The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has narrowed the field for the Best Documentary Oscar, announcing the 15 movies that have made this year’s shortlist.  The 15 films will compete for five nomination slots.  Among the 15 films on the list is Ava DuVernay’s critically acclaimed mass incarceration documentary 13th.

13th traces the history from the US constitution’s 13th amendment, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, to 2016, where one-in-three black American males can expect to be imprisoned during his lifetime.  It explores racial imbalances in the criminal justice system, and features appearances from author Michelle Alexander, activist Angela Davis, and Senator Cory Booker, among others.  At it’s core, this powerful film charts the path that shows the audience how history has been repeating itself from the Jim Crow era to the present.

The film, which premiered theatrically and on Netflix streaming earlier this year, became the first documentary in history to open the New York Film Festival in October, and has already won Critics Choice Documentary Awards for Best Director, Best Documentary Feature (in the TV/Streaming category), and Best Political Documentary, and also received a 2017  Spirit Award Nomination.

Check out the below the 15 shortlisted documentaries (in alphabetical order):

13th (Director: Ava DuVernay)
Chosen to open this year’s New York Film Festival, DuVernay’s film turns a sharp eye toward the Thirteenth Amendment, specifically the “punishment for a crime” clause, and its connection to the problem with mass incarceration and institutionalized racism in the United States. DuVernay’s 2014 film “Selma” was nominated for two Academy Awards, Best Picture and Best Original Song, and won the latter.

Cameraperson (Director: Kirsten Johnson)
Using her own footage shot over decades around the world, Johnson reveals the power of the camera in this memoir. She is best known for her work as a cinematographer having won multiple awards for her work in that role on the Oscar-winning “Citizenfour” in 2014.

Command and Control (Director: Robert Kenner)
Adapted from Eric Shlosser’s award-winning book of the same name, Kenner’s documentary focuses on the near-launch of a nuclear missile from Arkansas in the 1980s. The film premiered at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.

The Eagle Huntress (Director: Otto Bell)
With narration by Daisy Ridley, Bell tells the real-life story of a 13-year old Mongolian girl named Aisholpan attempting to be the first female eagle hunter in 12 generations of her family. The documentary premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

Fire at Sea (Director: Gianfranco Rosi)
Having won the Golden Lion at this year’s Berlinale and chosen by Italy as its submission in the Foreign Language Film race, “Fire at Sea” is already one of the year’s leading contenders at the Oscars. The film juxtaposes the ordinary life of the inhabitants of the Sicilian island of Lampedusa with the refugees escaping into the European Union from across the Mediterranean Sea.

Gleason (Director: J. Clay Tweel)
Covering five years in the life of former pro football player Steve Gleason and including video diaries recorded for his unborn son, this film focuses on his battle with ALS and the work he and his family do to raise money for ALS awareness.

Hooligan Sparrow (Director: Nanfu Wang)
In her debut film, made from in part footage captured in secret and smuggled out of the country, Wang focuses her attention on a child rape case involving government officials in China through the lens of gender activist Ye Haiyan and others fighting for the rights of women against violence and sexual aggression.

I Am Not Your Negro (Director: Raoul Peck)
Winner of the People’s Choice Award for documentaries at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, Peck’s film explores the history of race relations in the U.S. based on author James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript “Remember This House,” including his takes on the lives and work of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Jr.

The Ivory Game (Directors: Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani)
A Netflix documentary chronicling a group of wildlife activists efforts against poachers to end the illegal ivory trade in Africa and its spread throughout Asia.

Life, Animated (Director: Roger Ross Williams)
Winner of the 2016 Sundance Directing Award: Documentary, “Life, Animated” is the story of an autistic boy and his family who used Disney animated films as a way of learning to express himself. Williams is already an Oscar champ having won Best Documentary Short in 2010 for his film “Music by Prudence.”

O.J.: Made in America (Director: Ezra Edelman)
Exploring the life and celebrity of O.J. Simpson through the lens of race relations in America, the ESPN documentary “30 for 30: O.J.: Made in America” is a five-part television series that premiered at Sundance and had an Oscar-qualifying theatrical run. Edelman is best known as a sports documentary filmmaker having won multiple Sports Emmys for “Brooklyn Dodgers: Ghosts of Flatbush” in 2008, but is new to the Oscar race.

Tower (Director: Keith Maitland)
Using animation, “Tower” is the first documentary about the 1966 shootings at the University of Texas at Austin. Maitland’s film won the Audience Award and Grand Jury Award in the documentary categories at the 2016 South by Southwest festival.

Weiner (Directors: Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg)
Chronicling his 2013 New York City mayoral campaign and image rehabilitation after the 2011 leaked photo scandal that ended his career in Congress, Anthony Weiner is the subject of this 2016 Sundance Grand Jury Prize: Documentary winner. This is directorial debut of both Kriegman and Steinberg.

The Witness (Director: James D. Solomon)
Bill Genovese tries to uncover the truth behind his sister Kitty’s murder in 1964, in which dozens of bystanders were alleged to have done nothing. This is Solomon’s directorial debut.

Zero Days (Director: Alex Gibney)
Gibney’s film focusing on the Stuxnet, a pieece of self-replicating computer malware that the U.S. and Israel unleashed to destroy a key part of an Iranian nuclear facility, competed for the Golden Bear at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival. Gibney is a two-time Oscar nominee in the category with one win for “Taxi to the Dark Side” in 2007. He is also the director of the Emmy-winning “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” from last year.



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The HBR Media Team is a collective group of black women filmmakers, writers, and studio/network executives who are passionate about bringing visibility to women of African descent working in film and television.

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