Oscars 2017 documentary feature shortlist: ‘Hooligan Sparrow’ is a daring and timely look at political protest

Nanfu Wang’s debut film “Hooligan Sparrow” made the shortlist of 15 titles still in contention to be nominated for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar. The film follows activist Ye Haiyan (also known as Hooligan Sparrow) and her colleagues as they protest the covering up of an elementary school sexual abuse case in the Hainan Province of southern China.

Because the activists have been marked as enemies of the state and are under constant government surveillance, harassment and imprisonment, Wang herself became a target, forced to film with secret recording devices and having to smuggle footage out of the country. “Hooligan Sparrow” is nothing short of daring in the tactics Wang had to employ to create her film, but the subject matter is also urgent and timely to American audiences because of its commentary on the basic right to peaceful political protest.

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International political protest stories have a great track record at earning nominations with the academy’s documentary branch. Last year’s “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom,” 2014’s “Virguna,” 2013’s “The Square” and 2012’s “5 Broken Cameras” are all recent nominees that share that point of view with “Hooligan Sparrow.”

The film premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinema Documentary Competition and was the opening night film at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York. It was nominated by the Critics Choice Documentary Awards for Best First Documentary Feature and received a special award from the International Documentary Association for Emerging Documentary Filmmaker. “Hooligan Sparrow” currently holds a score of 78 on Metacritic and 96% on Rotten Tomatoes.

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