IDA Nominations: Doc Community Gets Behind 'Citizenfour,' 'Finding Vivian Maier' (Analysis)

As you may have read, the International Documentary Association, or IDA — a group comprising about 2,000 members of the worldwide documentary community — announced its nominations for the 30th IDA Awards, the awards ceremony that it hosts each year in celebration of docs. (This year's gathering will take place at the Paramount Theatre on the Paramount lot on Dec. 5.)

While only a sampling of IDA members weigh in on IDA Award nominations, all IDA members are invited to vote to determine the winners, and many of the roughly 200 members of the Academy's documentary branch are also IDA members, so pundits tend to regard the IDA's choice of nominees and winners as indicators — as strong as any, really, with the possible exception of the Cinema Eye Honors — of how the Oscars will turn out, as well.

This doesn't always hold true. Just last year, for instance, the IDA nominated for best feature, its top prize, the acclaimed docs Blackfish, Let the Fire Burn and Stories We Tell. None of them ended up with Oscar noms, though, while 20 Feet From Stardom, a film that the IDA snubbed across the board, was not only nominated by the Academy's doc branch but won the Oscar. (The IDA Award went to The Square, which was also an Oscar nominee.)

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Still, the IDA does seem to have a pretty good read on the Academy most of the time, which is why I would still pay very close attention to the announcement that they put out today.

What stood out to me about it? For one, the best feature nomination for Citizenfour (Radius-TWC), Laura Poitras' acclaimed doc about Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor whose leaked documents she helped to bring to the attention of the world. I wasn't surprised to see Citizenfour included, not only because it is well made and engaging, but because the doc community clearly admires Poitras' work (she was Oscar-nominated for her 2006 film My Country, My Country) and her tenacity to do it in dangerous locations and in the face of government intimidation. Last year, she received the IDA's Courage Under Fire Award at the IDA Awards ceremony in recognition of her “conspicuous bravery in the pursuit of truth,” and, when introduced via Skype, she received a prolonged standing ovation from most of the packed house. The group's endorsement of her latest work only supports the belief that I've had since Citizenfour's world premiere at the New York Film Festival: namely, that it is the doc to beat this year.

That is not to say that Citizenfour doesn't face formidable competition. Its fellow best feature IDA Award nominees include the works of two masterful, two-time best documentary feature Oscar nominees: Marshall Curry (2005's Street Fight and 2011's If a Tree Falls), up this year for Point and Shoot (The Orchard), the story of an American who went to Libya to join the efforts to topple the government there; and Wim Wenders (1999's Buena Vista Social Club and 2011's Pina), who, along with his co-director Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, is in the running for The Salt of the Earth (Sony Classics), which profiles the life and work of photographer Sebastiao Salgado.

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Rounding out the category are John Maloof and Charlie Siskel's Finding Vivian Maier (Sundance Selects), which recounts the strange discovery of one of the most revered photographers of the 20th century, and Nick Broomfield's Tales of the Grim Sleeper (HBO Films and Sky Atlantic), which chronicles the story of a serial killer who terrorized South Central L.A. for a quarter-century.

Several other top Oscar contenders were recognized in different IDA categories.

Alan Hicks' Keep on Keepin' On (Radius-TWC), the story of an old jazz legend and a young piano prodigy who help each other through tough times, was nominated for the Humanitas Documentary Award, which recognizes "a documentarian whose film strives to unify the human family by exploring and transcending cultural barriers." (Its competition for that honor is Nicole Boxer's How I Got Over and Thomas G. Miller's Limited Partnership).

Last Days in Vietnam (American Experience Films), Rory Kennedy's latest, was outright awarded the prize for best film editing, one of several categories that cuts right to the chase. The others: best writing (Finding Vivian Maier again, making it the only feature-length doc to receive multiple mentions), best cinematography (Elevator) and best music (Alfred and Jakobine). The IDA's Emerging Documentary Filmmaker Award also skips the nomination phase and was awarded this year to Darius Clark Monroe, the director of Evolution of a Criminal. Last year's recipient, Cutie and the Boxer's Zachary Heinzerling, wound up with a best documentary feature Oscar nomination.

The recipients of the IDA's most glaring across-the-board snubs, which will now hope to follow the trajectory of 20 Feet From Stardom, include Oscar nominee Steve James' Life Itself (Magnolia), Gabe Polsky's Red Army (Sony Classics), James Keach's Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me (Area 23a), Ryan White and Ben Cotner's The Case Against 8 (HBO Films), Amir Bar-Lev's Happy Valley (Music Box Films), Oscar nominee Robert Kenner's Merchants of Doubt (Sony Classics), Margaret Brown's The Great Invisible (Radius-TWC), Oscar nominee Joe Berlinger's Whitey: United States of America vs. James J. Bulger (Magnolia), Mike Myers' Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon (Radius-TWC), Pulitzer Prize winner Jose Antonio Vargas' Documented (CNN Films) and Chiemi Karasawa's Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (Sundance Selects).

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg