Directors of 10 Top 2019 Docs Discuss Their Films' Challenges and Rewards

Since last Friday (and continuing through Tuesday), members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' documentary branch have been voting to determine which 15 of 159 eligible documentary features to shortlist for an Oscar nomination. It is an overwhelming task to try to see them all, and many doc branch members look to other awards-dispensing organizations to help to identify which titles to prioritize.

On Saturday night, for instance, the International Documentary Association presented its 25th annual IDA Awards, with best doc going to Waad Al-Khateab and Edward Watts's For Sama and best direction of a doc feature going to American Factory's Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert. Also over the past week, best doc prizes were given by the Gotham Awards and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association to American Factory, the New York Film Critics Circle to Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov's Honeyland and the National Board of Review to Alex Holmes' Maiden.

Back on Nov. 1, the SCAD Savannah Film Festival did its part to highlight 10 worthy docs by hosting their directors on the sixth annual Docs to Watch Panel, moderated by yours truly, for a 90-minute conversation about the challenges and rewards of making documentaries, generally, and the docs for which they are garnering Oscar buzz this year, specifically. (The five prior installments of this panel hosted 11 of the 25 eventual Oscar nominees and four or the five eventual Oscar winners.)

This year's panelists were the aforementioned Bognar on behalf of American Factory (Netflix); the aforementioned Holmes on behalf of Maiden (Sony Classics); Todd Douglas Miller on behalf of Apollo 11 (Neon); John Chester on behalf of The Biggest Little Farm (Neon); Feras Fayyad on behalf of The Cave (NatGeo); Oscar winner Asif Kapadia (Amy) on behalf of Diego Maradona (HBO); Lauren Greenfield on behalf of The Kingmaker (Showtime); Rachel Lears on behalf of Knock Down the House (Netflix); Nanfu Wang on behalf of One Child Nation (Amazon); and Richard Ladkani on behalf of Sea of Shadows (NatGeo).

As seen in the video above, the conversation addressed when and why each filmmaker decided to make their doc; their relationship with their subject(s); challenges and moral dilemmas that they faced along the way; how they knew when to stop filming; what it was like getting the film seen by audiences and awards voters; how their subjects — and they — have been impacted by the doc; plus much more.

(You can also check out video of previous years' panels here: 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.)