Cinefile: Behind the docu shortlist

Storms of Emotions, an Israeli documentary about the evacuation of Jewish settlers from Gaza, could get an Oscar nomination.

dixie chicks 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
dixie chicks 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
This has been a strong year for Israeli documentaries, but will one be nominated for an Oscar? It's possible. The American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) announced its shortlist of 15 candidates last week, and Yael Klopmann's Storms of Emotions was on it. Storms of Emotions, which has yet to be screened widely in Israel, is a look at the evacuation of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Klopmann focuses on the IDF officers and border police in charge of the disengagement, and their attitudes toward the settlers. This isn't typical of Israeli documentaries these days, since in the past few years documentary filmmakers here have increasingly turned their lenses on subjects outside politics. Tomer Heymann's Paper Dolls, about a group of Filipino men who care for the elderly by day and put on a drag cabaret act by night, is emblematic of the new breed. But will Storms of Emotions make the cut? That's a tricky question. Best Documentary is one of the categories that have special rules. This shortlist is determined by members of the Documentary Branch Executive Committee of AMPAS - volunteers from the ranks of Academy members. This committee will winnow down the 15 shortlist names to five, which will be announced on January 23, 2007 (the awards ceremony will take place on February 25). Only Academy members who view all five nominees will be allowed to vote on the winner. Often, there are nominees with Jewish themes, usually about the Holocaust, such as the 2000 winner, Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport. But Israeli-themed nominees are rare, and a movie about a complex issue such as the Gaza disengagement that doesn't easily fit into the preferred Oscar model of an inspirational story about an underdog seems like a long shot. The rest of this year's Oscar shortlist reflects growing anger at the Bush administration over the war in Iraq, and no fewer than four of the shortlist movies focus on that war: Iraq in Fragments, a look at the conflict through the eyes of Iraqi citizens, won a top award at Sundance; The Ground War focuses on US soldiers returning home after tours of duty in Iraq; My Country, My Country is about an Iraqi doctor who becomes involved in politics; and The War Tapes features video shot by US soldiers in Iraq, and won the documentary prize at the Tribeca Film Festival. On a related theme, Shut Up & Sing looks at the so-called persecution suffered by the singing group the Dixie Chicks: After one of its members criticized the president, they were heckled at some concerts. This may sound like a subject for a 15-minute news segment at best, but it was directed by two-time Best Documentary Director winner Barbara Kopple (Harlan County, U.S.A. and American Dream) and Cecilia Peck, a member of Hollywood royalty by virtue of being Gregory Peck's daughter (trivia alert: Cecilia Peck starred in the 1990 movie Torn Apart as an Arab girl in love with an Israeli soldier). The other trendy title on the shortlist is An Inconvenient Truth about global warming, narrated and heavily promoted by former vice president Al Gore. Gore figures in another movie on the list - An Unreasonable Man, a look at the independent candidate for president in 2000, Ralph Nader. US domestic politics is also the focus of Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore? a look at a Missouri Democratic primary. Sisters in Law is an inspirational look at two female judges in Cameroon. Other titles include films that focus on familiar Oscar themes such as disability (Blindsight, about a blind mountain climber) and racism (The Trials of Darryl Hunt, about a black man convicted of a rape he did not commit). Religion is the focus of Deliver Us from Evil, the story of a pedophile priest; Jesus Camp is about a camp run by the Christian Right; and Jonestown: The Life and Death of the People's Temple is a look at Jim Jones and his deranged followers. It's very hard to second-guess this category. Remember, two years ago, the winner was the brilliant and touching, Born into Brothels, while last year it was the cute birds in March of the Penguins. Can troubled IDF soldiers triumph over disgruntled Iraq War vets or slighted Dixie Chicks? Stay tuned.