Oscars: 15 Titles Advance in Documentary Feature Category

The Academy Awards Statue and Sign - H 2012
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The Academy Awards Statue and Sign - H 2012

'Citizenfour' and 'Life Itself' are among the titles that will compete for Oscar

Citizenfour, Laura Poitras' you-are-there documentary about NSA leaker Edward Snowden, and Life Itself, Steve James' loving portrait of the late film critic Roger Ebert, are among the high-profile documentaries that made the cut Tuesday as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released its shortlist of 15 films that will advance in the best documentary feature category.

The list includes a number of films that tackle political topics such as Rory Kennedy's Last Days in Vietnam, which looks at the American retreat from Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War; Ben Cotner and Ryan White's The Case Against 8, which follows the legal battle to overturn the ban on same-sex marriage in California; as well as Carl Deal and Tia Lessin's Citizen Koch, which examines the money behind the Tea Party; Brian Knappenberger's The Internet's Own Boy, which focuses on web activist Aaron Swartz; and Dan Krauss' The Kill Team, which is concerned with war crimes in Afghanistan.

A number of other films spotlight artists and the artistic process: Alan Hicks' Keep on Keepin' On, recounts the relationship between jazz legend Clark Terry and a 23-year-old blind piano prodigy; Frank Pavich's Jodorowksy's Dune tells the story of how director Alejandro Jodorowsky tried to make a film version of Frank Herbert's Dune; John Maloof and Charlie Siskel's Finding Vivian Maier celebrates the work of a street photographer, who was not celebrated during her lifetime; and Jennifer Grausman, Sam Cullman and Mark Becker's Art and Craft looks at art forger Mark Landis.

Geographically, the features range far and wide: Nick Broomfield's Tales of the Grim Sleeper reopens the case of a serial killer in South Central Los Angeles; Jesse Moss' The Overnighters takes viewers to the North Dakota oil fields; The Salt of the Earth, directed by Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and Wim Wenders, follows photographer Sebastiao Salgado in his travels around the world; and Orlando von Einsiedel's Virunga trains its cameras on efforts to save mountain gorillas in the Congo.

Read more Edward Snowden Doc 'Citizenfour' Reveals Existence of Second NSA Whistleblower

With 134 submissions in the category, inevitably a number of films were left off the list. Among the more prominent titles that didn't make the cut were Gabe Polsky's Red Army, a film about the Soviet hockey team; Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, Mike Myer's tribute to the titular talent manager; Jose Antonio Vargas and Ann Raffaels Lupo's Documented, about the status of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.; Frieda Lee Mock's Anita, a new look at Anita Hill and her testimony against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; James Keach's Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me; and Chiemi Karasawa's Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me.

The shortlist was determined by the Academy's documentary branch in a preliminary round of voting. The branch members will now nominate five films from among the 15 on the list.

Nominations for the 87th Academy Awards will be announced Jan. 15, and the Oscars will be held on Feb. 22.

The full list is below:

Art and Craft, Purple Parrot Films
The Case against 8, Day in Court
Citizen Koch, Elsewhere Films
CitizenFour, Praxis Films
Finding Vivian Maier, Ravine Pictures
The Internet’s Own Boy, Luminant Media
Jodorowsky’s Dune, City Film
Keep on Keepin’ On, Absolute Clay Productions
The Kill Team, f/8 filmworks
Last Days in Vietnam, Moxie Firecracker Films
Life Itself, Kartemquin Films and Film Rites
The Overnighters, Mile End Films West
The Salt of the Earth, Decia Films
Tales of the Grim Sleeper, Lafayette Film
Virunga, Grain Media