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The directors of 10 of the year’s most outstanding documentaries — Hulu’s Crime + Punishment (Stephen Maing), National Geographic’s Free Solo (Jimmy Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi), AOS’ In Search of Greatness (Gabe Polsky), HBO’s The Price of Everything (two-time Oscar nominee Nathaniel Kahn), Netflix’s Quincy (Al Hicks and Rashida Jones), Magnolia/CNN Films’ RBG (Julie Cohen and Betsy West), National Geographic’s Science Fair (Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster), Zeitgeist’s Studio 54 (Matt Tyrnauer), Neon/CNN Films’ Three Identical Strangers (Tim Wardle) and Focus Features’ Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Oscar winner Morgan Neville) — gathered on Oct. 28 at the Savannah College of Art and Design’s Lucas Theatre, in front of a capacity crowd, for the Savannah Film Festival’s fifth annual Docs to Watch panel, which was presented by The Hollywood Reporter, moderated by myself.
Docs to Watch occurs shortly before the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ documentary branch votes to determine a shortlist of 15 documentary features from which five nominees will eventually be chosen. And of the 38 doc features whose representatives have appeared on the panel (there were only eight the first year), nine out of a possible 20 have gone on to Oscar nominations — Finding Vivian Maier from 2014; Amy, Cartel Land, What Happened, Miss Simone? and Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom from 2015; O.J.: Made in America and Life, Animated from 2016; and Icarus and Strong Island from 2017 — and three of a possible four went on to Oscar wins: Amy, O.J.: Made in America and Icarus.
As you can see in the video atop this post, this year’s panelists discussed why they decided to make their 2018 doc (for example, one of the Science Fair directors was herself a former science fair standout, and the helmer of In Search of Greatness was perplexed about why young athletes are forced to conform when the most successful adult athletes do things differently than others); how they navigated interactions with their film’s subject or subjects (the Free Solo team had to closely observe but in no way distract the death-defying climber at the center of their film); what challenges and/or moral dilemmas they had to confront while making their doc (The Price of Everything‘s director concluded that his film lacked a “soul” and went in search of an additional character, and Quincy‘s filmmakers, one a daughter of its subject, decided not to withhold footage of him near death in a hospital); how they knew they were finished with their film (Studio 54‘s filmmaker cracks that he ran out of money); what it has been like sharing their doc with the world (Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is now the highest-grossing biodoc of all time, and RBG and Three Identical Strangers are also theatrical hits); and how their film has changed their subject or subjects and/or themselves and/or the world (the NYPD has been forced to address the allegations raised by Crime + Punishment).
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