Documentaries overlooked again for Oscars, says expert

India throws its hat in the ring for Oscars with Writing with Fire

Entertainment

February 14, 2022

/ By / New Delhi

Documentaries overlooked again for Oscars, says expert

'Writing with Fire' and 'Ascension' are among the nominations for the Academy Awards

Being nominated for Oscar is an honour for any film. India has thrown its hat in the ring with the documentary feature Writing with Fire. The movie features the fight of a group of female journalists from Dalit families to make a name for themselves in the male-dominated field of journalism. With Writing with Fire, India has a nomination in the Best Feature Documentary category after six years.

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For the Academy Awards 2022, India had nominated four films. Of these, Writing with Fire has been selected by the organisers of the Oscar Awards for the short list in the ‘Best Documentary Film’ category.

India’s Film Federation of India (FFI) appoints a committee every year which selects the films for the official entry for Oscar. India had nominated Koozhangal in Best International Feature Film Category; Writing with Fire in Best Documentary Feature; Sonsi in Short Film Category.

The selection of Writing with Fire has put the focus back on the documentary scenario in India, which has remained overshadowed by the blockbusters and big-ticket items produced by the mainstream, feature films produced by the big studios all over the country, say documentary producers.

Oxford Dictionary defines ‘documentary’ as ‘​a film or a radio or television programme giving facts about something’. Over the past couple of decades, documentaries have become increasingly popular across the world. More and more film festivals as well as Over The Top (OTT) and video apps like YouTube include documentary as a genre in their platform. However, film critiques and filmmakers in India feel that FFI is more concerned with the big actors and budgets. They say that the organisation fails to focus on proper documentary films.

“It’s very good that Writing with Fire was nominated for Oscars this year but I think there are several other documentaries that are made in India that people don’t even think of entering for Oscars, because the Film Federation of India (FFI) is only interested in features but not in documentaries. The last documentary which was nominated was Period. End of Sentence by Guneet Monga,” Ramesh Tekwani, Documentary and short filmmaker tells Media India Group.

Tekwani also believes that it is high time that people and the FFI acknowledged films other than documentary features.

Since 1929, Oscars have been presenting awards to actors, movies and tv shows to appreciate their acting and story. Winners of the academy award receive a gold-plated statuette called Oscar. Winners are chosen from the 24 categories namely best picture, actor, actress, supporting actor, supporting actress, directing, original screenplay, adapted screenplay, cinematography, production design, editing, original score, original song, costume design, makeup and hairstyling, sound mixing, sound editing, visual effects, foreign-language film, animated feature film, animated short, live-action short, documentary feature, and documentary short.

After six years India is competing for an Oscar, along with entries from US and Denmark. This year a total of five documentary films were selected by the Academy Awards for their nominations in the Best Documentary Feature. Each of the films touches on a different aspect of society bringing deep-rooted problems and prejudices in into life.

The five nominees for the category are:

Ascension

The word ‘ascension’ means the action of rising to an important position or higher level. Jessica Kingdon, maker of Ascension explores modern China and the thought of pursuing the “Chinese Dream” to ‘ascend’ to the desired level in social strata.  The American documentary film, which had won 7 awards and 24 nominations, focuses on a wide array of modern-day problems such as labour, consumerism and wealth through its cinematography, narrative and structure.

The movie apart from its nomination in Oscar has also won the Best Documentary Feature in the Tribeca film festival where it was premiered in June 2021. The film dives into modern labourism, where the working class serves the elite who have accepted and encourage the dehumanisation of the working class.

Attica

Another American documentary, voted one of the top five documentaries by the National Board of Review, the USA along with eight nominations, by Stanley Nelson is based on the year 1971, the year of Attica Prison riots. The documentary despite focusing on the year 1971, is still relevant to today’s condition shining a light on the glaring necessities for prison reform.

The documentary beautifully captures the history of rage, fear, brotherhood, humiliation, yearning, and tragedy especially against the people and prisoners belonging to a different race. The movie pulls us into the heart of an American revolt that turned into an American calamity. The prisoners were demanding better living conditions however, during the negotiating with the prisoners the authorities open-fired on the prisoners and hostages alike.

Flee

The documentary by Amin Nawabi and Jonas Poher Rasmussen has won over 65 awards and 131 nominations. The film focuses on the hardships and challenges refugees have to face. The hand-drawn animation brings life to the characters Amin and his friend Rasmussen.

Rasmussen talks to a friend of his from his teen years, a gay Afghan man in Copenhagen, who is a refugee and escaped from Kabul with his family after Soviet withdrawal in 1989. Amin then describes the atrocities and problems he and his family had to face during his travel to Copenhagen, Denmark. Apart from the refugee crises the documentary also touches on the homophobia rampant in the 80s and 90s.

Summer of Soul

Summer of Soul directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, is a feature documentary about the legendary 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival which celebrated African American music and culture, promoting black pride and unity. The documentary has won 52 awards and a total of 53 nominations. It captures the life and feelings of Stevie Wonder at a turning point in his career.

The documentary intertwines music and politics into one of the finest movies based on concerts. Cleverly chosen new footage shown in the documentary gives a sense to the atmosphere which produces different stands of resistance: civil rights and Black Power. The interviews taken in the film blends wry laughter along with piercing insight with the interviewees explaining how the word “black” shifted from a fighting-talk term of abuse to one of self-determination and pride.

Writing with Fire

Writing with Fire is a documentary focusing on the hardships and problems faced by the group of Dalit women running the newspaper, Khabar Lahariya, directed by Sushmit Ghosh and Rintu Thomas. The documentary despite being a debut has a total of 23 wins and 18 nominations.

The documentary touches on the sexism and casteism which still holds women back from improving their position and strata in society. Journalism in India is a highly male-dominated field coupled with the problems of casteism, the characters in the film dive into grass-root level journalism exposing mishaps and problems going around in the country. The film was premiered at the Sundance Festival held in February 2021. Since its premiere, the movie has gained a lot of traction.

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