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The $1.5 million that Bill Cunningham New York did at the box office in 2011 may not make a lot of noise in an industry dominated by movies like Avatar and The Dark Knight, but it’s practically a blockbuster for a documentary. The movie about the life of The New York Times’ legendary street photographer has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 98 out of 100 and had big-name critics like Kenneth Turan and Lisa Schwarzbaum swimming in a sea of superlatives.
In January, it got a Directors Guild Nomination for Best Documentary, leading many to believe it was on target for an Academy Award. But last week, the film was absent from the list of Oscar nominees, as was Senna, the critical superhit about the life and death of a Formula One race-car driver. Says one disgruntled documentary filmmaker: “Anything that’s pop culture or upscale is automatically disqualified. For example, the academy doesn’t particularly like documentaries about gay men, unless those gay men die, either by assassination (as in The Times of Harvey Milk, which won the Oscar in 1985) or AIDS (Stories from the Quilt, which won the Oscar in 1990.) (Incidentally, both of those movies were directed by the same guy, Rob Epstein, who’s now the chair of the Documentary branch of the academy. How about those films about rich, celebrities whose fan bases are comprised largely of gay men? Concurs another frequently annoyed member of the voting bloc: “The problem isn’t just that they exclude gay-topic movies or pop-culture movies, it’s that they exclude the best movies of the year, the ones where there’s been a consensus between the public and the critics that these were the best films of the year.
At the time, the Academy did not have a documentary branch, instead relying on a volunteer committee of voters who had the time and inclination (read: they were mostly old people) to watch 65 films over the course of three months.
The FBI wants Apple to create an iPhone "backdoor" that circumvents the iPhone's native encryption. Likely the least viewed of the Oscar short categories, the Documentary Shorts also typically boast the highest quality- particularly this year.
Last Day of Freedom– The smallest scale and simplest of the stories this year is also the most imaginatively produced, and most heart-wrenching.

The Girl in the River- A jaw-dropping, immensely infuriating, and disturbingly alien recounting of an attempted honor killing in Pakistan, in which a father and uncle retrieve a young woman from the family home of the man she just married in secret, take her to the river, and shoot her in the hand and head before wrapping her in a sack and throwing her in.
In the weeks leading up to the Academy Awards® presentation on Sunday, March 2, we will be introducing—and in some cases re-introducing—you to the filmmakers behind the films nominated for Best Documentary Feature and Best Documentary Short Subject. THE ACT OF KILLING—Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge SorensenThe Art of 'Killing': How Much Truth Comes from the Lie that Tells the Truth? Be sure to check out all the nominated films at IDA's annual DocuDay, Saturday, March 1, at at the WGA Theater in Beverly Hills. Would you like to receive event invitations, news, and updates from the International Documentary Association?Sign up Now! Guardarli uno dietro l'altro non so se ne smorzi un po' l'efficacia complessiva o, peggio, se sia una tale batosta emotiva da non uscirne vivi. If something comes up, you can return or exchange up to two hours before showtime through Fandango. Kirby Dick, a member of the Documentary Wing (and the director of several very pop-cultury docs like This Film Is Not Yet Rated and Outrage) says: “The academy tends to feel that the films they nominate will get attention, and they think about the impact that nomination might have on society, if there’s a particular issue the film is focusing on. As in A Piece of Work (Ricki Stern and Anne Sunberg’s portrait of Joan Rivers) and Truth or Dare (Alek Keshishian’s doc about Madonna)?Well, you guessed it. With Bill Cunningham, the problem isn’t just that it touches on gay issues or that it’s about popular culture. We will not share your email with anyone for any reasonThis, many in Hollywood suspect, was the problem with Hoop Dreams, a 1994 documentary about a group of African-American basketball players. Apparently, they opted instead for shortcuts.According to Michael Moore, the system clearly had to change. First, Moore helped get the rules changed, so that the process will be entirely democratic, going forward.
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Don’t make a documentary about a major celebrity, a fashion-y gay guy, or almost anything else about pop culture. Indeed, time after time, over and over again, the bizarre wing of the academy known as the documentary branch has skipped over one audience-pleasing movie after another, in favor of heavier, more obscure fare.
After it broke records at the box office and failed to get a nomination, a scandal ensued when it was reported that members of the Academy considering the film voted via flashlight to turn it off after just 15 minutes. He tells me: “People started noticing that no Errol Morris film had ever been nominated, no Maysles film had ever been nominated, no Frederick Wiseman film had ever been nominated. Jacob Bernstein on why the Academy snubbed Bill Cunningham New York, Senna, and other crowd-pleasers. Everything is wars, lost limbs, and killing dolphins.” (This last jibe would seem to be directed at The Cove, the story of a group of environmental activists who go to Japan to expose the killing of these animals by untoward fishermen. Says Fenton Bailey, director of Inside Deep Throat (a terrific film about the making of the world’s most famous porn movie): “There’s an ingrained snobbery. These are the three godfathers of this art forum!”Soon after, a dedicated bloc of documentary filmmakers was formed to handle the nomination process for the category, but the membership was so small (even now, 15 years later, it numbers just 157 people) and the rules for voting so byzantine you practically needed a degree in Oscar science to understand them.And not much changed, though lighter, pop culture-driven films triumphed on rare occasions. If no review appears in either paper, Moore says, recipients absolutely can use other documentation.“With many of of these films [that got snubbed] if they were fiction it would be the equivalent of The Artist not being nominated.
It’s pop culture phobia and the enduring power of the highbrow at the expense of the lowbrow. If you're feeling there has been a narrow crop of films, it's because the system for selecting those films has been narrow.

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