The I Files pays homage to the Academy Awards this week, bringing you excerpts from all of this year’s nominated documentaries. We’re also featuring clips from memorable past winners, as well as two documentaries that tell the real-life stories dramatized in two of this year’s most talked about best picture contenders.
And now, the video clips, please.
Stranger than fiction
"The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden” offers a never-before-heard, first-person account into the raid that ended the 10-year manhunt for the world's most wanted terrorist. This real life “Zero Dark Thirty” is based on a series of interviews with the Navy SEAL who fired the shots that ultimately killed the al-Qaida leader. His story is presented in the form of an innovative graphic novel to protect the identity of the anonymous soldier.
Before “Argo” there was “Escape from Iran: The Hollywood Option.” This 2004 documentary chronicles the improbable and extraordinary rescue of six American Embassy workers from Tehran during the Iranian Revolution.
There has been some controversy about the artistic license that “Argo” director Ben Affleck took to fictionalize and heighten the tension of the hostages' final escape from the Tehran airport. (Spoiler alert: That runway showdown never happened.) Our except from this Canadian documentary offers the eyewitness accounts of the former hostages themselves as they describe how they left Iran by hiding in plain sight – disguised as Hollywood executives – while Iranian security agents began to close in on them.
Feature documentary nominees
As some critics have pointed out, this year’s documentary nominees illustrate the potential of film to prompt real world change.
In “The Invisible War,” Oscar and Emmy-nominated filmmaker Kirby Dick investigates one of America's most shameful and best kept secrets: the epidemic of rape within the U.S. military. The Department of Defense estimates that in 2010 alone, there were more than 19,000 violent sex crimes committed by members of the armed forces. This film prompted Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to announce substantial changes in policy that strengthen the prosecution of rape in the military.
“The Gatekeepers” delves into the inner workings of the Shin Bet, Israel’s famously opaque secret service. Director Dror Moreh gained unprecedented access to former leaders of the organization, and the men talk publicly for the first time about the controversial decisions they made in the service of their country’s security.
Another offering from Israel and the Palestinian territories, “5 Broken Cameras,” provides a more visceral first-person account of the conflict there. The title refers to the five cameras that a Palestinian farmer, Emad Burnat, used to document the nonviolent resistance of his West Bank village to protest the encroachment of nearby Israeli settlements.
“Searching for Sugar Man” follows two fans from Cape Town as they set out to discover what had become of the musician Sixto Rodriguez, who was wildly popular in South Africa but largely unknown in his own country, the U.S.
We’re also featuring a link to a "60 Minutes" piece, "Rodriguez: The Rock Icon Who Didn't Know It," that tells the behind-the-scenes story of the making of “Sugar Man,” which was mostly shot on an iPhone with minimal budget or outside support.
The early years of the AIDS epidemic form the backdrop for “How to Survive a Plague.” The film covers the efforts of activist organizations like ACT UP and TAG to take on Washington and the medical establishment to help identify and approve promising new drug treatments.
Short documentary nominees
The short documentary category is the perennial forgotten stepchild of the Academy Awards, with nominees unknown to all but a small circle of insiders. Jessica Yu expressed this best in her speech after winning an Oscar for her 1997 short doc “Breathing Lessons” when she said, “You know you’re in new territory when you realize your outfit (her Oscar dress) cost more than your film.”
This is your chance to get a crash course in this rich, but often-overlooked, category.
“Inocente” is a portrait of a 15-year-old homeless girl – an undocumented immigrant growing up on the streets of San Diego who is determined to become an artist despite her precarious circumstances and the overwhelming odds against her.
Director Sari Gilman was inspired to start filming “Kings Point” after visiting her grandmother at a retirement community in Florida. The resulting short film chronicles the lives of five plucky senior citizens as they navigate love and loss in the twilight of their lives.
“Open Heart” goes inside the only clinic in Africa that performs cardiac surgery free of charge. The film follows eight Rwandan children as they undergo high risk, and last ditch, open-heart surgery.
On the third Monday of every month, two sisters, Cynthia and Rachel, open their Long Island, N.Y., beauty salon, Racine, to women undergoing chemotherapy. “Mondays at Racine” chronicles the sisters’ efforts to give women who are losing their hair, eyebrows and eyelashes a sense of normalcy and dignity during a traumatic and uncertain time.
“Redemption” enters the world of New York City’s canners – the men and women who survive by redeeming the bottles and cans they collect from curbs, garbage cans and apartment complexes. It's revealing and heartbreaking.
Blasts from the past
We’re also featuring excerpts from two previous Oscar winners.
“The Cove,” the Academy Award-winning best documentary for 2009, follows a team of activists, filmmakers and divers as it embarks on a covert mission to penetrate a remote and hidden cove in Japan to expose a dark secret. Filmed in a style melding investigative journalism with classic thriller, “The Cove” follows the quest of Ric O’Barry to shed light on the systematic slaughter of dolphins in this small Japanese maritime community. In the 1960s, it was O'Barry who captured and trained the five dolphins who played the title character in the TV series "Flipper," inadvertently sparking the global trade in and wholesale slaughter of dolphins.
We also have an interview with Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, the winner of last year’s Academy Award for her short documentary “Saving Face.” In this excerpt, Obaid-Chinoy offers her insights into the acid attacks that are perpetrated on more than 100 people, mostly women, every year in Pakistan.
The I Files – Now on Hulu
You can further indulge in some Oscar fever by checking out our new collaboration with Hulu. The I Files team delved into the archive at Hulu.com and chose 12 outstanding documentaries that were snubbed by the Academy. Each one, in our opinion, deserved to be nominated. Take a look at The I Files Features list “Coulda Been Contenders” and let us know what you think. We’ll continue to curate new and exciting content on Hulu twice a month.
And please take a moment to subscribe to The I Files for the latest investigations from across the Web and around the world. Let us know of other theme weeks that you’d like to see us put together in the future @I Files.
This Human Rights Watch report argues that the FBI and U.S. Justice Department have unfairly targeted American Muslims in sting operations bordering on entrapment in terrorism-related cases since 9/11.