Don’t underestimate Nat Geo’s ‘The Cave’ for the documentary Oscar

“Apollo 11” is the odds-on favorite to nab the Best Documentary Oscar, but keep an eye out far a more grounded — technically, subterranean — film, Nat Geo’s “The Cave.”

Like fellow contender “For Sama,” “The Cave,” which won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, follows a young woman nurturing children during the Syrian Civil War. But instead of giving birth and raising a daughter in a city under siege, Dr. Amani Ballor is a pediatrician and the first female manager of a hospital in Syria — the titular cave, a hospital built underground to shield civilians and the wounded from the gun- and hellfire above them.

“The Cave” is from Feras Fayyad, who became the first Syrian director to be nominated for an Oscar with his 2017 doc “Last Man in Aleppo” and actually started filming “The Cave” before “Last Man in Aleppo.” The film gives an unflinching, riveting look at the herculean, life-threatening efforts these selfless heroes go through to save lives while short on resources, but there’s another component of the doc that could stay with voters as well.

SEE How ‘The Cave’s’ Feras Fayyad found his feminist heroine and directed remotely in battle-ravaged Syria [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

Dr. Amani faces tons of misogyny and sexism in her job, underscored by an early scene when the husband of a patient condescendingly tells her that women belong at home and in the kitchen. Dr. Amani puts him in his place with a defiant “No one tells me what to do.” At a time when the industry continues to reckon with #MeToo and equal pay and opportunities for women and POC alike, Dr. Amani’s declaration is both inspirational and a solemn reminder of the infuriating, entrenched patriarchal societies that still exist. “The Cave” not only gives Dr. Amani a voice, but one for all oppressed women trying to find one.

“My sister’s a nurse and another’s a teacher and they were kicked out of work because they were a woman, and I couldn’t do anything for them,” Fayyad told Gold Derby recently. “I couldn’t help in that situation and I feel like this is — I can’t close my eyes on this situation, I have to tell it because [sexism is] obviously everywhere in every single thing.”

“The Cave” is currently in fifth place in our odds, trailing “Apollo 11,” “American Factory,” “Honeyland” and “For Sama.” But one of our Experts, Michael Musto (NewNowNext) is forecasting a win for it.

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