Documentaries for the Oscars - An Article by Tue Steen Müller


Oscar Documentaries


Good news for all of us, who love documentaries: Out of the 93 countries, who have submitted films for the upcoming feature length competition at the Academy Award, 5 have chosen documentaries to represent their country! These 5 also compete in the documentary category.

The five countries are North Macedonia, Greece, Lithuania, Belarus and Iran.

And the five films are ”Honeyland” by Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska, ”When Tomatoes Met Wagner” by Marianna Economou, “Bridges of Time” by Audrius Stonys and Kristine Briede, ”Debut” by Anastasiya Miroschnichenko and ”Finding Farideh” by Azadeh Mousavi and Kourosh Ataee.

Why good news? As the chance for the five to be nominated in that category among big star-driven narrative features realistically are small… Better in the documentary category for a film like ”Honeyland” thatis nominated in the US by the Critics and by the IDA (International Documentary Association).

Good news because the choice by the countries is a statement that documentaries are recognised as an important part of the cinema culture. Or why not say that the films are good/excellent/wonderful and for that year found better than other films.

Documentaries are Films. The time is over, when documentaries were considered to be solely informative registrations of reality. The so-called hybrid variety of documentary storytelling is there and is not criticized any longer, documentaries can be funny, at the same time as the classical virtues of the genre should not be forgotten:“Honeyland” takes the viewer to a place, we would not go for ourselves to meet a woman, who understands nature much better than we do. “When Tomatoes Met Wagner” also has the message that we have to change a lot of things on this planet before it is too late for us as consumers, who hesitate to go for organic products. Both films are carried by excellent cinematography and loveable protagonists, who are portrayed with humour, respect and warmth. Both films are timely artistic interpretations of la condition humaine.

The same directorial touch of respect you find in the Belorussian choice “Debut” that takes place in a prison, where a group of female inmates are involved in a theatre play for therapeutical reasons. To be ready for the society once they are out again. It has a strong social perspective as has the Iranian film that is very touching, when the adopted Iranian woman returns to the country, where she was abandoned. She meets three families, whose members claim that she is the lost (grand)daughter or sister. Documentaries talk to the heart.

The Lithuanian “Bridges of Time” has been called an essay on the genre itself. At the same time as it is a film-historical resumé on the poetic school of documentary in the Baltic countries in the sixties, where Estonia, Latvia ad Lithuania were part of the Soviet Union.

Through clips from masterpieces of the time combined with director interviews – archive material and shots of today – the past and the present are bridged. Lithuanian Audrius Stonys who made the film together with Latvian Kristine Briede said something beautiful after a screening at the DocsBarcelona:”I saw my film again today and when I saw the woman, who had watched the film she took part in as a child, hearing her say that she was so happy to see her mother again, alive in the film… I thought this is why we make documentaries, to keep people alive. In other words: Life After Death…”

Apart from Iran that has a considerable amount of films being produced on an annual basis - Greece, North Macedonia, Belarus and Lithuania are smaller countries, where documentaries are part of not only Cinema but also serve to protect Culture and History. And languages. I am sure many will agree that we need to stay with vo – original versions – even if many platforms follow the market and shout for uniformity.

Also Ireland has submitted a documentary  for the Oscars in the feature duration foreign language section.

The film is “Gaza” by Irish Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell, a beautiful shot and edited overall impression from young and old, man and woman, who live in this isolated and blockaded land between Israel and Egypt. “Human stories in a city under siege” as The Guardian put it. The film, that is an international production with several broadcasters involved, can be seen as an homage to the people living there in more or less misery and with scars on their souls.   

It is indeed the obligation of the creative, artistic documentary to be in opposition to the mainstream avalanche of images that we meet every day. A poisonous pollution. Also therefore the five documentaries chosen by their countries can play a role in the bigger picture as promotion for a genre that performs better and better in these years. A golden age for documentaries?

Tue Steen Muller