DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, announced the titles of its annual Short List: Features program on November 9. The selection of films offer one glimpse, as determined by the festival’s programming team, into the documentary features that are best positioned to be among the year’s top contenders in the Oscar field. Also named are the films to make their second Winner’s Circle, highlighting films that have already won major awards at Oscar-qualifying international festivals.
Among DOC NYC’s list are six films that were already nominated this year for Best Documentary Feature by the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards. They are: “Crip Camp,” “Dick Johnson Is Dead,” “The Fight,” “Gunda,” “The Social Dilemma,” and “Time.” One other CCDA nominee will be screened as part of the Winner’s Circle program: “The Painter and the Thief.”
As an indicator of Oscar success, DOC NYC boasts that in the last nine years the festival screened the documentary feature that would go on to win the Academy Award that year. In addition, in the last 5 years it showcased 24 of 25 Oscar-nominated films and just last year it previewed 13 of the 15 that made the academy’s documentary branch short list. As such, if you’d like an idea of where this year’s race is headed, see below for the titles you can expect to hear more about this season.
All the films in the DOC NYC Winner’s Circle and nearly all the films in the Short List section will be available to screen online through DOC NYC’s virtual programming from November 11 – 19.
DOC NYC Short List: Features
“76 Days” (MTV)
Dir: Hao Wu, Weixi Chen, Anonymous
A suspenseful, immersive look at life under COVID-19 lockdown in Wuhan, China, focused on front-line hospital workers and their patients.
“Boys State” (Apple TV+)
Dir: Jesse Moss, Amanda McBaine
An annual civics program reveals modern-day democracy in a microcosm as high school boys create a mock government in Austin, Texas.
“Collective” (Magnolia Pictures/Participant)
Dir: Alexander Nanau
This riveting investigative film follows a team of Romanian reporters as they doggedly uncover a deadly scandal that reaches the highest levels of government.
“Crip Camp” (Netflix)
Dir: Nicole Newnham, Jim LeBrecht
A chronicle of America’s disability rights movement and its origins in a liberating summer camp for disabled teens.
“Dick Johnson is Dead” (Netflix)
Dir: Kirsten Johnson
When the filmmaker’s 86-year-old father begins to lose his memory, she enlists him in a playful project to confront his mortality with a sense of humor.
“The Fight” (Magnolia Pictures/Topic)
Dir: Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman, Eli Despres
This inspiring and vital film follows lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union as they battle the Trump administration over cases of immigration, abortion, LGBTQ+ equality, and voting rights.
Dir: Victor Kossakovsky
A cinema vérité immersion into the experiences of several animals on a farm, focused on a sow and her new litter of piglets.
“I Am Greta” (Hulu)
Dir: Nathan Grossman
A portrait of Greta Thunberg’s meteoric one-year rise from high-school climate strike organizer to inspiration for a global movement.
“MLK/FBI” (IFC Films)
Dir: Sam Pollard
Using recently declassified files, MLK/FBI examines J. Edgar Hoover’s relentless campaign of surveillance and harassment against Martin Luther King, Jr.
“On the Record” (HBO Max)
Dir: Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering
This groundbreaking investigation of sexual assault in the music industry explores the complex factors that make it difficult for Black women to speak out and be heard.
“The Social Dilemma” (Netflix)
Dir: Jeff Orlowski
An exposé of the insidious hidden systems of control behind our increasingly networked world, as revealed by former tech world insiders.
“A Thousand Cuts” (PBS)
Dir: Ramona S. Diaz
A chilling look at the assault on fundamental democratic freedoms in the Philippines through the persecution of courageous journalist Maria Ressa.
“Time” (Amazon Studios)
Dir: Garrett Bradley
A moving chronicle of a marriage and a family separated by incarceration, focused on Fox Rich, who has spent 21 years fighting for the release of her husband from a 60-year prison sentence.
“The Truffle Hunters” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Dir: Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw
Enter the secretive world of the only people–and dogs–who are able to find the elusive white Alba truffle, the most expensive ingredient in the world.
“Welcome to Chechnya” (HBO)
Dir: David France
A courageous team of Russian activists operate an underground railroad to help LGBTQ+ Chechens escape state-sanctioned persecution
DOC NYC Winner’s Circle
“Acasa, My Home” (Zeitgeist Films in association with Kino Lorber)
Dir: Radu Ciorniciuc
Winner: Golden Horn for Best Documentary Film, Krakow Film Festival
A large Roma clan who have lived off the grid in the wilderness for 20 years are forced to resettle in the unfamiliar city.
“Beautiful Something Left Behind” (ViacomCBS)
Dir: Katrine Philp
Prod: Katrine A. Sahlstrøm
Winner: Documentary Feature Competition Grand Jury Award, SXSW Film Festival
An affectionate and intimate child’s eye view of New Jersey’s Good Grief counseling center, which offers a holistic approach to mourning the loss of loved ones.
Dir: Richard Poplak, Diana Neille
Winner: Best International Documentary Film, Durban International Film Festival
This portrait of the founder of the infamous public relations firm Bell Pottinger explores the disturbing way our perceptions—and politics—are shaped by outside forces.
“Mayor” (Film Movement)
Dir: David Osit
Winner: The Reva and David Logan Grand Jury Award, Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
Musa Hadid, the Christian mayor of Ramallah, Palestine, navigates day-to-day civic responsibilities, but the darker realities of life under occupation are never too far away.
“The Mole Agent” (Gravitas Ventures)
Dir: Maite Alberdi
Winner: Audience Award for Best European Film, San Sebastian International Film Festival
An 83-year-old man goes undercover in a Chilean retirement home in this stylish observational documentary spy film.
“The Painter and the Thief” (Neon)
Dir: Benjamin Ree
Winner: Jury Award for Best International Documentary, Docville International Documentary Festival Belgium
A dual portrait of an artist and the thief who stole her art—but who becomes her unlikely friend and artistic collaborator.
“The Reason I Jump” (Kino Lorber)
Dir: Jerry Rothwell
Winner: World Cinema Documentary Competition Audience Award, Sundance Film Festival
Based on the groundbreaking book written by Naoki Higashida, this film explores the interior worlds and fascinating daily experiences of five nonverbal autistic young people.
“Songs of Repression”
Dir: Estephan Wagner, Marianne Hougen-Moraga
Winner: DOX:Award, CPH:DOX (Copenhagen International Documentary Festival)
Executive produced by Joshua Oppenheimer, this complex portrait reveals the dark truth behind Chile’s seemingly idyllic German colony, Colonia Dignidad, formerly led by a cruel cult leader.
“Stray” (Magnolia Pictures)
Dir: Elizabeth Lo
Winner: Best International Feature Documentary Award, Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival
A remarkable portrait of three dogs in Istanbul, where strays are an everyday part of the fabric of the community, belonging to no one and everyone at the same time.
“The Walrus and the Whistleblower” (Gravitas Ventures)
Dir: Nathalie Bibeau
Winner: Audience Award, Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival
An eccentric former marine animal park trainer wages a war via social media and the courts to save Smooshi, his beloved walrus, from deplorable conditions.
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