris Films
“Faces Places,” Ciné Tamaris
“Human Flow,” Participant Media and AC Films
“Icarus,” Netflix Documentary in association with Impact Partners, Diamond Docs, Chicago
Media Project and Alex Productions
“An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” Paramount Pictures and Participant Media
“Jane,” National Geographic Studios in association with Public Road Productions
“LA 92,” Lightbox
“Last Men in Aleppo,” Larm Film
“Long Strange Trip,” Double E Pictures, AOMA Sunshine Films and Sikelia
“One of Us,” Loki Films
“Strong Island,” Yanceville Films and Louverture Films
“Unrest,” Shella Films and Little by Little Films
High-profile films missing from the shortlist include “Cries From Syria,” “The Final Year,” “Kedi,” “Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992,” “No Stone Unturned,” “Step” and “Dina.”
The first round of voting ended on Nov. 30, with members of the Academy’s Documentary Branch assigned to watch specific films but free to view any other qualifying film. Their votes produced the shortlist, and the entire branch will now be able to view the semifinalists and select the five nominees.
In recent years, the branch has regularly modified its rules to open the voting to more members and prevent the baffling oversights that regularly happened when the shortlist was produced by the votes of small committees.
Since the changes have been made, the shortlists have typically contained most of the high-profile docs in the running, perhaps at the expense of smaller films that might have been able to advance under the old rules.
The five nominees will be announced with the rest of the Oscars nominations on Jan. 23, with early favorites including “City of Ghosts,” “Faces Places,” “Jane” and “Strong Island.”